The show at the Kirkland is installed in the two exhibition spaces on the main floor, with supplementary works on the lower level. Since the museum installs exhibits in and among its other displays, the wall panels marking the place of each of the fifteen artists were absolutely necessary. The exhibit reveals that Kirkland was not only the group's representative, but he was also doing the most important work, and a microcosm of the changes that were happening in the art world can be found in a group of delicately done works on paper that came out of surrealism's representational wing, like Salvador Dalí's style. But one piece here, "Mountain Rhythms," an oil-on-linen, is much more in the abstract-surrealist camp, like Joan Miró's approach. In that way, it's a signpost for the coming of abstract expressionism, which Kirkland embraced a few years later.

That representational surrealist current can be seen in pieces by many of the other artists in the show, such as Mina Conant, Moritz Krieg and William Sanderson. Not surprisingly, the Sandersons are all beautifully done. A standout among his works is "The Lovers," an oil on canvas that depicts a seated couple whose forms are biomorphic, resulting in a conventionalized version of a man and woman. "The Lovers" was not in the original 1948 show, but one that was, "Saturday Night," is closely related.

  Less well developed in the show — and in the work of "the 15" — is the abstract-surrealist trend, similar in intention to Kirkland's "Mountain Rhythms." In the very uneven group of paintings by Paul Kauvar Smith — his "Antlered Deer Head," which was in the '48 show, is absolutely hideous, for example — there are some marvelous abstract-surrealist pieces. Smith's "Abstract (History of Art)" and "Nocturne" are great examples of mid-century vanguard painting. Some of the Frank Vavra paintings — notably, "Revolt" — take a similar path, as do some of those by John Billmyer and Richard Sorby. If there's a revelation in the show, it's Eo Kirchner, whose abstract serigraphs are gorgeous.

"Mountain Rhythms," by Vance Kirkland, oil on linen.
"Mountain Rhythms," by Vance Kirkland, oil on linen.

Location Info


Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art

1311 Pearl St.
Denver, CO 80203

Category: Art Galleries

Region: Central Denver


Through July 31, Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, 1311 Pearl Street, 303-832-8576,

See more images from this exhibit

The Kirchners, though, bring up a problem with the show: They date from the late '50s and early '60s. Some of the Smiths and the Vavras, as well as pieces by other artists, aren't from the '40s, either, which is when "the 15" came together. Some of the included pieces were done ten years earlier than the target date of 1948, while others were made twenty years later. However, I understand why this decision was made: The organizers simply couldn't locate enough pieces from the '40s to fill out the show. Plus, "the 15" stayed around for decades as an organization, so those later pieces — if not the older ones — do have a place in the show.

Twenty years ago, no one cared about the history of Colorado art. Now it's a major topic, and that has a lot to do with the Kirkland and with its penchant for presenting relevant shows like this one.

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