Sketches

Brief reviews of current shows

 The Armory Group. In a summer art calendar that's uncharacteristically filled with significant exhibitions, The Armory Group: 40 Years has got to be one of the most important of them all. The story begins back in 1966 in Boulder -- specifically, in the fine-arts department at the University of Colorado. The title of the show refers to a former armory the fine-art department used for graduate studios, and it was there that the group coalesced. The artists of the Armory Group went on to do many things, including founding Drop City, the artful commune near Trinidad, and the CrissCross group, which published a nationally distributed art magazine. And there was Edge Gallery in Boulder and Spark Gallery in Denver. The group includes some of the most respected artists to have worked in Colorado, such as Dale Chisman, Clark Richert, John De Andrea, Margaret Neumann and George Woodman, among others. Woodman's pithy essay in the brochure in the must-read. Through August 20 at the Singer Gallery, Mizel Center for Arts and Culture, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-399-2660.

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.

Balanced Dissolution. Chuck Parson, one of the region's top sculptors, is an artist whose work you'd expect to see in a fall slot, but his solo, Balanced Dissolution, is on right now at Artyard. Parson does non-objective metal sculptures with deep roots in conceptual art and constructivism. He's chiefly interested in creating freestanding sculptures with an industrial aesthetic that comes from their heavy-duty materials, such as steel and stone. But he's also been involved with all kinds of new media, including performance, video and installation. In the small indoor space at Artyard, Parson has installed two large sculptures surrounded by his 3-D dimensional drawings, giving the humble little room a swank atmosphere. The main part of the exhibit is outdoors, and while the works are impressive, they've been poorly installed. There's some kind of unnamed spiritual content to most of these large outdoor pieces, since most recall the form of altars. Through July 31 at Artyard, 1251 South Pearl Street, 303-777-3219. Reviewed June 15.

The Barest Trace and Introverted. Wes Magyar's solo of monumental oil-on-canvas portraits, The Barest Trace, which is installed in the front space at + Gallery, is filled with contemporary paintings that sport traditional methods. The resulting pieces are thick with naturalism in their renderings and crisp details. Though he's still quite young, Magyar's been exhibiting his work around town for a while, so there are certain things that viewers can expect from him. One regular feature is the way he puts psychological narratives in his pictures, though the meanings of his story lines are always indecipherable. In the second space at + is Introverted, a solo of new paintings by young artist Robin Schaefer. The oddball paintings, many of them concerning a potato drenched in dramatic light, reveal that Schaefer is an expert technically. The potatoes (and an orange) have been skillfully rendered, and she's great at orchestrating the light/dark dialectic. I'm not sure Schaefer has yet arrived at the ideal subject to showcase her considerable talents, but the idea of an edgy still life really has potential. Both through July 8 at + Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296-0927. Reviewed June 8.

Decades of Influence. This four-part extravaganza is not only the magnum opus for MCA director Cydney Payton's career thus far, but it's also one of the most important shows to be presented in the area in years. Decades of Influence: Colorado 1985 -- Present goes a long way in demonstrating how vast and sophisticated the art scene around here is, especially when you start to list in your mind all the important players who aren't included. The exhibit starts at the MCA with the 1985 to 1995 portion, and continues on at the Center for Visual Art, a co-sponsor of the show, where the artists representing 1996 to 2006 are ensconced. Then there's the Gates Sculpture Triangle, where outdoor creations are displayed, and finally the Carol Keller Project Space, which houses an installation. There's a members-only reception from 5 to 6 p.m. on Friday, June 16, with the general opening running from 6 to 9 p.m. at all four venues. Through August 27 at Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, 1275 19th Street; Center for Visual Art, 1734 Wazee Street; Gates Sculpture Triangle, 1551 Wewatta Street; and Carol Keller Project Space, 1513 Boulder Street. For information, call 303-298-7554. Reviewed June 22 and 29.

Emmi Whitehorse et al. Joan Markowitz, senior curator and co-director of the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, has put together a trio of single-artist shows. First is Emmi Whitehorse, a solo dedicated to recent work by the nationally known New Mexico artist. Whitehorse was raised on a Navajo reservation and attended the University of New Mexico before becoming famous in New York during the 1980s. She does abstract paintings and prints that incorporate Navajo imagery and words. Whitehorse recently worked in Lyons, near Boulder, producing prints at Shark's Ink. The second show, Tracy Krumm, highlights this artist's woven-metal sculptures, which explore gender issues by juxtaposing industrial material with the domestic method. Krumm is a teacher of fiber art at the Kansas City Art Institute. The last show is Mica Chamber, a site-specific installation by Colorado artist Rebecca DiDomenico, who has used layers of thousands of mica rectangles and thousands of black-and-white photos to suggest the passage of her life. Through July 29 at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, 1750 13th Street, Boulder, 303-443-2122.

James McNeill Whistler. For the first time in seventy years, there are no art shows on display at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, that gorgeous New Mexi-deco-style landmark by John Gaw Meem. But that doesn't mean the place is closed down. On the contrary, while the Meem building is being expanded, the CSFAC has opened an annex in downtown Colorado Springs to keep the institution up and running and in the eye of the public. The new space has been dubbed FAC Modern and is located in the Plaza of the Rockies complex. Currently on display there is James McNeill Whistler. Whistler was one of the great artists of the nineteenth century. Born in America, he spent almost his entire career in London and Paris, where he was associated with the impressionists. Despite that connection, he wasn't one of them -- even if he did do many impressionist-style works. The pieces in this show are from the collection of Scotland's Hunterian Art Gallery and include a few small paintings, a handful of objects owned by Whistler and, for the main course, his famous etchings and other works on paper. Through August 20 at FAC Modern, 121 Tejon Street, Colorado Springs, 1-719-634-5581.

Vavra Triptych. This is only the second time in its history that the Kirkland Museum has squeezed a show into its jam-packed galleries. In two of the museum's principal rooms, director Hugh Grant installed paintings by renowned Denver painter Frank Vavra, his wife, painter Kathleen Huffman Vavra, and their daughter, Diana Vavra, who made sculptures, prints and mosaics. Because the Kirkland has no specifically dedicated space to present the show, the Vavra works are displayed among the ceramics, glass, furniture, sculptures and paintings by others in the permanent collection. Frank Vavra embraced many styles over his half-century-long career, but two stand out: impressionism during the 1920s, and abstract surrealism in the '40s and '50s. Kathleen Huffman Vavra's work of the '20s and '30s, mostly in the form of regionalist watercolors, is extremely nice, and some were actually shown at the Denver Art Museum in a solo she had there. Finally, there are pieces in various mediums by Diana Vavra dating from the '50s to the '70s. Through August 20 at the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, 1311 Pearl Street, 303-832-8576.

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