TUCKED in a corner of the Denver Art Museum's current Visions-Revisions exhibition, a doorway leads into a red room. Next to the doorway is a large photograph of an emphatically gray restaurant interior. A couple sit at a table at the back of the room, and a waiter takes their order. Dressed in gray, their flesh tones contrast sharply with the entirely monochromatic surroundings - chairs, tablecloths, bread, glasses, plates, - all gray. Meanwhile dozens of brilliant crimson foxes leap, scamper, scratch, and play - unnoticed by the three humans.
The photograph by New York artist Sandy Skoglund is an integral part of her adjacent installation ``Fox Games.'' Her wily strategy is to arrest us with the gray and red photograph, and then release us into the installation - the same roomy restaurant now all mischievously gone red with gray foxes cavorting.
Ms. Skoglund's color-reversing humor draws a giggle from two little girls who don't know what to make of the strange, funny, disturbing environment. The children clearly delight in the frozen foxes.
Skoglund's witty installation sets up interesting contrasts to delight and bewilder adults and children alike. The most obvious is color, but there are several others. The piece is carefully ordered yet portrays chaos. Wild animals let loose in a fancy restaurant would behave just like these, utterly unconscious of the human eating rituals such an environment represents. The viewer must contrast human behavior with animal - ``civilized'' behavior with ``natural'' behavior.
The installation, like the photograph, freezes a moment in time - the foxes are frozen in mid-motion. Giving the appearance of movement, they are still. But the viewer's presence in the room injects real motion and real time into the piece.
The two-dimensionality of the photograph bounds into three dimensions in the installation, and one has to think about space and how color shapes (and changes) perception. The vibrant red of the restaurant forces the eye to see the gray foxes as green. The color that covers everything in the restaurant turns bread to stone. We are in a familiar environment made strange. And then the red is a tad bewildering all by itself.
Something of the apocryphal clings to the experience, though what the artist may be saying about the chaotic state of contemporary life is not evident.
It's not supposed to be. ``I'm not interested in controlling the viewer,'' Skoglund said in a recent telephone interview. ``I'm more interested in setting up a familiar scene which draws the viewer in then turning it upside down once the viewer gets inside.''
Her environments are chosen for a kind of familiar quality, she says, so they tend to be middle-of-the-road, middle-class since the largest number of viewers will be familiar with that suburban look.
Skoglund develops a dramatic tension that seems to imply, as she says, a narrative, but the viewer must either supply his or her own, or be content to wonder, and wonder is one element of the emotional content of the piece. Even though a lot of information is conveyed, in some ways, she says, the installation is like a blank canvas. ``You can look at it in each of several ways and each would be correct.''
Skoglund is clear about what she thinks the role of the artist is. ``I think its the same as it's always been,'' she says. ``It's to be [personally] invisible and to reflect the times. I think it is a passive role, a subordinate role as opposed to a role of leadership and control.''
While Skoglund has worked in several media, she is best known for her installations. ``Green House,'' which depicts a number of blue dogs in a living room entirely covered in grass, has shown in Baltimore, New York, and Atlanta and will reopen in Kansas City at the Morgan Gallery on June 21. Her new work, ``Gathering Paradise,'' which involves a great many black squirrels busy on a pink patio, will open at the Carl Solway Gallery in Cincinnati June 7. In these works, as in her earlier ``Revenge of the G old Fish'' and ``Radioactive Cats,'' fantasy, social observation, and the visible world combine to stimulate thought at the level of feeling.
Skoglund's work is not analytical. It allows the viewer's own imagination and perception to soar, anchored by delicate layers of feeling - some of which are rooted in the recognition of the extreme moral and social difficulties of our age.