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Better Times, et al. Contemporary painter Evan Colbert has been successfully riffing on minimalism, pop art and conceptualism for the last several years -- and he's not about to stop now. Among his most interesting pieces are those in which he creates a color field based on paint chips and then labels it with an evocative word. For his recent body of paintings, displayed in Better Times at the + Gallery, Colbert uses colors and words to evoke political themes, such as the one referencing the Department of Homeland Security's color coding of terrorist-threat levels. It's great. Also at + Gallery is Nocturnal Suburbia, in which Patti Hallock takes shots of the suburbs at night. There's an implicit indictment in these views of cheap materials used mundanely, but this sociocultural narrative is offset by the poetics of the darkness that envelop the scenes. Finally, there's Cremasteric Reflex Corset, a signature piece by Ira Sherman, one of the region's most respected vanguard sculptors. The contraption is a high-tech torture device with the fine detailing of a piece of jewelry. Implicitly, it's intended to be worn by an unlucky man. Through January 7 at + Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296-0927.

Jeff Starr: A Way of Life. For the past twenty years Denver artist Jeff Starr has managed to be relevant to the contemporary art scene, which is no mean feat. Back in the '80s, he established himself as a top contemporary painter with his body of idiosyncratic, surrealist-style paintings. In fact, just last year he was one of the anointed in the Museum of Contemporary Art's biennial, where he was represented by his retro-abstract ceramics. How he went from being a painter to a sculptor is the topic of this exhibit at the Rule Gallery, where Starr's efforts have been seen over the years. The show lays out his development over the last decade, with the oldest pieces in the show dating from the early '90s and the newest having been done within the last few months. The message is that Starr's sculptures come out of his paintings -- sort of. Starr's pieces in any medium are created in a range of styles, but there are always references in them to the art of the past. As an added bonus, conceputal artist David Brady's recent work is on display in the Viewing Room. Through January 8 at the Rule Gallery, 111 Broadway, 303-777-9473.

Opened Windows. Boulder artist Virginia Maitland has been part of the local scene since the '70s, when she moved to Colorado from Philadelphia on a whim after graduation from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Since Opened Windows at Studio Aiello is her first show in Denver in a decade, however, many in the art crowd may never have heard of her, let alone have seen her pieces. Something of a retrospective -- though it's been installed backwards, with the newest works in the first bay and the oldest in the third -- the exhibit includes over three dozen paintings, some of them eight feet long. As befits such a massive endeavor, there's an accompanying catalogue. The show was organized by gallery co-directors Monica Petty Aiello and Tyler Aiello, with lots of input from Maitland. An abstractionist, her signature works are color fields a la Helen Frankenthaler, especially the ones done on unprimed canvas. It's this kind of work, created in the '70s and '80s, that made Maitland famous in the region; she also did other work, such as geometric abstractions and even some representational pieces with photo-transfers. Through January 21 at Studio Aiello, 3563 Walnut Street, 303-297-8166.

TIWANAKU. In the Helen Bonfils Stanton Galleries on the first floor of the Denver Art Museum is the unusual show TIWANAKU: Ancestors of the Inca. Tiwanaku was a large city on the shores of Lake Titicaca, in the mountains of Bolivia, that existed from 200 to 1100 A.D. The people who lived there, also called Tiwanaku, were not really ethnically related to the Inca, though the Inca adopted them as their cultural forebears and believed they were gods. Margaret Young-Sánchez, the DAM's pre-Columbian curator, put together the show, which is groundbreaking as a scholarly endeavor. There are nearly a hundred objects, including ritual pieces, ceramics, gold jewelry, pottery and a selection of remarkable textiles. Interestingly, much of the material is not from Tiwanaku, coming instead from surrounding towns. After all, the Inca -- and then the Spanish -- had looted the place centuries earlier, so there's little left. Through January 23 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed November 25. p>

Western Land: Scapes. Despite the single-show title, this presentation is actually a group of shows that highlight new paintings based on Western views. In the main space is the major attraction: Jeremy Hillhouse's abstracts that are loosely based on landscapes. his exhibit-within-an-exhibit was put together by Denver Art Museum curator Dianne Vanderlip, who became friends with Hillhouse after working with him at the DAM for decades. Vanderlip selected specific works for specific spots in the gallery, even going so far as to draw a map. The paintings, some of them very large, contain geometric references to the land as it might appear if seen from above. Most have a light-colored ground set off by dark lines. The landscape sets up an arena for painting, scraping and repainting. In the back of the gallery are Nebraska artist Stephen Dinsmore's dreamy, expressionist landscapes of actual places out on the plains. Up on the mezzanine, small, hyper-realistic landscapes by Wyoming's Scott Greenig are paired with fairly traditional depictions of the mountains in a post-impressionist style by New Mexico painter Cheryl Derrick. Through January 21 at the William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360.

 
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