Sketches

Brief reviews of current shows

 Breaking the Mold. In 2003, Connecticut collector Virginia Vogel Mattern donated some 300 pieces of contemporary American Indian art to the Denver Art Museum. For one of the special shows inaugurating the new Frederic C. Hamilton Building, Native Arts curator Nancy Blomberg has selected over a hundred works for the impressive Breaking the Mold: The Virginia Vogel Mattern Collection of Contemporary Native American, which is installed in the Martin & McCormick Gallery on level two. Mattern began collecting in 1988m when she purchased a miniature pot by Delores Curran in Santa Fe; though she remained interested in miniatures, she also pursued prize-winning pieces from annual American Indian art shows, focused on multiple generations of the Tafoya and Nampayo families and explored through pottery, textiles and paintings the interrelationships of the Navajo, Zuni and San Ildefonso peoples. But Mattern was also interested in innovation -- the "breaking the mold" of the show's title -- with such pieces as Hubert Candelario's coiled clay jar with holes cut into the sides so that it's non-functional, but beautiful. Through August 19 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000.

Colorado Classic Architects, et al. Many of the finest buildings in town were done by firms with offices right here in the Mile High City, and they're the subject of Colorado Classic Architects, a handsome and informative exhibit in the Western Art Gallery on Level 5 of the Denver Central Library. With plans, drawings, sketchbooks, memorabilia and photos from the library's collection, the show zeroes in on architects whose careers span the last century and represent a range of aesthetic visions -- from historical revival style to doctrinaire modernism. Some pieces are unforgettable: the very arty nighttime view of the Denver Gas and Electric Company Building, by H. W. J. Edbrooke; the sublime interior shot of the long-gone Albany Hotel by Burnham Hoyt; and a meticulous drawing of Eugene Sternberg's 1960s Denver General Hospital before its character was lost through insensitive additions. On Level 1, as an added bonus for architecture buffs, Michael Graves and the Denver Public Library includes the original model that won the architectural competition. Both shows run through December 31 at the Denver Central Library, 10 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-1111.

Dale Chihuly. Last year, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center had a record-breaking show that attracted over 80,000 visitors to see the work of Dale Chihuly. Inspired by this, the CSFAC subsequently acquired more than forty pieces by Chihuly for $2 million. These treasures are now on display not at the venerable old building -- the galleries there are closed while an addition is built -- but in a satellite facility called the FAC Modern housed in a building downtown. The Chihuly pieces, selected by director Michael DeMarshe with the artist's guidance, survey his long and distinguished career, beginning with works inspired by American Indian baskets done in the 1970s and continuing through the Venetian-derived vessels of today, including his famous Macchia bowls. In addition, the CSFAC has acquired several Chihuly chandeliers, which are installed in the old building, and a Persian wall relief displayed in the Jazz Bistro; the collection also includes a selection of Chihuly's works on paper that are less well known than his glass. Through January 7 at the FAC Modern, Plaza of the Rockies, 121 South Tejon Street, Colorado Springs, 1-719-634-5581.

FantÔme Afrique. After a couple of years in preparation, the Laboratory of Art and Ideas at Belmar has opened with FantÔme Afrique, a three-screen film by British artist Isaac Julien. In it, Julien focuses on the cinema culture in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, a center for African film. The title is a play on L'Afrique FantÔme, a book by Michel Leiris, who was a surrealist and an ethnographer. Julien's intention is to show how Western culture has affected Africa, which is the opposite of what Leiris did in his book. The images of dancers, buildings and movies set to a soundtrack are hypnotic and lyrical. Less than twenty minutes long, it will run on a continuous loop projected onto a wall. Called the Lab for short, this place aims to showcase vanguard art in the suburbs. The Lab's director, Adam Lerner, served as master teacher in the Denver Art Museum's department of modern and contemporary art. The Lab may be found amid McDonald's and Bed, Bath & Beyonds, but Lerner sees as being between McSweeney's and Burning Man. Actually, it's above Zales. Through December 30 at the Laboratory of Art and Ideas at Belmar, 404 South Upham Street, 303-742-1520. Reviewed September 14.

MEL STRAWN: All Together Now, 1940s-2000s. The Denver Central Library's Vida Ellison Gallery is hosting an important show saluting one of the most important artists in Colorado. In its content, All Together Now is a retrospective, but because of the way it's installed, it does not take that distinctive form. The paintings are hung as though they were shuffled like a deck of cards, with each one played right where it randomly came up. This prevents an easy reading of Strawn's development, though it's clear he underwent a series of stylistic changes, from abstraction through pattern painting and into a digital-inspired representational approach. Strawn was born in Idaho in 1929 and began painting when he was twelve. While pursuing his education, he worked with the likes of Rico Lebrun and Richard Diebenkorn. In 1969 he took over as the head of fine arts at the University of Denver, where he remained until the 1980s. Twenty years later, he's still active. Through November 24 at the Vida Ellison Gallery, Denver Central Library, 10 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-1111. Reviewed September 28.

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