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Capsule reviews of current exhibits

Artisans & Kings. For its first extravaganza of the season, the Denver Art Museum has unveiled a sprawling blockbuster in the Frederic C. Hamilton Building that focuses on the royal collections from the Louvre. You don't have to know much about art to have heard of the Louvre, so Artisans & Kings is likely to attract both the general public as well as the DAM's regular audience. For this exhibit, a team of French curators representing painting, sculpture, drawing, tapestries and decorative art opened the cabinets and storerooms, selecting pieces that had been in the private collections of the French nobility — in particular, kings Louis XIV, XV and XVI. The paintings include a gorgeous and erotic Titian, picturing a woman in her boudoir; an elegant neo-classical allegorical painting by Poussin; a dark and murky Rembrandt of Saint Matthew; and a signature Velázquez, a portrait of the iconic Infanta Margarita, who appears in many of his paintings. The chance to see these four works alone is more than worth the cost of seeing the exhibit; everything else is simply a luxurious bonus. Through January 6 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue, 720-865-5000. Reviewed October 4.

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.

Marecak Diptych. Kirkland Museum director Hugh Grant has put together yet another exhibit meant to enhance our understanding of Colorado's rich art history. Marecak Diptych celebrates the work of husband-and-wife artists Edward and Donna Marecak, both of whom died in the 1990s. The couple met in the 1940s, when they were students at the now-closed Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center School, which was nationally known in its day. Edward was an accomplished painter with a taste for figural abstraction. His work is often filled with whimsical characterizations of people whose bodies are elements in patterns or designs that cover the canvases from edge to edge. He also liked to delve into fairy-tale territory, displaying a love for witches, in particular. The magical and imaginary world he conjured up links his work to that of his good friend, the late Edgar Britton. Donna was an expert at ceramics, and her pieces reveal an astounding level of control on the potter's wheel. The crisp forms and tight decorations are so precise, they look as though they were engineered. Through December 9 at the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, 1311 Pearl Street, 303-832-8576. Reviewed November 1.

Star Power. To celebrate the new Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver by architect David Adjaye, director Cydney Payton has organized seven solos collectively titled Star Power: Museum as Body Electric. The festivities begin on the lower level, where Candice Breitz's "Legend," a grid of video screens on which Jamaicans are singing Bob Marley songs, is installed. On the first floor in the New Media Gallery is "Faces," a mixed-media installation in which a spider form and a skull shape move to music by Carlos Amorales, and in the Photography Gallery are collages by Collier Schorr that explore a really cute teenage boy. On the second floor, in the Paper Works Gallery, there's an exhibition of watercolors of female nudes by Chris Ofili, who, like Adjaye, is an African-born artist who lives in the United Kingdom. In the Project Gallery is an installation called "Whare Shakairo," by Maori-artist Rangi Kipa, meant to rehabilitate Tiki culture. In the Promenade is an installation by Wangechi Mutu. Finally, in the Large Works Gallery is an untitled installation of mirrors by David Altmejd that's really an eye-dazzler. Through February 9 at the MCA/D, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554.

Works on Paper by Bill Joseph. Bill Joseph, who died in 2003, is best remembered as a sculptor, and several of his pieces are prominently sited downtown. However, Joseph was also adept at making more intimately scaled drawings, as revealed by this display, which includes more than a score of drawings surveying the artist's career from the 1940s to the 1980s. Joseph, born in 1926, began his career in the 1940s as a traditional realist, and several beautiful portraits dating from this time are in the show. But in the late '50s and early '60s, he embraced figural abstraction and stuck with it for most of the rest of his career. This elegant exhibit was organized by Robert St. John, who chose pieces from the artist's estate. Joseph only rarely dated drawings, and once he embraced figural abstraction, his style remained consistent over many decades. This explains why the selections have not been hung chronologically. But it's a shame that neither St. John nor the Joseph family was willing to take a stab at laying them out in order so that viewers could follow his development as an artist. Through December 7 at the O'Sullivan Art Gallery, Regis University, 3333 Regis Boulevard, 303-964-3634. Reviewed November 8.

 
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