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BOCTOK. Steve Antonio is not a former Soviet artist, although his large paintings at Capsule, the gallery part of Pod, might make you think he is one, since these neo-pop compositions depict the first generation of Soviet cosmonauts. The little room at Capsule looks great and is perfectly filled by the monumental Antonio portraits. The six are: Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space and the most famous of the group; Gherman Titov; Andrian Nicolayev; Valeri Bykovsky; and Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to leave the atmosphere. Each portrait is paired with a text panel explaining the significance of the individual cosmonaut. Antonio's method looks photo-based, and it is -- but not in the ordinary sense. He projects photos onto the canvases and then hand paints the images. This hybrid process makes the works look like photo silkscreens from a distance; up close, though, they are clearly paintings, with the pigments showily worked in places. The group is unified stylistically, in size and by their shared palettes, and all have a red background emblazoned with a yellow hammer and sickle. Through March 19 at Capsule@Pod, 554 Santa Fe Drive, 303-623-3460. Reviewed March 10.

Conversations in Clay. The ceramics exhibit at the Lakewood Cultural Center has been causing a lot of commotion ever since Lakewood City Manager Mike Rock ordered that part of a piece be removed for being "anti-American." The piece that Rock and members of the Lakewood City Council had a problem with is by Gayla Lemke, one of three artists in Conversations in Clay; the others are Caroline Douglas and Marie E.v.B. Gibbons. The objectionable piece was part of Lemke's "Hope Stones," which is made up of ceramic forms in the shape of stones that are impressed with quotations about the futility of war. Among the quotes Air Force veteran Lemke chose was one by political commentator Bill Maher, which some found offensive. In Lakewood, that meant it had to go. The controversy has overshadowed the show, which is pretty nice and includes figures by Douglas and a nature-based installation by Gibbons. Nonetheless, with the removal of the difficult element, the City of Lakewood diminished its center's credibility. Through March 25 at the Lakewood Cultural Center, 470 South Allison Parkway, 303-987-7876. Reviewed March 3.

Every Place and Bound.A group of distinctive-looking post-minimalist paintings make up + Gallery's Every Place, a solo dedicated to Houston artist McKay Otto. He is just the latest Texan to be recruited for a Denver show by gallery director Gilbert Barrera, himself a Houstonite. Otto, a friend of the late minimalist master Agnes Martin, creates simple compositions -- either spatters or stripes -- painted in pale colors that seem to float beneath the active surfaces of his light-colored grounds. He achieves this effect by laying mesh over his already painted surfaces and then putting more paint on top. In the darker back part of +, there's a hot-looking solo focusing on the recent work of Ethan Jantzer, a definite up-and-comer among local experimental photographers. The show has the provocative title Bound, which refers to the tangled twine depicted in Jantzer's enlarged Cibachrome prints, which are based on photograms. In each, the piece of twine -- which looks like a scribbled line -- is set against a brightly colored ground in one of several rich shades. The enlargements are behind Plexiglas sheets, the perfect finishing touch. Both through April 1 at + Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296-0927.

Folds and Odes. The membership of Denver's oldest artist cooperative, Spark Gallery, has had a hard time figuring out how to use its new space, but, happily, the venue has been reformulated for the current duo and looks better than usual. In the west gallery is Folds, a show of ceramic sculptures by Judith Cohn; in the east gallery is Odes, an exhibit of drawings and boxes by Jean Schiff. Cohn made her local reputation in the realm of installation art, and though the pieces in Folds appear to be abstract elements from her installations, they are actually individual sculptures. The pieces are beautifully glazed and arranged in groups according to type: The "Folds" look like rolled up newspapers, and the "Tangles" resemble fettuccine. The elegant expressionism of Cohn's ceramics makes for quite a contrast with Schiff's meticulous if funky drawings and related boxes. Schiff's style is reminiscent of children's-book illustrations -- only partly because characters such as Pinocchio and Dudley Do-Right make guest appearances in them. Both through March 19 at Spark Gallery, 900 Santa Fe Drive, 720-889-2200. Reviewed March 10.

Leaving Aztl├ín. The Center for Visual Art in LoDo is presenting a provocative show, Leaving Aztlán: Rethinking Contemporary Latino and Chicano Art. Kaytie Johnson from the Peeler Art Center at DePauw University put it together with input from, among others, CVA director Kathy Andrews. The show examines new trends being embraced by Latino and Chicano artists -- and by Latinas and Chicanas -- and in the process explores the convoluted relationships between art and ethnicity. Ten years ago this would have been an overtly political show, but now, though politics are still in the mix, there are also many pieces that express cutting-edge aesthetic theories. Artists from across the country were selected -- including Jesse Amado, Connie Arismendi, Javier Carmona, Alex Donis, Diana Guerrero-Mácia, John Hernandez, Benito Huerta, Chuck Ramirez, Juan Ramos and Rubén Ortiz Torres -- but Johnson also chose two local talents, Carlos Frésquez and Maria Michelle Gonzalez. Through April 23 at the Center for Visual Art, 1734 Wazee Street, 303-294-5207.

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