Intricate, evocative paintings, photographs and sculpture have popped up on the Market Street side of Larimer Square, offering a creative contribution to Denver’s housing conversation.
Sales from the exhibit HOME/MAKER, which opens Thursday in a space that once housed an Irish pub at 1432 Market Street, will benefit the Denver-based national nonprofit developer Mercy Housing. The show includes the work of local professionals alongside pieces by residents of Mercy’s apartments for low-income families, seniors and others. Art-making is part of the support programs offered at Mercy complexes.
One resident, identified only by her initials, MEA, depicted a crying woman in profile over text that includes the Bill of Rights. MEA’s “Homeless” raises the question of whether housing is a basic right.
Becky Wareing Steele, who has work in the Denver Art Museum Collection and was a RedLine Contemporary Art Center resident, also took on issues in the news. Her sculpture “A Household Divided” includes an upended — or flipped — tiny home. The title evokes Abraham Lincoln’s warning about contentiousness within American society.
Wareing Steele’s piece is “pretty indicative of how a lot of people feel right now about Denver’s housing,” said Deanne Gertner, who curated HOME/MAKER.
Gertner, a writer and artist who was raised in the Denver area, was only able to buy her own home, in 2013, because of the city’s affordable housing program and downpayment assistance from the state.
When she was asked to curate the Mercy fundraiser, Gertner “thought it was an opportunity to make a social commentary with art, and also chose art that was really beautiful and well-made.”
And she chose women artists. Female-headed households are disproportionately represented among families living in poverty for essentially the same reasons women artists have struggled: lack of recognition of their contributions and equal pay for their work.
Patricia Barry Levy, whose imaginative photographic collages are in HOME/MAKER, said she’s sometimes skeptical of women-only exhibitions.
But “in this case it felt really appropriate. We’re all aware that households that require government assistance or foundation assistance often are women-led. It just feels like a female issue.”
Marsha Mack, another artist in the show, confronts the idea of “women’s work” in assemblages of vintage wallpaper, images culled from old cookbooks and her own hand-stitching.
“That kind of labor in the home is so often overlooked and often deemed feminine and therefore lesser,” she said.
Gertner ensured artists in the show, which has sponsors that include the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority and Larimer Associates, will get 50 percent of the proceeds, a standard gallery arrangement. The remaining 50 percent goes to Mercy Housing.
“She isn’t asking us to take less than we normally need to have,” Barry Levy said.
Prices for the work range from $45 to $3,500, making HOME/MAKER a show with a focus on affordable art as well as affordable housing. Last year, Gertner founded Hey Hue, an agency that has produced other pop-up shows to support artists and to encourage art buying with accessible prices.
Kelly Duffield, a Boulder artist whose drawings and collages turn scenes from everyday life into something rich and strange, was happy to participate in HOME/MAKER because of Gertner.
“I love what she’s doing, the way she’s doing art in her life and the Denver community,” Duffield said. “It’s forward-looking and creative.”
Lindsay Smith Gustave said people don’t always realize that art can be affordable. Gertner is spreading a “really important message,” Smith Gustave said.
Smith Gustave is among several HOME/MAKER artists who incorporate diverse elements in their work. Her sculptures include “inherited objects” — beaded flowers her grandmother made.
Home as imagined by the HOME/MAKER is about family, history, politics and creativity.
“Home falls under every level of our hierarchy of needs,” Gertner said, “from basic shelter all the way to self-expression.”
HOME/MAER is up through May 5 and open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. or by appointment via email@example.com.