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Capsule reviews of current exhibits

Curiouser. Singer Gallery director Simon Zalkind is one of the top curators in town, and one of the secrets to his success is presenting artists whose efforts are worthwhile but who for some reason rarely exhibit their work. That's what's happening now with the unusual show Curiouser: A Dozen Years of Painting, dedicated to the strangely compelling and richly hued oils and watercolors of Denver artist Paul Gillis. A genuine artist's artist, Gillis has earned the respect of his fellow travelers in the visual arts while remaining little known in the wider cultural community, and it is that fact that Zalkind addresses in this solo. The pieces are hard to categorize, because in them, Gillis combines elements of realism, surrealism, abstraction and animation and assembles them in his own highly idiosyncratic personal style. He's created a cast of characters for his pictures that includes robots, dolls with button heads, vessels and animals, all of which interact in enigmatic ways. In some works, he also incorporates a pseudo written language made up of incomprehensible symbols. Through May 28 at the Singer Gallery, Mizel Arts and Culture Center, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-316-6360, www.maccjcc.org. Reviewed May 7.

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.

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Marecak. This is a major retrospective of the work of husband and wife artists Edward and Donna Marecak, key figures in the history of modern art in Colorado. Edward was a painter and printmaker who came to study at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center School in the 1940s. In 1947 he married Donna, who was a potter. Donna would often throw the pots and then decorate them according to Edward's designs. The pair's creative heyday was the 1950s and '60s, but both were rediscovered by the local art world in the 1990s, right after Edward died and Donna had retired. There are a number of unusual pieces in this impressive duet, including several examples of abstraction by Edward, who was better known for his figural compositions, and a large and handsome collection of Donna's precisely thrown and gorgeously decorated pots that have only rarely been exhibited before. The gallery is owned by Randy Roberts and directed by veteran art professional Paul Hughes, a longtime supporter of the Marecaks; it is dedicated to promoting the historic modern art of Colorado. Through July 3 at Z Art Department, 1136 North Speer Boulevard, 303-298-8432, zartdepartment@yahoo.com.

New & Noteworthy. Alice Zrebiec is astoundingly well versed in the field of quilts, which makes her the ideal textile curator at the Denver Art Museum, an institution with a world-class assortment of them. For the latest show on quilts in the Neusteter Gallery, on the sixth floor of the DAM's Ponti building, Zrebiec has put together a show that's anchored by a recent acquisition, an early nineteenth-century album quilt — the Hopkins Family quilt — which is surrounded by nine others from the same era. The Hopkins Family quilt — the 'new' in the exhibit's title — has a white field on which a red grid of lines divides the surface up into a set of individual frames in which different motifs, including flowers, musical instruments, a mantle and a sailing ship, among other everyday things about the family, are presented. The other quilts — the 'noteworthy' part — are of widely different types, including an impressive bridal quilt, an autograph quilt (where donors had a calligrapher sign their names in the various fabric blocks) and even a quilt inspired by Old Glory. Through December 31 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-913-0096, www.denverartmuseum.org.

The Psychedelic Experience. The AIGA graphics curator, Darrin Alfred, has only been on the job at the Denver Art Museum for a year, and already he's the author of a major blockbuster, The Psychedelic Experience: Rock Posters From the San Francisco Bay Area. Alfred selected around 300 posters from a gift of more than 800 relevant pieces from Boulder collector David Tippit. A connoisseur, Tippit sought examples that were in the finest condition available and those that were artist-signed. Alfred uses the show to feature the principal artists involved in the movement and exhibits the work of each in separate sections. This was a smart move, since it conveys the idea that a range of sensibilities, including art nouveau, surrealism and pop art, among other sources, came together to form the psychedelic poster style. Specialists in the field have identified a big five, but Alfred doesn't agree, so there are seven stars (one of which is a team) in this exhibit: Lee Conklin, Rick Griffin, Alton Kelley & Stanley Mouse, Bonnie MacLean, Victor Moscoso, David Singer and Wes Wilson. Through July 19 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. www.denverartmuseum.org. Reviewed May 21.

Rex Ray. The Promenade Space on the second floor of MCA Denver is both a passageway and an exhibition hall. Given its limited size and unconventional plan — the main wall runs diagonally to the windows opposite it — the Promenade has been used exclusively for single installations. The latest example is an untitled mural by San Francisco artist Rex Ray, who used to live in Colorado. Ray has a national reputation based not just on his fine art, but as a designer of everything from books to coffee mugs. Ray created the mural specifically for this show and specially designed the fabulous wallpaper that surrounds it. The mural is signature Ray, with shapes that rise from the base in the manner of a still-life or landscape. The shapes have been made from cut-outs of painted papers that have been laid against a stunning blue ground, and were inspired by organic forms, or at least abstractions of them, as seen in mid-century modern design. The wallpaper has a spare, all-over pattern on a white ground, complementing the mural without competing with it. Through January 31 at MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554, www.mcadenver.org.

Virginia Maitland. This show, officially dubbed Virginia Maitland: A Mirror of Abstraction; Paintings Across Time, is an economical look at some recent pieces by the Boulder-based abstractionist, together with a single older piece that clearly anticipates what she is doing now. The early work, "Androgynous Stain," from 1974, is fabulous, with veils of strong color in jewel-like tones colliding with each other in the center. Interestingly, Maitland rolled up this painting thirty years ago, and it was just pulled out of its tube and re-stretched last month. It hasn't aged a bit during the intervening decades and still looks bright and fresh. While it was hidden, Maitland experimented widely with her paintings — even incorporating photocopied images in some. But in the last year or two, she's returned to her colorist roots as exemplified by nearly a dozen recent works in this show, most from 2009. Maitland moved to Colorado from the East Coast in 1970, and she's said that it was the West's expansive vistas that led her to embrace the color-field abstraction that's since become her signature. Through May 30 at Sandra Phillips Gallery, 744 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573-5969, www.thesandraphillipsgallery.com.

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