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Capsule reviews of current exhibits

Adam Helms. This solo in the MCA's Paper Works Gallery is the New York artist's first museum show anywhere. In his works on paper and in a monumental sculpture that conjures up a shooting blind, Helms explores political themes, especially armed struggle. He takes images of different radical and extremist movements from different places and times and makes copies of them. Then he combines them into singular images to create archetypes. In "Shadow: Portrait of a Jihadi," for instance, Helms has taken a shot of what looks like an American soldier in 1960s Vietnam and blackened out the face in the manner of the hooded Islamic terrorists of today. His technique is as interesting as his imagery, and in this piece, he has silkscreen-printed both sides of a sheet of translucent vellum, lending it an almost hallucinogenic character. Through January 18 at the MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554, www.mcadenver.org.

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 January 18 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed July 26, 2007.

Damien Hirst. You'd have to be living under a rock — or have absolutely no interest in contemporary art — not to know that Damien Hirst is a superstar, and that everything he makes is worth millions of dollars apiece. The tight solo at MCA Denver (formerly known as the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver) is not the first time that local art audiences have had a chance to see Hirst's creations in person, but it is his first single-artist show anywhere in the American West. Hirst's "Natural History" series of dead animals in cases is surely his most famous type of work. There's an incredible one in the MCA show called "Saint Sebastian: Exquisite Pain," made up of a bullock that's been pierced with arrows. It's simultaneously compelling and repellent. "Saint Sebastian" dominates the Large Works Gallery, but there are three other Hirst pieces, including two very different paintings from his "Butterfly" series, in which actual butterflies are affixed to the paintings, and one of his post-minimal "Medicine Cabinets." It's apparent that Hirst is brilliant, with an eye for beauty, though his mind goes in for ugliness. Through August 30 at MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554, www.mcadenver.org. Reviewed October 16.

Daniel Richter: A Major Survey. Christoph Heinrich, the curator of modern and contemporary art at the Denver Art Museum, must be a workaholic — the latest evidence being this exhibit featuring more than fifty Daniel Richter paintings, most of which are monumental in size. Heinrich sees the youthful Richter as among the most important painters working in Germany today. Richter credits French impressionism among his inspirational sources, but he is more of an heir to early-twentieth-century expressionists like Edvard Munch and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. He is also connected to modernists like Asger Jorn, whom Richter believes to be among his aesthetic foundations. In most of the paintings in the show, Richter has tried to cram as much visual material into his pictures as he can. He also applies paint in many different ways and in an array of hues so that they explode with form and color. This DAM solo reveals Richter's talent and, even more so, his heroic ambition. Through January 11 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000, www.denverartmuseum.org. Reviewed October 9.

Garden of Nineveh. Terry Maker is a well-known Boulder artist who's been exhibiting her extremely original pieces for the past 25 years. Beginning with the concept of "wants and desires" — Maker's and those of people in general — she created an installation with three distinct parts: an audio component and two different wall treatments. The first aspect, the soundtrack, was recorded at the museum itself, with visitors asked to talk about their private wants and desires. Though conceptually strong in light of her theme, the voice tracks are much less interesting than the visual effects. To start, Maker has painted the space black, with the two facing walls covered with bas-relief sculptures. In many ways, the two wall sculptures are visual and ideational opposites of each other. One is pointy and threatening, the other smooth and inviting. The pointy wall is about struggle, the smooth one abundance, with both inspired — despite the title — by the story of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Through January 18 at MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554, www.mcadenver.org. Reviewed December 4.

In Contemporary Rhythm: The Art of Ernest L. Blumenschein. It sounds like a preposterous moment in a cheesy Western. A couple of artists head out from Denver for Mexico by wagon, break down, and start an art colony that goes on strong for the next sixty years. It sounds made up, but it's true. In 1898, Ernest Blumenschein and his neighbor, Bert Phillips, broke down near Taos, and the rest is art history. The Denver Art Museum, in collaboration with the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History and the Phoenix Art Museum, has organized a major solo of Blumenschein's oeuvre called In Contemporary Rhythm: The Art of Ernest L. Blumenschein. The exhibit was co-curated by Elizabeth Cunningham and Peter Hassrick, director of the Petrie Institute of Western American Art at the DAM. The show is the most comprehensive exhibit on Blumenschein ever. It starts with his early work, done in Paris and New York at the turn of the century, then follows his Taos career through the 1950s. A gorgeous presentation, it proves that Blumenschein was a genuine painter's painter. Through February 8 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000, www.denverartmuseum.org. Reviewed November 20.

Light and Time. A series of wet-plate Collodion print photographs by Mark Sink and Kristen Hatgi have been propped against the walls at Rule Gallery. The Collodion process is an early photographic method employed by Civil War documentarian Matthew Brady. In a jointly written artist statement, Sink and Hatgi observe that archaic chemical processes — including the Collodion procedure — that fell by the wayside in the late 19th century are making something of a comeback at the beginning of the 21st. It's no doubt a reaction to the digital revolution. The small photos on glass or tin that depict men, women, landscapes and still-life scenes are very beautiful, if more than a little creepy. In the middle part of the gallery are some remarkable candid shots of Andy Warhol (and one of Jean-Michel Basquiat) that were taken by Sink during his youth in New York. They are remarkable and show Warhol as he was at the end of his life. In the back room is a group of representational paintings by emerging artist Nathan Abels. Through January 10 at Rule, 227 Broadway, #101, 303-777-9473, www.rulegallery.com. Reviewed December 11.

through a glass, darkly. The inaugural exhibition at Laura Merage's RedLine is through a glass, darkly, curated by Jenny Schlenzka, who's from Germany but lives in New York. The title was inspired by the classic Ingmar Bergman film of the same name, but Schlenzka discovered that the phrase is from the Bible. Watching the elections made her want to do a political show, though not everything here has an apparent message, especially the initial work, "Self-Portrait As Us," by Douglas Gordon, an altered publicity shot of the cast of the TV show Dynasty, set in Denver. Dynasty has a personal resonance for Schlenzka because it was her grandmother's favorite show — called Der Denver Clan in Germany. The one truly incredible piece in the show, and the only one that coherently expresses a political point of view, is by Annette Roberts-Gray, who lives not in Manhattan, London or Berlin, but in Glenwood Springs. It is a large set of shelves painted gray; on them are 1,000 hand-thrown porcelain vases, all impressed with the names of soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Through January 16 at RedLine, 2350 Arapahoe Street, 303-296-4448, www.redlineart.org. Reviewed November 6.

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