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Trifecta’s “minUMENTAL” showcases mini art, small pricetags

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Elizabeth Blau’s paintings are an undeniable highlight of Trifecta Gallery’s minUMENTAL Invitational.

It’s that time of year again! Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, reindeer stampedes at the mall … and, of course, Trifecta Gallery’s minUMENTAL Invitational.

Now in its fourth year, minUMENTAL has become something of a local holiday tradition. The premise is simple: Trifecta owner and artist Marty Walsh invites a slew of local artists to produce a series of pieces with the intention of offering art buyers a holiday gift-giving alternative. Playing against the idea of the “monumental” in art (serious, large-scale, often precious materials), the diminutive size of the gallery versus the number of artists involved means that the work has to be tiny, mini … minumental, in fact. Conveniently enough, the smaller size also means that the pieces are generally more affordable.

Phillip Denker's "Blue to Rush"

Calendar

minUMENTAL Invitational
Three and a half stars
Through December 24; Wednesday-Friday, noon-4 p.m.; Saturday, noon-2 p.m.
Trifecta Gallery, 366-7001.
Trifecta Gallery

Translation: This can be a win-win for both art buyers and art lovers. You’ve got artists that normally work on a much larger scale confined to a series of economic and spatial limitations, pushing them out of their comfort zones and (hopefully) to unexpected creative solutions. And you’ve got artwork the average Joe might actually be able to afford.

Given the rotating roster of artists and modest guidelines, no two minUMENTALs are alike. The look of the show depends entirely on how the artists embrace the challenge—take a risk or play it safe? This year features good stuff with a nice mix of fresh faces, playful humor and genuinely surprising efforts.

The overarching trend is undeniably kitsch. Elizabeth Blau pops her minUMENTAL cherry with a series of show-stopping paintings in glow-in-the-dark acrylic. These electric Kool-Aid acid landscapes are almost sappy enough to fit in with kitsch counterparts at a back-roads motel. But Blau’s immense skill steps things up a notch, adding a layer of complexity that keeps you wanting more. Absolute gems.

This margin of high and low is Justin Favela’s full-time playground. In sculpture and print, Favela filters Hispanic and Las Vegas pop-cultural tropes through a Western art-historical lens. Media like cardboard and plaster also play nicely off the show’s underlying anti-monumental drift. What’s not to love about Favela’s gilded etchings of tiny Chihuahuas?

The kitsch crown, however, goes to Todd VonBastiaans and his truly inspired Franklin Mint porcelain plates of disco nativity scenes. If the show weren’t free, these would be worth the price of admission alone.

Shan Michael Evans and Sam Davis, each reliable for their uniquely tender eyes for portraying robots and Martians, don’t disappoint. Evans’ “Winterland Strawberry” is sweetly vulnerable without being saccharine. And although Davis’ laser-cut mixed-media paintings of UFOs and zeppelins are lovely, the artist’s tintypes of hand-made robots are a special surprise: gorgeous, melancholy and haunting.

Tintypes aren’t minUMENTAL Invitational’s only serendipity, and several artists veer away from the kitschy undercurrent. With a touch of William Blake, Thomas Willis creates burnt paintings—yes, burnt as in fire. His series of “Nearest Objects” (keys, phone charger, pocket change) “painted” with flames is mindful of the homogenous ephemerality of the interchangeable objects that fill our personal space. Just don’t try painting with fire at home.

Catherine Borg has for some time used drawing as a format for investigating what might be best described as the domestic surreal. Her drawings of teepees and easy chairs seem simple and harmless, but their juxtaposed icons sear onto the brain and resonate for days.

Fresh faces include recent transplant Phillip Denker. Denker’s drawings are evocative of elaborate, mathematically generated 3-D CAD scrolls. Look closer, and slight imperfections betray more humble origins: precise structures obsessively hand-rendered in gel pen. Brian Porray offers a painting similar in its sterile mathematics—a clean, metallic grid that sharply uses complementary colors to its advantage.

JW Caldwell continues his wildlife obsession with a series of “Post-Apocalyptic Birds of Paradise.” These tight little acrylic-on-paper paintings depict beautiful birds whose eyes emit searing beams of golden light—pretty useful for 2012’s looming apocalypse.

The list of artists is long and varied: Mary Warner, Amy Sol, Eric Joyner, Casey Weldon, Sola, Ginger Bruner (!), to name but a few. Trifecta Gallery’s minUMENTAL Invitational could easily slip into a throwaway exhibition whose sole purpose is to fill stockings and a cash register. But a smart curatorial effort coupled with a group of artists willing to have fun make minUMENTAL an essential stop for a dash of much-needed holiday cheer.

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Danielle Kelly

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