To me, however, Marie Watt's pieces — in particular, the sculptures "Column" and "Staff Custodian" — are the real standouts. They share the same basic form — stacked elements that rise to form spires — and the basic reference is the blanket, a key element of American Indian iconography. Watt, from Oregon, folds and piles up the blankets, using pieces of cloth for "Column" and cast bronze renditions of it for "Staff Custodian." They're really great, as are her related wall hangings, which are actual blankets.

Currents is excellent and follows the formula for a great group show; it's not only filled with interesting work, but includes a range of mediums, as well. And it's all been perfectly installed, with each artist given a well-defined space.

The last stop on this sociology of art tour is also the most radical: Floyd Tunson: Remix, at the van Straaten Gallery. Unlike the other two exhibits, Tunson, who's one of Colorado's most significant contemporary artists, addresses racism head-on.

"Remix D," by Floyd Tunson, acrylic on canvas.
"Remix D," by Floyd Tunson, acrylic on canvas.


Through January 11, Museo de las Américas, 861 Santa Fe Drive, 303-571-4401, November 4, Metro State Center for Visual Art, 1734 Wazee Street, 303-294-5207, October 17, van Straaten Gallery, 760 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573-8585,

One of the best-known stories in the history of modern art is how in the early twentieth century, some leading French artists began to incorporate elements from African art into their works, ultimately leading to cubism. Tunson references this, but he turns the whole process on its head. First he paints convincing copies of famous Picasso and Matisse works, then he turns them on their sides. After that, he paints in a copy of a racist cartoon or caricature, some taken from "Tin-Tin" illustrations, others off Mexican stamps. These images feature exaggerated and stereotyped depictions of Africans.

The eye-popping results put a new twist on the history of art and on notions about conceptual realism, not to mention racism. In "Remix D," Tunson appropriates a Matisse studio view and adds a cartoon of an idealized little boy standing over a group of seated natives and instructing them with the aid of a gramophone. It's strange, but by putting the vulgar cartoon over the sublime masterpiece, the Matisse recedes into the background while the racist gag is pushed into the foreground. It's so smart, it's head-spinning.

These three shows demonstrate how much life is still left in the art-of-identity movement. More than that, they show how taking on topics of race and ethnicity in art doesn't preclude the possibility of coming up with work that is credibly contemporary.

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