It's tough to recommend paying $85 for a book anytime, but there's no escaping the conclusion that paying such a sum for Mary Voelz Chandler and Michael Paglia's Colorado Abstract Paintings and Sculpture at a time like this is a surprising thing to do.
The reason I would consider writing such a thing, and the glory of the book, is the 254 full-page color plates, each of a single picture or sculpture. The plates are beautifully printed on art paper that shows them to their best advantage.
The text is in single-page chunks. The first part is by Michael Paglia, an art critic who has had a column in the Denver weekly Westword and is the author with Ann Scarlett Daley of Landscapes of Colorado, the previous book in this series.
Paglia writes an abbreviated history of abstraction in the state, chronicling what's happened to art here from the 1930s to the present.
As Spencer Tracy once said of Katherine Hepburn's figure in one of their series of comedies, "There ain't much there, but what there is, is cherce (choice)."
Mary Voelz Chandler, art and architecture critic for the Rocky Mountain News and author of A Guide to Denver Architecture, interviewed more than 50 contemporary Colorado artists and boiled each of them down to a single page. The interviews are printed with several samples of the artists' work.
Hugh Grant, director of the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, wrote an introduction and provided pictures from the collection. The Kirkland has made a special collection of modern art created in Colorado in the 20th century. He also races through the 19th century precursors to the abstract artists.
The book is aimed at the general reader rather than academics, though it nonetheless has a useful index. It has been carefully edited to avoid most academic passive verbs and backward-running sentences.
Chandler provides intriguing information such as how Stan Meyer creates his wall hangings out of woven tar paper coated with casein and sprinkled with metallic powder.
But the authors' conclusions aren't always convincing. For instance, Paglia says the relatively late arrival of abstract sculptural work in Colorado (mid-20th century) is because the gorgeous scenery and clear light attracted painters rather than sculptors and the state's art infrastructure came to reflect that. I wondered how he knew. The brevity of the text works against developing arguments.
But I don't want to let the best be the enemy of the ravishing. The existence of this book with its smart and careful collection of stunning art is a reason to be happy. On days in the future, it will be a pleasure to take it off the shelf and discover beauties I missed the first time through.