Westword Magazine

Susan Meyer tackles utopian disintegration at Plus Gallery

By Michael Paglia Thursday, Nov 8 2012

Conceptualist Susan Meyer, who teaches art at the University of Denver, is the subject of the provocatively titled Plato's Retreat at Plus Gallery. What makes the title provocative is that it's a reference to a well-known heterosexual swingers' club that existed in New York in the late 1970s and early '80s. That era was marked by history-making levels of sexual promiscuity, a craze that was brought to a screeching halt by AIDS, with the city of New York closing down places like Plato's in reaction to the epidemic. The free-sex utopia of America at that time became a disease-ridden dystopia almost overnight.

Though Meyer makes no overt references to any of this history, her show seems to be concerned with the tendency of utopias to disintegrate into dystopias. When I spoke with her about it, she mentioned that viewers had raised the topic of Arcosanti — the utopian architectural fantasy by Paolo Soleri in Arizona — in reaction to the show's star piece, also titled "Plato's Retreat." Meyer acknowledges that Arcosanti was a source, as is the inspiration she got from a Robert Smithson lecture about a decaying hotel in Mexico.

The piece is an installation on a set of risers that looks like a simultaneously ancient and futuristic miniature city. Meyer made it by using digitized laser cutters to partly cut out shaped fragments that she stacked to form the "city." She filled the sides of the cardboard to provide a flat surface, then coated the whole thing with resinous concrete filler, which makes the construction look a little like stone. She also accented it with actual live plants in soil and small acrylic squares evoking windows.

Related, at least ideologically, is "Shelter Rock," a stacked acrylic-sheet form in the shape of a rock, with a room complete with tiny people inserted into a notch in the side. Meyer lays out a series of works that anticipate "Shelter Rock," including a video of an actual rock, a drawing of it, and a three-dimensional model created through transmedia.

Meyer's Plato's Retreat runs through November 24 at Plus Gallery, 2501 Larimer Street, 720-394-8484, www.plusgallery.com.


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