Sketches

Brief reviews of current shows

 The American Landscape and Carny. Rule Gallery has typically presented single solos since landing in its new space several months ago, but this time, there are two different shows in that long and narrow sales room. The two work well together, though, as both are made up of photographs about America. One exhibit, The American Landscape, highlights dramatic color photos of the natural scenery of the West by Michael Eastman, an internationally famous photographer who lives in St. Louis. Eastman is not exclusively known for his landscapes; he also does interiors and other subjects — including Rodin's sculptures, his photos of which were recently published in a book illustrating a new translation of poet Rainer Maria Rilke's writings about them. The other show, Carny: Americana on the Midway, which is accompanied by a book, is made up of C-prints by Virginia Lee Hunter, a Los Angeles artist. As could be surmised by the title, Hunter's subjects are the denizens of the midway, but she does not take the Diane Arbus-y freak-show approach to her models; instead, she exploits the surrounding beauty of the carnival itself. Through September 1 at Rule Gallery, 227 Broadway, 303-777-9473.

Clyfford Still Unveiled. A master and pioneer of mid-twentieth-century abstract expressionism, painter Clyfford Still was something of an eccentric in the artist-as-egomaniac stripe. His antisocial behavior led to a situation where 94 percent of his artworks remained together after he died — a staggeringly complete chronicle of his oeuvre that is now owned by the City of Denver. As a planned Clyfford Still Museum won't be completed until 2010, the institution's founding director, Dean Sobel, decided to preview a baker's dozen of Still's creations at the Denver Art Museum. Sobel uses the very small show to lay out most of the artist's career and stylistic development. Still worked his way from regionalism to surrealism, then wound up developing abstract expressionism with one of the greatest abstract paintings imaginable, "1944 N No. 1" — and the rest is art history. Though too small to be considered a blockbuster, this exhibit is nonetheless an extremely important one that shouldn't be missed unless you aren't interested in art at all. Through September 30 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed July 26.

Co-Design. Colorado has an impressive art history filled with groundbreaking photos, stunning ceramics and compelling prints and paintings, but some art forms have long been missing in action, and the first one that comes to mind is design. Maybe it's because so few things were manufactured here, but whatever the case, there is little tradition for either industrial or domestic design here. But Paul Hardt, owner of P Design Gallery, a combination furniture and accessories boutique with an attached exhibition space, thinks that's started to change. Noticing all the cutting-edge design going on in the area, and wanting to highlight local talent after a series of shows that were mostly devoted to international designers, Hardt invited keyboard theorist Jaime Kopke of designklub.blogspot.com to curate a group exhibit of locally conceived chairs, tables and other everyday objects. Pieces by DoubleButter and by INV/ALT design, two Denver-based but internationally known firms, dominate. The work of these established outfits is supplemented with pieces by design students who are having their debut in this exhibit. Through August 25 at P Design Gallery, 2590 Walnut Street, 720-259-2516.

Doris Laughton et al. Some years ago, artist Doris Laughton stumbled onto a formal vocabulary that she labeled "splats" because they were inspired by the shape of water drops as they hit a surface. She has used a series of conventionalized versions of the shape in everything from works on paper to sculpture and video; her most recent examples are on view in Woosh . . .Kaleidosplats at + Gallery. Though the organic and complicated shape of the prototypical splats may be related to the drips of abstract expressionism, she uses them as a conceptualist would. Laughton is among Denver's noteworthy artists, and that's surely why + director Ivar Zeile is using her show to celebrate the gallery's sixth anniversary in Denver. There's another solo on view titled Andrew Long: Unearthed, featuring lyrical, colorful and pointedly clumsy abstract paintings by an emerging artist from Texas. In these newest pieces, Long explores the idea of digging. In the niche in back is a small sampling of works on paper by newcomer Naomi Cohn, who uses powdered pigments, acrylic and gouache to create all-over abstracts. Through August 18 at + Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296-0927.

The Emerald Table. Taos-based painter H. Warren Kelly lived for a time in Colorado and since then has maintained his connections to the art scene by being an associate member of the Pirate cooperative. Every summer he gets a show, and this year's is titled The Emerald Table. These recent paintings continue along a path that Kelly has been going down successfully for years, one that is informed by the history of New Mexico. He has a special interest in the Native American and Hispanic cultures, as well as a keen awareness of the unique modernist art traditions of that area, an early center nationally for abstraction. Bringing all of these elements together, Kelly developed his own signature neo-transcendentalist style, in which the local scenery and setting are turned into colorful scribbled abstractions that only hint at the underlying subject matter. Kelly is philosophical not only in his style, but also in his narratives, noting that his art is "flawed," "distorted" and "disconnected," which he analogizes to aspects of his own life. Despite the downer of Kelly's expressed low self-esteem, his paintings in The Emerald Table soar. Through August 19, Pirate Contemporary Art, 3655 Navajo Street, 303-458-6058.

Fang Lijun: Heads. China is definitely on the ascendancy internationally. Not only does the teeming economic powerhouse produce all the junk that can be found in a suburban Wal-Mart, but it's also turning out important artists who have taken the contemporary scene in the U.S. and Europe by storm. Adam Lerner, director of the Lab in Belmar, the infant museum and think tank in Lakewood, likes to follow every trend, and so he's chosen the work of Chinese contemporary artist Fang LiJun as this summer's featured attraction. Fang, who is best known as a painter, is represented by a monumental multi-panel painting, but the tour de force is an installation of tiny sculpted heads — 15,000 of them! The simplified heads have been cast in bronze and covered in gold leaf and mounted on thin steel rods. The relatively heavy bronze placed on top of the flexible steel causes the pieces to sway in the air currents produced when visitors walk through. There are also monumental sculptures about the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Through August 26, Laboratory of Art and Ideas in Belmar, 404 South Upham Street, Lakewood, 303-934-1777.

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