Brief reviews of current shows

Illusions. The Walker Gallery in the Golden Triangle has paired Bonny Lhotka's unusual digital photo-enlargements with Christopher Oar's geometric sculptures that refer to everyday objects for the show Illusions. The title, of course, is meaningless, since the word could be used to describe anything in the visual arts. Lhotka is an experimental photo artist who uses unusual forms, like lenticular photos (the ones with different images depending on the viewer's vantage point), and odd materials, such as metal and ultraviolet-cured inks. Though Lhotka employs digital technology, she also does a lot of handwork to come up with her finished pieces. Her compositions are jammed with imagery and drenched in colors, some of them boldly bright, others recessively dark. Oar does tabletop sculptures made of welded steel. Typically, he sets up a stack of flat rectangles reminiscent of piles of books, and then places a single steel sphere in the mix. According to his statement, this sphere is meant to represent his aloneness as an artist. Through January 4 at Walker Fine Art, 300 West 11th Avenue, #A, (entrance on Cherokee Street), 303-355-8955. Reviewed December 8.

Iswaswillbe. Though the Mizel Center is a Jewish institution, the Singer Gallery showcases both Jewish and non-Jewish artists. Right now it's featuring Iswaswillbe, a solo of work by Geoffrey Laurence, a Jewish artist from New Mexico. The title painting depicts a robust SS officer in full Nazi regalia with his arm around a skeleton wearing a prayer shawl. It's the kind of thing only a Jewish artist could do -- and only a Jewish institution could display. And in a predictable irony, a Jewish institution is also where the people most apt to be offended by it would be -- and some have been offended and complained. It's apparent, however, that this painting and lots of others in the show are actually anti-war comments. These paintings and drawings by Laurence are meticulously crafted and obviously filled with content. Through December 30 at the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-316-6360. Reviewed December 22.

Mark Dickson and Michael Clapper. The Havu Gallery has a great pair of solos installed together on the first floor. Mark Dickson, which features classic modernist paintings, is displayed on the walls, and Michael Clapper, made up of equally classic modernist sculptures, is exhibited on the floor. Dickson has been working in the area for the past thirty years, but a lot of people will have never heard his name because he rarely exhibits. The large paintings and small monotypes at Havu are straightforward versions of traditional abstract expressionism, with Dickson seeming to riff off of mid-century New York School abstraction. The sculptures by Clapper work perfectly with Dickson's paintings. Clapper, who lives in Denver, employs simple shapes in his sleek organic sculptures, many of which recall traditional Japanese gate standards. That's not surprising, since Clapper recently traveled to Japan. Through January 1 at the William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360. Reviewed December 15.

Revealing the Muse and Colorado Innovators. Hugh Grant, founder and director of the Kirkland Museum on Capitol Hill, curated both Revealing the Muse and Colorado Innovators at the Lakewood Heritage Center using pieces borrowed from his institution's permanent collection. The Kirkland Museum has an impressive assemblage that includes paintings by Kirkland himself, work by other Colorado artists and an extensive group of decorative arts. Colorado Innovators provides a survey of mid-twentieth-century artists working in Denver. Most of the objects included have either never been exhibited or haven't been seen in living memory. Revealing the Muse is a Vance Kirkland retrospective that begins with his work from the 1930s and ends with pieces done right before his death in 1981. I think it could be argued that surrealism was Kirkland's most important influence, and one of his most important innovations was the mixing of oil paint and water poured onto the surfaces of his pieces. Beginning in the 1950s, this mixture led to some of his greatest paintings ever. Through February 10 at the Radius Gallery, Lakewood Heritage Center, 801 South Yarrow Street, Lakewood, 303-987-7850. Reviewed September 8.

Tir a'Mhurain. The bizarre title of this photo exhibit at The Camera Obscura Gallery is Scottish for "Land of Bent Grass" and refers to the Hebrides islands, which lie northwest of Scotland. The exhibit is made up of a recent project carried out by Josef Tornick, who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 1954, legendary photographer Paul Strand spent three months recording the sights on the tradition-bound islands of the Hebrides. In 2004 Tornick decided to retrace Strand's steps. But despite the Strand reference, Tornick did not ape the master's style and instead brought his own vision. This was due in part to the conceptual underpinnings of Tornick's project, which has a sociological flavor. Tornick conveys the everyday life of people who live in the Hebrides, including their interconnections, traditions and cultural life. The photos also reveal that life is hard, no matter how picturesque the Hebrides are. Through December 31 at Camera Obscura Gallery, 1309 Bannock Street, 303-623-4059.

TRUSS THRUST. Museum of Contemporary Art director Cydney Payton put together this thematic video show by free-associating on the topic of visual perception. She considered biological processes, social and cultural conditioning and the physical and psychological perceptions of movement and space. The show addresses all these issues, though it was surely not inevitable that they would lead Payton to organize an exhibit made up of video installations exploring dance and architecture. Payton began to build the show by first selecting Peter Welz, a Berlin-based artist who is known for his exploration of movement in videos, drawings and installations. Welz is joined by The Blue Noses Group from Russia, a partnership of Viacheslav Mizin and Alexander Shaburov, who do short films based on traditional Russian humor, such as "Little Men," which depicts cavorting nudes. The last participant is Sergio Prego, a Spanish artist interested in relentless endurance. Through January 8 at the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, 1275 19th Street, 303-298-7554. Reviewed December 1.

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