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Capsule reviews of current exhibits

George Carlson. Put together by curator Ann Daley, who has shaped and defined the Western collection at the Denver Art Museum, George Carlson: Heart of the West deals with the career of an accomplished neo-traditional artist who looks to the century-old Impressionist style for inspiration. The Carlson exhibit includes nearly three dozen pastels and bronzes, along with a single painting. Though he doesn't consider himself to be a Western artist — his latest efforts are about ballet dancers — Carlson has typically turned to Western subject matter. He specializes in heroic depictions of American Indians and of horses. Daley has made his drawings and sculptures of horses the main course in Heart of the West. Carlson's horses are undeniably beautiful and finely made, but what attracted Daley is the way the artist has conferred personalities on them. His horses are also more abstract than his Indians. As conservative as his neo-traditional work may be — and it is very conservative — Carlson is a consummate artist whose skill is undeniable. Through April 13 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed February 21.

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. Through June 30 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed July 26, 2007.

Good Impressions. The early twentieth century was a period in which fine-art printmaking allowed people of moderate means to join the ranks of art collectors. Today, prints from this period are sought out by much better-heeled enthusiasts, and the Singer Gallery is examining them in a show with the novel-length title of Good Impressions: American Master Prints of the 1920s, 30s and 40s From the Collection of Frederick and Jan Mayer (whew!). The idea for the collection was sparked by Singer curator Simon Zalkind, who was consulting with the Mayers at the time. Signature examples by the giants of the style, such as Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry, are included — many exemplifying the regionalist style. But there is also a smattering of early modernists such as Stuart Davis. One gaping hole in the collection is the lack of prints from the West, especially Colorado. But that gap would be easy to fill with a little hunting around. Through April 13 at the Singer Gallery of the Mizel Arts & Culture Center, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-316-6360, www.maccjcc.org.

Inspiring Impressionism. This is hardly your run-of-the-mill effort in which a cavalcade of big-name European artists are represented by minor works. Instead, it's an intellectually stimulating exhibit crowded with iconic pieces by some of the most significant artists who ever took brush to canvas. Curated by the DAM's Timothy Standring and London's Ann Dumas, the traveling show examines the little-explored relationship between the Impressionists and the Old Masters. The intelligent installation has been handled so that viewers are literally forced to recognize the relationships Standring and Dumas have laid out among several sets of separate pieces of widely different dates and from various points of origin. These comparisons lead viewers to make insightful observations because their conclusions have been built in to the installation itself — not through wall text, but through the paintings and drawings alone. There are a lot of important pieces, including in-depth selections of Cézanne, Monet, Renoir and others. Through May 25 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed February 21.

The Plains of Sweet Regret and Last Place. The Laboratory of Art and Ideas at Belmar, nicknamed the Lab, currently has two shows. The Plains of Sweet Regret, a multi-screen video installation by New York artist Mary Lucier, highlights the steep decline of rural life on the high plains as corporate agribusiness displaces small farmers and kills small towns. The arc of the piece, which definitely has a regional flavor, is a hypnotic rodeo sequence set to George Strait's plaintive ballad "I Can Still Make Cheyenne." In an interesting move, Lab director Adam Lerner decided to pair it with Last Place, a series of conceptual works by local legend Phil Bender. For decades, Bender has picked up discarded objects and assembled them in their original states to create installations or sculptural cycles. The idea is that what he does is art because he says it is, and apparently everyone agrees. It's amazing how much visual mileage Bender has been able to get out of his single revelation that art is about perception. Through May 1 at the Lab at Belmar, 404 South Upham Street, 303-934-1777. Reviewed March 6.

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