Sketches

Brief reviews of current shows

Apparition. The brand-new Gallery Severn, which is owned by art collector and retired executive Andy Dodd, aims to be what he has called a "launch pad" for emerging artists. This specialty in fresh faces instantly makes the place interesting. Also interesting is Dodd's decision to feature only one artist at a time so that the gallery can promote individuals, individually. Limiting inventory in this way seems like a risky business move, but who knows? It might just work. For the inaugural exhibition, Apparition: The Act of Appearing, Dodd chose to highlight abstract paintings by Dante Ortiz, a young artist who is little known in Denver. Born in Colorado, Ortiz was educated at the Rhode Island School of Design, earning degrees in landscape architecture and fine arts. This led directly to his founding of Studio Forma, a landscape design firm in Boulder. Last year he started painting again, creating the abstracts of overlapping color fields set off by enthusiastic scribbles that make up this show. These bright Ortiz paintings look pretty good in the tidy space. Through June 30 at Gallery Severn, 3210 Tejon Street, 303-532-9369.

DELIRIOUS and URBAN ORGANICA. There might be some kind of message behind the juicy-looking resin-on-acrylic panels installed in the front of + Gallery that make up Kate Petley's solo, DELIRIOUS, but it's hard to figure out what that would be. Instead, what's striking is how beautiful they are -- and how decorative. Each of Petley's pieces has been mounted on two chrome brackets that hold them to the walls, allowing light to shine through from behind and give them a luminescent quality. A major strength of these Petleys is the colors, from rich ambers to gorgeous blues. Probably as a result of the physics of pouring the liquid resin, the compositions are predominately organic abstractions, which makes them neo-modern. In the back is Jean Arnold's URBAN ORGANICAmade up of abstract paintings that reference representational imagery, lending them a retro quality. Arnold's subjects are the sights she's recorded of motor trips in the West, and to some extent she's able to convey movement of those adventures. Through May 19 at + Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296-0927. Reviewed May 4.

Finding Place, The Last Supper and 38 of 50. There's an unusual show called Finding Place: Life in Ritual on display in the main gallery at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Fort Collins. The exhibit not only incorporates dance, video and painting, but also interconnects and interprets them. Dancers Judy Bejarano and Lisa Morgan created movements based on everyday rituals while visual artists Kaidi Dunstan and John Giarrizzo did pieces based on the dancers. Conceptual artist randall sinner brought it all together by recording the dancers and the visual artists on video and in photos, thus interpreting the interpretations. On the mezzanine, sinner is the subject of a solo titled 38 of 50: CAPITOL EMBROIDERY. The show documents a performance piece sinner's done on the steps of 38 of 50 state capitol buildings, in which he embroiders ropes in the manner of state flags as a protest against the death penalty. The companion exhibit, Julie Green's The Last Supper, is made up of white plates decorated to depict the last-meal requests of inmates on death row. Finding Place through May 20, The Last Supper and 38 of 50, through May 13, all at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 201 South College Avenue, Fort Collins, 1-970-482-2787.

From Nordenskiold to Nusbaum. This impressive photo show, on view in the Western History/Genealogy gallery of the Denver Central Library, has the five-volume title of From Nordenskiold to Nusbaum: Archaeology, Photography and Tourism in the Early Years of Mesa Verde National Park. The show was jointly curated by Thomas Carr, archaeologist at the Colorado Historical Society, and Trina Purcell, curator of photography at the Denver Public Library. Carr and Purcell picked through the extensive collections of both the CHS and the DPL to select the pieces. The Nordenskiold part of the title refers to Gustaf Nordenskiold, a Swedish scientist and photographer who explored Mesa Verde in 1891; the Nusbaum part refers to Jesse Logan Nusbaum, who excavated the ruins and became the superintendent of Mesa Verde National Park in 1921. But there's more to it than photos by Nordenskiold and Nusbaum; pieces by William Henry Jackson, Thomas McKee, George Beam, Laura Gilpin and many others fill out the show. Through May 31 at the Western History/Genealogy gallery, Denver Central Library, 10 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-1821. Reviewed April 20.

Gwen Laine and Lorelei Schott. William Biety, exhibition director of the Sandy Carson Gallery, is great at putting together complementary shows. That's exactly what he's done in the pairing of Gwen Laine, featuring contemporary photo-based pieces, and Lorelei Schott, filled with nature-based abstract paintings. Both Laine and Schott are respected local artists who've shown their work in the area for years. In Laine's majestic photos, the artist layers images one over another by re-photographing it repeatedly until it is vaporous and the subject matter ambiguous. In a conceptually similar though thoroughly different practice, Schott buries her canvases in her backyard garden so that they are altered through natural processes. The natural stains and attached debris become the taking-off point for the painted compositions, the details of which -- flowers, leaves, etc. -- also refer to her garden. As usual, there's also a nice selection of artists from the gallery's stable displayed in the back. As an added treat, there's a mini-solo reprising last month's Frank Sampson show of magical realist works. All through May 12 at Sandy Carson Gallery, 760 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573-8585. Reviewed April 27.

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├ín. 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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