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Capsule reviews of current exhibits

American Art Invitational. Art, like politics, can be divided into liberal and conservative camps, with contemporary art representing the left and traditional art the right. But unlike politics, where the baton can pass back and forth between the two opposites, the art world has been run decisively by the liberals for well over a century. That's why contemporary art is the mainstay of museums, galleries and the art press while traditional art has stayed in the margins. But there's still an audience (and a clientele) for old-fashioned pictures of flowers, mountains and people. For twenty years, the Artists of America exhibit highlighted this kind of material at the Colorado History Museum. That long run ended seven years ago, but Saks Galleries in Cherry Creek North is hoping to revive the idea of an annual representational show with the American Art Invitational. The exhibit includes fifty artists who are famous in this realm, such as George Carlson, Mark Daily, Quang Ho, Kevin Weckbach and Michelle Torrez. Through December 31 at Saks Galleries, 3019 East Second Avenue, 303-333-4144.

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.

Color as Field. It's no exaggeration to say that Color as Field: American Painting 1950-1975 is one of the best shows presented in Denver in a generation. Filled with a who's who of American art — Still, Rothko, Frankenthaler, Stella — it's like a brief vacation into a world where nothing matters except for achieving a purely visual experience. This is that legendary art-about-art that conservative cultural commentators love to exhort for its meaninglessness while those in the art world praise it just as stridently for its intoxicating beauty. The title of the show is misleading because guest curator, Karen Wilkin, working for the American Federation of the Arts, which organized this traveling exhibit, has taken an inclusive and thereby unorthodox view of the concept of the color-field movement of the '50s through the '70s. Though Wilkin includes the doctrinaire examples of color field, she also reaches back to abstract expressionism and forward to geometric abstraction, arguing that all of it is part of the color-field ethos. Through February 3 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed November 8.

50 Ways To Fall In Love. Colorado artist Pard Morrison, whose 50 Ways To Fall In Love is at Rule Gallery, calls sculpture and painting the "body" and "soul" of art, respectively. This is more or less the explanation of his elegant style, which he calls "human minimalism." Exemplars of Morrison's human minimalism reveal a combination of crisp, rectilinear forms with striated and brushy patinated finishes. These luxurious surfaces are the product of repeatedly baking on the colors so the shades are modulated, as opposed to homogenous. The variations within single colors are the product of the brush marks that permanently preserve the artist's touch. The precise crafting of the aluminum boxes and the super-precise margins between the colors are juxtaposed with these painterly passages. The contrast is subtle and only apparent on close examination. The relationship of Morrison's work to American Indian blankets is undeniable, and one of several things that mark his style as Western. Through January 5 at Rule Gallery, 227 Broadway, 303-777-9473. Reviewed November 22.

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