Brief reviews of current shows

 Altar Girls. Two very different exhibits roughly collide into one another in the middle of the Museo de las Américas. One part, put together by Museo curator Kristi Martens, is an extravaganza of santos made mostly in Colorado, Mexico and New Mexico, and primarily culled from a recent gift to the Museo, the Rickenbaugh Santos Collection. On display are renditions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Santa Barbara and Mary Magdalene, among others. The second part of Altar Girls is a selection of contemporary art by women from the Americas, which was curated by Museo director Patti Ortiz. Photography exploring women's roles plays a major part in this half, including pieces by Christina Kahlo, Flavia Da Rin and Estela Izuel. There's also some contemporary realism by Carolina Rodriguez, who works in pencil, and by Grupo Mondongo, a group that "draws" with clay. The only artist who bridges the two halves of Altar Girls is Judy Miranda, from Denver, whose pieces are contemporary santos. Women saints, women artists, Altar Girls -- get it? Through July 1 at the Museo de las Américas, 861 Santa Fe Drive, 303-571-4401. Reviewed May 3.

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.

Bruce Price, John McEnroe, Evan Colbert. Ivar Zeile has assembled three compelling solos that are unrelated but work great together. First up is The Plane Upon Which Events Happen: New Paintings by Bruce Price, in which the "plane" refers to the picture plane, and the "events" are anything a painter puts there. The spectacular show marks a surprising new stylistic direction for the artist: Price is best-known for hard-edged abstraction, and these new pieces are expressionistic. Then there's Nuovo Rococo: New Work by John McEnroe, which is made up of a series of closely associated wall-relief panels that are organically derived abstract shapes made from rolls of transparent plastic sheeting. McEnroe shapes the plastic and then makes the forms permanent with a blowtorch. Finally, there are the smart-alecky post-pop paintings in Stop Signs of the World: New Paintings by Evan Colbert, made from stop signs written in foreign languages that use non-Roman alphabets. Through May 26 at + Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street, 720-394-8484. Reviewed May 10.

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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