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 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed November 23, 2006.

Current. For its spring group show, Robischon Gallery is featuring work in more than a dozen distinctive versions of contemporary abstraction. The show begins with a series of six related lithographs done by the legendary -- and justly revered -- painter Ellsworth Kelly. If you think of Kelly as being one of the greats of the boldly colored, hard-edged, post-painterly persuasion, these moody and expressive reactions to rivers will be a surprise. Also elegant are the diptychs by Kris Cox, which are done in lead and colored wax and dedicated to different artists. Aspen artist Brad Miller is represented by an unusual series of digital photos that conceptually continue his multimedia examination of natural structures. Another standout is the work covered in arching stripes by Chris Gallagher. Trine Bumiller uses nature as inspiration for her abstract assemblages. There's a mini-solo devoted to Jamie Brunson, whose paintings are bold, bright and retro, and one to Gary Komarin, who does work that is haphazardly painted, but to great effect. They look superb next to the organically shaped wall-sculptures by Scott Chamberlin. Through May 5 at Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788. Reviewed April 26.

Eight Painters and Sculptors. In the history of mid-twentieth-century art in Colorado, the University of Denver plays a big role. True, these contributions are overshadowed by the much larger scene at the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center at the time, but the great Vance Kirkland was at DU. Kirkland is one of eight artists being celebrated in Eight Painters and Sculptors at the University of Denver, 1930-1965. The others are Otto Bach, John Billmyer, Marion Buchan, Mina Conant, Arnold Rönnebeck, Louise Emerson Rönnebeck and William Sanderson. These artists are among the first generation of Colorado modernists, though all of them went their own way stylistically and their work is only broadly related by virtue of being done at the same period. The show was put together by Dan Jacobs, with assistance from a group of art history students, in an effort to document the art and artists associated with the school. It's a noble pursuit, and many of the works included have only rarely, if ever, been exhibited publicly -- at least not in the living memory of most. Through May 6 at the Victoria H. Myhren Gallery, DU School of Art and Art History, 2121 East Asbury Avenue, 303-871-2846. Reviewed April 19.

Halim Al-Karim, et al. The two shows on the first floor of the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, Halim Al-Karim/Passage to Sumer and Kris Cox/New Work are good examples of the post-minimal trend popular during the last ten years. The two artists, both of whom live in Colorado, are working in different materials to different ends, yet both create work that's simultaneously simple and complicated. Passage to Sumer, by the Iraqi-born Al-Karim, comprises nearly a dozen works, but the way they're displayed makes them seem like parts of one big environmental piece. The switch from the Al-Karim's flamboyant installations to the dignified paintings by Kris Cox is perfectly carried out and evocative of a journey. Many of the paintings are done in ivory tones, though several have dots in a rainbow of shades. The last of the shows, on the second floor, is Christopher Morris/My America, made up of color photos. Morris, who has said that the photos are the conjunction of "patriotism, politics and devotion," crops his images of people in unexpected ways. Through May 19 at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, 1750 13th Street, Boulder, 303-443-2122. Reviewed April 5.

Japanese Art. The spectacular exhibit Japanese Art From the Colorado Collection of Kimiko and John Powers is installed in the Gallagher Family Gallery of the Denver Art Museum's new Hamilton Building. It was put together by Ron Otsuka, the esteemed curator of Asian art who has built an important collection during his thirty-plus years at the institution. Decades ago, Otsuka established a friendship with the Powerses, which is why they put their collection of more than 300 Japanese masterworks on long-term loan with the DAM. It's from this hoard that Otsuka chose the more than 100 objects he included in Japanese Art. As collectors, the Powerses were old-fashioned connoisseurs who chose things based on their innate fineness. "They were certainly very selective," says Otsuka in something of an understatement, considering the high quality of these pieces. The Powerses, who are also known for their stunning modern-art collection, sought out Japanese works of art that anticipate modernism despite that fact that they are hundreds of years old. Through September 9 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed January 25.

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