Sketches

Brief reviews of current shows

KAHN + SELESNICK and Gary Emrich. Collaborators Nicholas Kahn, who was born in New York, and Richard Selesnick, from London, create photo-based works purporting to be historic documents, though the scenes they depict are thoroughly preposterous. Their show begins with the pseudo-exotic "The City of Salt," followed by the pseudo-scientific "The Apollo Prophecies," the pseudo-archaeological "Scotlandfuturebog" and the pseudo-National Geographic "The Circular River". There are elaborate stories laid out by the scenarios depicted in each, but without referring to the explanations by the artists, viewers can only get a vague sense of what they might be. Every one of these series is engaging, elegant and well-done, but the images from "The Apollo Prophecies" are the most incredible because they're so convincing. The subject is the moon's surface as recorded in panoramic photos that are more than six feet in length. In a small space in back, Gary Emrich: Spectacle, pushes photography onto a different path, using it to make sculptures. Both through May 27 at the Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788. Reviewed May 4.

Mel Strawn: Coins & Medals +. Sandra Phillips Gallery has stumbled onto a niche in the art market: featuring the work of well-known Colorado artists from yesteryear. Last month it was Ruth Todd, who is in her nineties; now it's Mel Strawn, who, in his seventies, is quite a bit younger. Strawn moved to Denver in 1969 to succeed Vance Kirkland as the head of the art school at the University of Denver, a post he held until 1984. This show is not a retrospective of the artist's work; some early abstracts and several newer works are included. In addition to abstract-expressionist compositions, there are several paintings that include elements based on the shapes of coins and medals, as indicated in the show's title. Some are large mixed-media constructions that look like the kind of thing a general would wear, except much, much larger. Strawn takes large circular forms and suspends them from huge brackets hung with enormous ribbons. The shape, which refers directly to real commemoratives, adds an overriding pop flavor. Through May 18 at Sandra Phillips Gallery, 744 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573-5969. Reviewed April 27.

Never Leaving Aztl√°n. This exhibit, put together by Museo de las Américas director Patty Ortiz with suggestions from George Rivera, takes on issues relevant to Chicano art versus what's called post-Chicano art. The show is not the first volley in this war of opposing ideals. In 2005, the Center for Visual Art in LoDo mounted Leaving Aztlán, which was meant to highlight how post-Chicano art had superseded Chicano art because of its greater relevance. Never Leaving Aztlán was conceived as an answer to that show. But even though Chicano art plays a part in the Museo presentation, it's post-Chicano artists who carry the day, just like at the CVA. One of the most impressive things is "Carpa Stage," by Carlos Frésquez, Frank Zamora and Los Supersónicos. It's an enormous installation of a full-sized stage modeled on those from Mexican tent shows and includes an array of images based on Mexican, Catholic and American corporate sources. Other standouts are the four paintings by Quintín Gonzalez and the installation of a found crib with a kinetic monster-truck toy inside, by Lewis de Soto. Through May 21 at the Museo de las Américas, 861 Santa Fe Drive, 303-571-4401. Reviewed March 2.

see into liquid. This theme is centered on images of water. Occupying both the main floor and the mezzanine of the Museum of Contemporary Art, the secret to the exhibit's success is that it's a beautiful exhibit filled with beautiful things. There are marvelous drawings and prints, many elegant photos, and the three videos are fabulous -- and that's saying something. Director Cydney Payton came up with the idea for this show when she noticed that artists from all over the world were using water for inspiration. The most famous artist involved in the show is Robert Longo -- who is also the best represented -- but there are also other well-known names, including Catherine Opie and Richard Misrach. Rebecca Di Domenico is the only Colorado artist chosen, with most of the others hailing from either the east or west coast, or from different spots around the world. A show about water in landlocked Denver does have a geographic disconnect, but then again, who isn't familiar with the sea? Through May 28 at the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, 1275 19th Street, 303-298-7554. Reviewed February 23.

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