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Capsule reviews of current 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.

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 19 at Rule Gallery, 227 Broadway, 303-777-9473. Reviewed November 22.

Muniz Remastered. Creating intelligent work with oddball materials, including Bosco chocolate syrup, string, dirt, magazine ads, backhoes and skywriting airplanes, is the signature specialty of Vik Muniz, a Brazilian-born New York artist. His actual medium is photography, which he uses to record the ephemeral images he makes or orchestrates, but in truth, he doesn't consider himself a photographer, and that's understandable. The artist's cleverness and intelligence is shown off to great effect in Muniz Remastered: Photographs From the West Collection, one of the most compelling exhibits in town during this year's strong fall season. The extravaganza was co-curated by Devon Dikeou and Lee Stoetzel and surveys Muniz's outlandish explorations of other people's work, including that of Rembrandt, Géricault and Cezanne. It's too bad the show has not been arranged chronologically, though it looks gorgeous as it is. Plus the ten-year-span covered by this presentation is a relatively short period of time, so everything is essentially from the same era. Through January 20, at the Museo de las Américas, 861 Santa Fe Drive, 303-571-4401. Reviewed November 15.

The Nature of Things. For its first show of the new year, Havu Gallery is presenting a duet dedicated to recent creations by painting pair Sushe and Tracy Felix. The couple's works have almost always been presented together during their twenty-year-plus careers. Both artists look to the art history of the region — in particular, the transcendentalists working in New Mexico and the early modernists in Colorado. Both do landscape-based abstractions, but their styles are distinctive and individualistic. Sushe's abstracts are non-repetitive patterns that evoke the land via simple shapes and elements suggesting the trees, the sky and even birds. Tracy, on the other hand, directly references specific mountain views but conventionalizes the elements of the landscape so that they look like vintage cartoon images, à la Jellystone Park. As a bonus, Havu is featuring Erick Johnson, a display of abstract sculptures by this well-known Colorado artist. Through February 23 at the William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360.

Nothing Is Hiding. A decade ago, William Stockman was a household name among Denver artists and considered to be among the most talented players around. But in 2000, Stockman impetuously split town, returning in 2002. Needing to make a living, he turned his back on his art career until last year, when he got back in the studio. Nothing Is Hiding, a solo at Singer Gallery, is devoted to the poetically composed paintings and drawings he has done since he restarted his career. The newer work marks a shift in his approach. Previously, Stockman had taken one tack for his drawings and another for his paintings. Now the paintings are more in line with his drawings. In fact, each of the paintings in the show is based on a specific drawing, with both types being anchored by incongruous things or figures. These subjects create ambiguity that gives the show's title an ironic twist. Through January 18 at the Singer Gallery, Mizel Arts & Culture Center, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-316-6360. Reviewed December 13.

Twinkle Twinkle. Plus Gallery owner Ivar Zeile often describes his approach as being "eclectic," embracing competing ideologies at the same time and in the same shows. The shortcoming of this is that the pairings are sometimes less than coherent. Twinkle Twinkle starts off with expressionist paintings by Travis Egedy that refer to graffiti and commercial art. They couldn't be more different from the blurry photos of trees by Noah Manos, which are very impressive. In the middle of the room is a plate-glass wheelbarrow by Leafe Zales. Finishing off the front space is a collection of letters by Martin Sammy Gardea made up of neo-1970s arte povera-type stuff. In the second part, Zales delves into the same non-sensibility with a linear abstraction made from hair and a sculpture disguised as a bag of trash. These Zaleses contrast with the meticulous paintings of buildings as geometric abstractions by Mindy Bray and the depiction of tract houses by Nathan Abels. In addition, there's definitely something compelling about the surface effects in the paintings by Lela Shields. Through January 19 at Plus Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296-0927. Reviewed January 10.

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