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.

Colorado & the West. Every summer for many years, David Cook Fine Art has presented a show on the history of regional art, and this year's version, Colorado & the West, rivals a museum exhibit. The show starts off with a rare example of Jan Matulka's oeuvre, an abstracted landscape from 1925. Matulka, a European emigré, is an important artist whose work is rarely exhibited, so it's worth checking out the show just to catch a look at this piece. The influence of cubism was important in Western art, especially in New Mexico and Colorado, and in addition to the Matulka's references to it, there's the spectacular cubo-regionalist black watercolor of a rainstorm by Charles Bunnell and a fully cubist composition of a figural group by Frank Vavra. Expressionism was another dominant force in the art of the West, and there are two wonderful though modest landscapes by Birger Sandzén (whose work is an immediate predecessor to abstract expressionism). In addition to Colorado artists, the show includes pieces by famous New Mexico transcendentalist painters Alfred Morang and Raymond Jonson. Through June 30 at David Cook Fine Art, 1637 Wazee Street, 303-623-8181. Reviewed May 24.

Gary Lynch. The Emmanuel Gallery, in association with the Colorado Photographic Arts Center, presents Gary Lynch: A Memorial Retrospective. Lynch, a Denver native who was born in 1953, died unexpectedly in the fall of 2005. A well-known fine-art photographer who served on the board of CPAC, Lynch took up the camera when he was a small child. Emmanuel is the perfect place for this memorial, since Lynch not only earned his B.A. at adjacent Metropolitan State College, but he also taught there, as well as at the other two Auraria institutions, the Community College of Denver and the University of Colorado at Denver. (He did his M.F.A. in photography off the campus, at the University of Denver.) Lynch was fascinated by the human figure and face, including his own, and was interested in creating special lighting effects that give some of his photos an otherworldly character. He also experimented with unlikely methods, including carbon printing. Though his professional career ranged over a mere ten years, he was almost universally regarded as a master of the photographic medium. Through July 20 at Emmanuel Gallery, Auraria campus, 303-556-8337.

Homare Ikeda. It's been five years since the artist had his last solo in town, making Homare Ikeda at Sandy Carson Gallery something rare and special. Plus, the show's a knockout. The self-titled exhibit is very large, spreading out through most of the multi-space gallery, and is completely made up of work Ikeda did during the few months that he held an artist residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, Nebraska. Ikeda is one of a number of Denver artists to have taken advantage of the Bemis lately, owing to director Mark Masuoka's former connection to the Mile High City. There's nothing amazing about an artist creating a large body of work during a several-month gig at an art retreat, but there is something unusual when it's Ikeda, since he's traditionally worked very slowly. The new works are signature Ikeda, showing off his taste for awkward forms held out of balance in uneasy compositions, all carried out using unevenly applied pigments. They're really strange and very fine. Through July 7 at Sandy Carson Gallery, 760 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573-8585. Reviewed June 7.

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 July 8 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed January 25.

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