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 Balance. On the West Ninth Avenue side of Fresh Art, the Mayor's Office of Economic Development has paid for a tiny sculpture garden as part of the long, ongoing Santa Fe Drive beautification project. The garden, composed of a group of rectangular forms made of cast concrete that serve as both pedestals and planter boxes, allows the current show to begin outside. Bolted onto the concrete are three elegant, welded-steel sculptures by that young three-dimensional wizard, David Mazza, one of the greatest sculptors working in the state today. There are more fabulous Mazzas inside, but Balance is more than his solo; it's a group show with lots to recommend it. There are neo-abstract-expressionist paintings by Hugh Daly, a recent transplant from Texas, and more abstracts by Brian Borrello from Oregon, who paints not with pigment but with dense, black motor oil. Finally, there are a handful of layered drawings by Norah Krogman, a Denver artist. The show doesn't completely hold together, but those spectacular Mazzas do help smooth out the rough edges. Through February 21 at Fresh Art Gallery, 900 Santa Fe Drive, 303-623-2200. Reviewed January 29.

Because the Earth Is 1/3 Dirt. The CU Art Museum on the University of Colorado's Boulder campus is an unlikely setting for a blockbuster contemporary ceramics exhibit -- but here it is, anyway. The show was curated by a committee that included museum director Lisa Tamiris Becker and CU art faculty members Scott Chamberlin, Kim Dickey and Jeanne Quinn, and it features an international array of artists working with clay. This quartet of experts invited eleven artists from around the world to exhibit their pieces, and nearly everyone they chose is on the front lines of the ceramic medium. Some of them, such as Walter McConnell, are really pushing the envelope. His installation is made of moist clay in a plastic enclosure, meaning it's not even ceramic, because it hasn't been fired. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the hyperrealist "Bird's Wing," by Ted Muehling, crafted out of good, old-fashioned, high-fired white bisque porcelain. Leopold Foulem, Lawson Oyekan, Wim Delvoye and Annabeth Rosen are among the other talented participants in the show. Through March 19 at the CU Art Museum in the Sibell-Wolle Fine Arts Building on the CU-Boulder campus, 303-492-8300.

Jae Ko, et al. The Robischon Gallery set the standard for art exhibitions in Denver, and the current offerings reinforce that point. In the front is Jae Ko: New Sculpture; in the middle is Ross Bleckner, Terry Maker, Brad Miller; and, in the back is Judy Pfaff. The mood may be austere, but Ko's remarkable modernist wall-hung sculptures made of inked adding-machine tape are actually pretty sumptuous. Bleckner starts things off in the center space with a handful of his famous prints depicting naturalistic shapes in scatter patterns. Next comes the work of Maker, who uses that most ubiquitous of mediums: acrylic on canvas. But that's not the half of it -- she rolls up the canvases and adheres the rolls into blocks that are then sliced with power tools. Brad Miller, the last of the trio, is represented by a lyrical group of artworks that could be called drawings except for one little thing: They were made with a torch. The cavalcade of hits continues into the Viewing Room, where Judy Pfaff is ensconced. It's modest in size but is surely one of the most significant shows in town right now. Through February 21 at the Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788. Reviewed January 22.

Picasso: 25 Years of Edition Ceramics From the Edward and Ann Weston Collection. The Metro State Center for the Visual Arts is hosting this must-see traveling show of Picasso's experiments with clay. Beginning in 1947 and at regular intervals until 1971, Picasso would go to the Madoura studio of Georges and Suzanne Ramié in Vallauris, France, and do ceramics with them during brief, if intensely creative, visits. The Ramiés formed plates, bowls, vases and other pottery items that Picasso then carved and manipulated while the clay was still wet. Finally, Picasso painted them with glazes in his own inimitable way, decorating the surfaces with images of the kinds of strange animals and figures that had already been made famous in his paintings. The resulting pieces were the prototypes for the handmade limited editions on display in Picasso: 25 Years of Edition Ceramics. This type of collaborative and serial approach to studio ceramics may seem strange by American standards, but it's a tried-and-true practice in countries such as France. Through February 28 at the Metro State Center for the Visual Arts, 1734 Wazee Street, 303-294-5207. Reviewed February 5.

Pursuits of Passion. Walker Fine Art has started booking well-known local artists, using their good names to attract visitors -- and it's working. Bill Vielehr, a noteworthy Colorado sculptor with a three-decades-long career under his belt, is the anchor of the latest exhibit, which pairs his sculptures with paintings by Christina Chalmers, an artist who is unknown in town. Vielehr's pieces, made of bronze or aluminum, are all closely related and always have sophisticated patinas. In some sense, Vielehr's sculptures are three-dimensional corollaries to abstract paintings: Each has a linear, as opposed to volumetric, composition based on the artist's instinctual sense for free association of simple forms. Interspersed with the Vielehrs are mixed-media paintings by Chalmers, a New York artist who spends part of each year in Provence. The uneven assortment of overly romantic paintings come from several different series and actually look like the work of several different artists. Through February 21 at Walker Fine Art, 300 West 11th Avenue, 303-355-8955. Reviewed January 29.

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