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 Art, which is installed in the Martin & McCormick Gallery on level two. Mattern began collecting in 1992, 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 31, 2007, at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed November 23.

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 the fifth floor 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 Burnham Hoyt's Albany Hotel; and a meticulous drawing of Eugene Sternberg's 1960s Denver General Hospital before its character was lost through insensitive additions. On the first floor, 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.

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.

Marilyn Monroe. Legendary movie star Marilyn Monroe was the definition of photogenic, and several photographers built their careers on memorable photos of her. Camera Obscura Gallery, right across the street from the Denver Art Museum, is hosting an interesting duet titled Marilyn Monroe: Beginning and End that looks at glamour shots by Andre de Dienes done between 1945, when he hired Monroe as a model, and 1953, when their romantic relationship ended, just as her film career began to soar. Many consider de Dienes's photos to be the best images of Marilyn Monroe ever done, which is really saying something. The shots by de Dienes are paired with those by George Barris, whose photos were done in 1962, shortly before the actress's death. Barris was a photojournalist who had been assigned to do a feature on Monroe, and he first met her on the set of her last film, the unfinished Something's Got to Give. Barris is believed to have taken the last photos of the star, but he refused to publish them until long after her death. Through December 31 at Camera Obscura Gallery, 1309 Bannock Street, 303-623-4059. Reviewed November 30.

Mile High Steel. This compelling exhibit was organized by Dennis Walla, who sifted through the photographic archives of Otto Roach, a mid-twentieth-century commercial photographer who founded Roach Studios (now Roach Photos Inc.) in the 1930s. "I wanted to do something on industrial photography," says Walla, who is a co-owner of Gallery Roach. "And as I was going through the archives, I discovered that most of it was from the early '40s, and the photos were of Denver companies doing work for the war effort." Ultimately, Walla selected more than three dozen images related to eleven different metal fabricators, a number of them in what is now the River North area, for Mile High Steel: Denver's Steel Fabrication Industry during World War II. Roach was hired by these local companies to produce photos that would help them get government contracts, and they did. Despite the original intent of the photos, which are created from vintage 8x10-inch negatives, Roach brought a tremendous sense of artistry to them, and his talent for capturing a wonderfully dynamic composition was apparently boundless. Through January 31 at Gallery Roach, 860 Broadway, 303-839-5202. Reviewed November 30.

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