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 is a must-read. Through August 20 at the Singer Gallery, Mizel Center for Arts and Culture, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-399-2660. Reviewed July 13.

CHAIN REACTION. For the third time in two years, there's a major show in town addressing how traditional Chicano art has progressed into what's been dubbed post-Chicano art. This latest effort is CHAIN REACTION: Chicano/a and Latino/a Art in Colorado, which is being presented in the Vida Ellison Gallery on the seventh floor of the Denver Central Library. Though the show lacks the didactic aspect of its two predecessors -- Leaving Aztlan at the Center for Visual Art and Never Leaving Aztlan at the Museo de las Américas -- it's just as good at giving viewers a taste of what Chicano and post-Chicano art are all about. Not only that, but you'll also see how it's possible for some Chicano/a and Latino/a artists to make work that ignores the issue entirely. Quintín Gonzalez, an artist and a University of Colorado at Denver art professor, put the show together, making all the selections. Among those represented are George Rivera, Eugene Stewart-Huidobro, Tony Ortega, Sylvia Montero, Carlos Frésquez and Merlin Madrid. Through August 25 at the Denver Central Library, 10 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-1111. Reviewed August 3.

Colorado Modernism: 1930 - 1970. Though some believe that Colorado art doesn't stand up to scrutiny because it's so far behind the times, they're wrong. Take modernist abstraction, for example: Local artists, especially those in Colorado Springs, were working in styles such as cubo-regionalism, surrealism and abstract expressionism as early as artists anywhere else in the country. That makes sense, because so many of the most important artists who worked here studied in places like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. This must-see show, put together by artist and amateur art historian Tracy Felix, is a display of the state's noble abstract tradition. The miniature blockbuster is given over almost entirely to painting, with only one photographer and one sculptor being included. The painting prejudice is understandable, because curator Felix is a painter, and like nearly all painters, he's mainly interested in his own medium. But it's a minor complaint, because the show, chock-full of treasures by the likes of Vance Kirkland, Charles Bunnell, Mary Chenoweth and Al Wynne, is absolutely marvelous. Through August 25 at Foothills Art Center, 809 15th Street, Golden, 303-279, 3922.

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. 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.

Heaven and Earth. The Museo de las Américas is mostly given over to exhibitions of contemporary art that carry political messages. For Heaven and Earth, however, the institution turned its sights on historic art from Mexico, borrowing from the Jan and Frederick Mayer Collection of Spanish Colonial Art at the Denver Art Museum. In addition to the DAM, the Museo also collaborated with the Agency for Architecture, which designed environments for the pieces to sit in. Mexico was a Spanish colony from 1521 to 1850, thus Spain was the main source for cultural ideals. The Spanish made it their goal to convert the indigenous people to Roman Catholicism, and this show focuses on the religious art that played a role in that. Religious subjects, often commissioned by churches, convents and monasteries, represent the main aesthetic interest for Mexican artists of that time, and, as could be expected, there's no shortage of images of the Virgin, the Crucifixion and the saints. However, the exhibit ultimately reveals that Mexican art is not comparable to Spanish art, despite Spain's key role in its development. Through October 8 at the Museo de las Américas, 861 Santa Fe Drive, 303-571-4401.

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