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Excess at its best: LoDo’s K Contemporary gallery gives “bunny artist” Hunt Slonem the big show he deserves

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Excess at its best: LoDo’s K Contemporary gallery gives “bunny artist” Hunt Slonem the big show he deserves

Hunt Slonem is an artist and a brand. He is known best for his large, repetitive paintings of bunnies — and his work is in 250 museums across the globe.

It’s also on tote bags, throw pillows, beach hats and assorted tabletop accessories that he sells on his website, as well as in a dedicated “Hop Up Shop” at the Bergdorf Goodman department store. He’s figured out how to what so many artists dream of: sell work on a grand scale while retaining creative credibility. Four-plus decades into his career, he is bigger than ever, and everyone seems to like him.

For his first solo exhibition in Denver, K Contemporary Gallery matches that bigness by placing his work in an opulent, over-the-top setting that resembles an elegant salon. There are more than 300 Slonem objects in the show, titled “Curiouser and Curiouser,” and they are surrounded by luxe furnishings — candelabras, chandeliers, gilded mirrors, fancy rugs — making for an immersive art experience not often seen in commercial galleries.

Gallery owner Doug Kacena, who curated the exhibition with Jonathan Saiz, said the backdrop was inspired by Slonem’s second pre-occupation, buying and restoring historic homes. In between all those rabbit paintings, he’s been the force behind efforts to save landmarks such as Charles Sumner Woolworth’s mansion in Scranton, Pa., and the Cordts Mansion in Kingston, N.Y.

To create the scenery, the curators borrowed wares from Denver stalwarts Erin Johnson Antiques and Shaver-Ramsey Fine and Custom Rugs. They painted walls in brilliant blues, hot yellows and flat blacks. They set out enough exquisite tables and chairs to open a fine restaurant. It’s all very lush and busy and indulgent.

But it’s well-reasoned and art-first. The interior decoration doesn’t overwhelm the work. Part of that is because there is so much of it; art is stacked, hung and set everywhere in the two-story gallery.

The other part is that Slonem’s products can take the competition. They are full of color and confidence, and maximalism is their charm.

Slonem works over a variety of media. There are the paintings, of course, but also three-dimensional glassworks, as well as bronze works, neon works and outdoor sculptures. Slonem is productive, and maybe to a fault: His output has a distinct signature but there’s also a mass-produced, factory-made feel to it, and the commercial product lines only enhance that perception.

“Curiouser and Curiouser” puts a positive spin on that abundance by honoring the concept of excess and playing up Slonem’s “neo-expressionist” habit of repetition. He paints bunnies again and again, birds again and again, butterflies again and again. He piles on the color and crams subject matter onto canvases.

If you go

Hunt Slonem’s “Curiouser and Curiouser” continues through Nov. 6 at K Contemporary, 1412 Wazee St. It’s free. Info at 303-590-9800 or kcontemporaryart.com.

One notable painting in the show pairs various species of feathery, tropical birds with bears and layers them on top of jungle flora rendered in sharp yellows, golds, reds and greens. Even his simple black line drawings of bunnies — the ones he is most famous for — feature bursts of oranges and purples in the background.

The gallery describes the overall effect as a “meditative visual mantra,” and it is possible to see these pieces, all together, as something like spiritual chants — not quite quiet, but meditative in the way they allow one idea to relentlessly occupy brain space. Bunnies, if you have enough them, can be hypnotic.

1632747826 319 Excess at its best LoDos K Contemporary gallery gives bunny
Hunt Slonem also makes bunnies out of neon. (Provided by K Contemporary Gallery)

But it’s also possible to see these works as a depiction of nature and all of its power: bunnies with their capacity to reproduce, butterflies with their adaptability to change. Through endless repetition, Slonem’s work suggests animals and plants — even delicate, winged insects — are strong, inevitable forces, not secondary to humans but equally mighty. There’s a frivolity to the paintings and sculptures, a silliness, but also great respect for the environment.

“Curiouser and Curiouser,” because of its excess, brings that quality out of the work in a way many Slonem’s fans might not have recognized in the past. It’s solid a testimony in favor of the art of curation.

“Curiouser and Curiouser” is also, simply said, a fun show to see. It would have been easy for K Contemporary to just throw these works up on a wall or place them on pedestals. That is what commercial galleries usually do, and Slonem’s star-power would have brought in the crowds regardless of how the objects were displayed.

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