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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 every one 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. Reviewed February 26.

Don Stinson, Chuck Forsman and Eric Paddock/Jim Colbert. The Western landscape's natural beauty has taken hold of the imagination of generations of artists, but during the last twenty years, some have chosen to examine the stickier topic of civilization's affect on the scenery. This intellectual approach is the collective theme of a group of exhibits at Robischon Gallery. In the front is Don Stinson: Art and Ruins, which includes three monumental representational paintings of three separate conceptual earthworks from the '60s and '70s along with his more familiar views of abandoned drive-ins and motels. In the middle spaces is Chuck Forsman, which is made up of photos from the artist's book, Western Rider: Views From a Car Window. Forsman is best known as a painter, but it turns out that he has also been taking photos for decades. In the Viewing Room Gallery is Eric Paddock/Jim Colbert, which combines Western landscape photos from Paddock's book, Belonging to the West, with paintings of the same subject by Colbert. Through April 10 at the Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788.

Full Frontal: Contemporary Asian Art from the Logan Collection. The normal stock in trade for the Denver Art Museum's Asian-art curator, Ron Otsuka, is traditional styles, but he's been drafted into doing contemporary duty by a gift that includes more than a score of pieces by Asian and Asian-American artists. The recently acquired booty provided Otsuka with the opportunity to explore new Asian art in Full Frontal: Contemporary Asian Art from the Logan Collection, now on display in the William Sharpless Jackson Jr. Gallery on the museum's fifth floor. The show may be small, but it's bold. Through May 23 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 1-888-903-0278. Reviewed December 11.

Hidden Images. On the mezzanine of Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art is Hidden Images, which is dedicated to recent work by major contemporary Czech artist Adéla Matasová. The show is made up of a handful of things, including a group of conceptual installations that reconcile minimalism to movement. Three of the pieces in Hidden Images turn the concept of color-field painting on its head, because Matasová added a kinetic feature that gives the works changing surfaces and, therefore, changing imagery. To create them, she stretched silver-colored elastic fabric over large, rectangular frameworks; hidden underneath are mechanical features that push forms out from the back of the fabric, thus creating shifting shadow patterns. The pieces are gorgeous and extremely smart, making the show both captivating and provocative. The mezzanine at the MCA is ordinarily used for overflow from downstairs shows instead of as a separate exhibition venue, as it is for Hidden Images -- and clearly the latter is a better use for it. Through May 9 at Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art, 1275 19th Street, 303-298-7554. Reviewed March 11.

Malfunction Junction and Silent Sounds. The most talked-about new art spot in Denver is + Zeile/Judish Gallery, and shows such as Malfunction Junction, an installation by Susan Meyer, is only the latest reason why. Meyer, a Denver artist who's been doing installation art for years, addresses the ups and downs of life using the metaphor of a roller coaster. The piece, made specifically for this show, apes the form of a coaster's supporting trestles, using wood and the track bed (though there are no tracks) outlined in lightbulbs. The analogy is pretty simplistic, but Meyer's monumental installation is completely captivating nonetheless. Silent Sounds is an exhibit of mixed-media paintings by Seattle artist Stefan Knorr. These paintings, which are essentially updates on surrealism, are composed of assemblages of found imagery from the popular media. The disparate and broken images are unified by abstract passages of paint. A reception for both shows is set for Thursday, March 4, at 6 p.m.; the exhibits run through April 3. + Zeile/Judish Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296-2546. Reviewed March 11.

No Joke and No Yokel. This year's interdisciplinary program at the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture at the Jewish Community Center focuses on comics as an art form. It includes a panel discussion, a film series and two notable exhibitions: No Joke: The Spirit of American Comic Books, in the Singer Gallery, and No Yokel: The Spirit of Denver Comic Artists, next door in the Balcony Gallery. No Joke was flawlessly installed and intelligently organized by Singer director Simon Zalkind. One of the city's most accomplished, ambitious and creative curators, Zalkind is normally interested in high culture, so it's a surprise to see how surefooted he is in this popular-cultural realm. For No Joke, he scoured collections across the country to find original drawings by such legendary historic and contemporary comics artists as Al Capp, Howard Cruse, Mort Drucker, Art Spiegelman and a dozen more. Tom Motley, who put together the No Yokel exhibit, also created a mural depicting the history of comics. Through March 28 at the Mizel Center, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-399-2660. Reviewed February 12.

Over A Billion Served. The main winter exhibit at Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art is by Julie Segraves, executive director of Denver's Asian Art Coordinating Council, who brought together photos by eleven important conceptual artists now working in China. Conceptual photography is new in China, but so is photography itself, with the widespread availability of cameras dating back only to the 1980s. Segraves has divided the show into three parts: "Strangers in the Cities," which examines the effect of social change on the Chinese people; "Power Politics," which looks at the effect of the Chinese Communist Party; and "The McDonaldization of China," which is self-explanatory. This exhibit is absolutely awesome, and the photos in it are so unusual and so good that they will leave a lasting impression on anyone who sees them. Through May 9 at Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art, 1275 19th Street, 303-298-7554. Reviewed February 19.

Pard Morrison and James Westwater. Unlike the past few seasons, this year has seen only a few emerging artists who've broken onto the city's art scene. The work of one of the best of this handful of young newcomers is currently being showcased in Pard Morrison: Recent Sculpture and Paintings at the Rule Gallery. Morrison's aesthetic fits the mood here perfectly because his work is inspired by minimalism, the style of choice for Rule. His sculptures, some of which are wall-mounted, are made of aluminum patinated in beautiful, dusty colors. Formally, they are very stark, but the severity is offset by the softness and unevenness of the patinated surfaces, which are very painterly. In the informal Viewing Room in the back is a second, smaller show titled James Westwater: Narrative Works, in which the New Mexico-based artist continues his intellectualized exploration of an archetypal lozenge shape. Westwater uses this shape as a graffiti-like mark that he paints onto ready-made imagery of various kinds. Both shows run through March 20 at Rule Gallery, 111 Broadway, 303-777-9473. Reviewed March 11.

True Gritand /i>Louise Bourgeois. There are two significant shows at the Metro State Center for the Visual Arts, both of which explore the topic of women in the arts. The first is a traveling exhibit, True Grit: Seven Visionaries Before Feminism, which examines the work of a group of modernists who gained prominence in the 1950s and '60s. The seven artists, all of whom are world-famous, are Louise Nevelson, Jay DeFeo, Lee Bonticou, Nancy Grossman, Claire Falkenstein, Nancy Spero and Louise Bourgeois. Though all launched their careers before the rise of feminism, the movement has been very good for their ever-growing reputations; if their names are familiar today, it's because feminists in the art world have championed their work for decades. The second show is Louise Bourgeois: Selections From the Collection of Ginny Williams, a Bourgeois solo organized by CVA director Kathy Andrews. Denver collector Williams has one of the largest Bourgeois collections anywhere, and this is a rare opportunity to see some of it. Through April 24 at the Center for the Visual Arts, 1723 Wazee Street, 303-294-5207.

Vance Kirkland. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the late Vance Kirkland's birth. In honor of the centennial, the Colorado History Museum has mounted a salute to the legendary Colorado artist with the epic title of Vance Kirkland: A Colorado Painter's Life, Early Works and Beyond. Though there are some remarkable early Kirklands in the show, notably a full-sized pencil sketch for a WPA-era mural, the exhibit includes lots more than that. First, there is the work of nearly twenty of Kirkland's friends and colleagues -- among the modern artists in the state from the mid-twentieth century -- and even some contemporary art. Second, interspersed throughout is a design show surveying furniture, pottery and other decorative arts from 1900 to the 1960s. This over-the-top approach can only mean one thing: Hugh Grant, director of the Kirkland Museum, orchestrated it. Through April 4 at the Colorado History Museum, 1300 Broadway, 303-866-3682. Reviewed December 25.

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