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Capsule reviews of exhibits

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 June 30, 2008, at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed July 26.

The Eclectic Eye. To inaugurate the recently unveiled expansion of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, director Michael De Marsche wanted to show off his new ability to accommodate temporary shows -- something that wasn't feasible in the original building. So De Marsche brought in The Eclectic Eye: Pop and Illusion, highlighting the collection of the Frederick R. Weisman Foundation in Los Angeles. The foundation owns important works by many of the biggest names active in vanguard art during the last half century. The pieces were purchased by the late Weisman, a zillionaire collector who started getting into contemporary art in the 1950s and who continued to snap things up until his death in 1994. This show, which began touring in 2005, features pieces by Andy Warhol, Robert Rosenquist, Keith Haring, Claus Oldenburg, Ed Ruscha, Roy Lichtenstein, Duane Hanson, David Hockney, Sigmar Polke and other art world luminaries. Through October 28 at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 West Dale Street, Colorado Springs, 1-719-634-5581.

Kevin O'Connell and Richard Van Pelt. Longtime Regis University photography professor Willy Sutton has organized two impressive exhibits, Kevin O'Connell and Richard Van Pelt, and installed them at the university's O'Sullivan Art Gallery as a single presentation. O'Connell is one of the state's premier photographers, known for his luxuriously done platinum prints of the Colorado plains. For these newer pieces, however, he's turned on the color, and his exuberant depictions of the verdant environment of Seattle are, conceptually, the total opposite of his minimalist plains pictures. The radical shift makes sense considering that the color photos mark his perilous journey through a bone-marrow transplant. The two series of tree photos are taken from within the woods, which figuratively envelop the viewer. Van Pelt's carbon prints of patches of wilderness in the open spaces of his home town of Boulder work beautifully with the O'Connells. Van Pelt's idea is the juxtaposition of development and nature. Through October 5 at the O'Sullivan Art Gallery on the Regis University campus, 3333 Regis Boulevard, 303-964-3634. Reviewed September 13.

Masters in Clay. Among the specialty niches that Sandra Phillips Gallery on Santa Fe Drive has found is Colorado ceramics. For several years now, the gallery has showcased contemporary pieces by some of the best clay artists around, but with this show, Phillips has gone a step further. In addition to young talents, the gallery has added works by some acknowledged masters in the field. Paul Soldner, for example, is represented by pieces loaned by the American Ceramics Museum in California. Soldner was a protegé of Peter Voulkos and, like his mentor, a pioneer in abstract-expressionist ceramics. Soldner, now in his eighties, spent decades working in a studio in Basalt during the summers. Other key Colorado ceramicists featured here include the great Maynard Tischler and the remarkable Martha Daniels. Tischler does a variety of original forms, including sculptural vessels, while Daniels specializes in brightly colored abstracted figures. Filling out the roster are pieces by other noted Colorado artists including Carroll Hansen, Julie McNair, Amy Chavez, Bebe Alexander and Katie Caron. Through October 6 at Sandra Phillips Gallery, 744 Santa Fe Drive, 573-5969. Reviewed August 30.

Oh Me! Oh My! For his annual Pirate solo, Denver sculptor Michael Brohman shows off his usual approach by creating pieces that combine one part conceptual art with one part teenage-boy gross-out material. A good example of this unlikely pairing of sensibilities is "Prick" — and doesn't that incendiary title say it all? — in which an abstracted bust has been sculpted from horse manure and covered with porcupine quills, with the entire assemblage mounted on a steel column. Less disgusting, though equally unnerving, are Brohman's weird "Babylope" sculptures, depicting babies with antlers in metal. The bizarre forms were inspired by the artist's stay in Wyoming, where the mythic Jackalope — a jackrabbit with antlers — looms large in the local folklore. As usual, Brohman eschews cute depictions, rendering the babylopes trussed up like game or smashed on the ground as roadkill. The figures are not without their charms, something that can't be said for Brohman's ugly and stomach-turning "Chicababies," which are plucked chickens with babies' heads. Through September 30 at Pirate Contemporary Art, 3655 Navajo Street, 303-458-6058. Michael Paglia

 
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