Full Frontal: Contemporary Asian Art from the Logan Collection. The normal stock in trade for the Denver Art Museum's Asian-art curator, Ron Otsuka, is traditional styles, but he's been drafted into doing contemporary duty by a gift that includes more than a score of pieces by Asian and Asian-American artists. The recently acquired booty provided Otsuka with the opportunity to explore new Asian art in Full Frontal: Contemporary Asian Art from the Logan Collection, now on display in the William Sharpless Jackson Jr. Gallery on the museum's fifth floor. Most of the standouts are neo-pop, such as Yu Youhan's "Mao Decorated," which is based not on the famous traditional portrait, but on Warhol's version. However, the front-runner among the current generation of Chinese artists, Zhang Huan, is not a pop artist, but a conceptualist. Huan is represented by a photo that documents a performance in which he coated his body with ground hot dogs and then had actual dogs lick it off him. The show may be small, but it's bold. Through May 23 at the Denver Art Museum, Acoma Plaza at West 13th Avenue, 1-888-903-0278. Reviewed December 11.
Malfunction Junction and Silent Sounds. The most talked-about new art spot in Denver is + Zeile/Judish Gallery, and shows such as Malfunction Junction, an installation by Susan Meyer, is only the latest reason why. This is one of two exhibits opening at the gallery on Friday, February 28, with a reception set for next Thursday, March 4, at 6 p.m. Meyer, a Denver artist who's been doing installation art for years, addresses the ups and downs of her own life using the metaphor of a roller coaster. The piece, made specifically for this show, apes the form of a coaster's supporting trestles, using wood and the track bed (though there are no tracks) outlined in lightbulbs. The analogy is pretty simplistic, but Meyer's monumental installation is completely captivating nonetheless. Silent Sounds is an exhibit of mixed-media paintings by Seattle artist Stefan Knorr. These paintings, which are essentially updates on surrealism, are composed of assemblages of found imagery from the popular media. The disparate and broken images are unified by abstract passages of paint. Both shows end on April 3. + Zeile/Judish Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296-2546.
No Joke and No Yokel. This year's interdisciplinary program at the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture at the Jewish Community Center focuses on comics as an art form. It includes a panel discussion, a film series and two notable exhibitions: No Joke: The Spirit of American Comic Books, in the Singer Gallery, and No Yokel: The Spirit of Denver Comic Artists, next door in the Balcony Gallery. No Joke was flawlessly installed and intelligently organized by Singer director Simon Zalkind. One of the city's most accomplished, ambitious and creative curators, Zalkind is normally interested in high culture, so it's a surprise to see how surefooted he is in this popular-cultural realm. For No Joke, he scoured collections across the country to find original drawings by such legendary historic and contemporary comics artists as Al Capp, Howard Cruse, Mort Drucker, Art Spiegelman and a dozen more. Tom Motley, who put together the No Yokel exhibit, also created a mural depicting the history of comics. Through March 28 at the Mizel Center, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-399-2660. Reviewed February 12.
Current art exhibitions
Over A Billion Served and Hidden Images. The main winter exhibit at Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art is Over A Billion Served: Conceptual Photography From the People's Republic of China. The show, which was organized by Julie Segraves, executive director of Denver's Asian Art Coordinating Council, brings together photos by eleven important conceptual artists now working in China. Conceptual photography is new in China, but so is photography itself, with the widespread availability of cameras dating back only to the 1980s. Segraves has divided the show into three parts: "Strangers in the Cities," which examines the effect of social change on the Chinese people; "Power Politics," which looks at the effect of the Chinese Communist Party; and "The McDonaldization of China," which is self-explanatory. On the MCA's mezzanine is an elegant solo exhibit, Hidden Images, made up of Czech artist Adela Matasova's minimalist kinetic installations. Both shows through May 9 at Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art, 1275 19th Street, 303-298-7554. Reviewed February 19.
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Pard Morrison and James Westwater. Unlike the past few seasons, this year has seen only a few emerging artists who've broken onto the city's art scene. The work of one of the best of this handful of young newcomers is currently being showcased in Pard Morrison: Recent Sculpture and Paintings at the Rule Gallery. Morrison's aesthetic fits the mood here perfectly because his work is inspired by minimalism, the style of choice for Rule. His sculptures, some of which are wall-mounted, are made of aluminum patinated in beautiful, dusty colors. Formally, they are very stark, but the severity is offset by the softness and unevenness of the patinated surfaces, which are very painterly. In the informal Viewing Room in the back is a second, smaller show titled James Westwater: Narrative Works, in which the New Mexico-based artist continues his intellectualized exploration of an archetypal lozenge shape. Westwater uses this shape as a graffiti-like mark that he paints onto ready-made imagery of various kinds. Both shows run through March 20 at Rule Gallery, 111 Broadway, 303-777-9473.
Picasso: 25 Years of Edition Ceramics From the Edward and Ann Weston Collection. The Metro State Center for the Visual Arts is hosting this must-see traveling show of Picasso's experiments with clay. Beginning in 1947 and at regular intervals until 1971, Picasso would go to the Madoura studio of Georges and Suzanne Ramié in Vallauris, France, and do ceramics with them during brief, if intensely creative, visits. The Ramiés formed plates, bowls, vases and other pottery items that Picasso then carved and manipulated while the clay was still wet. Finally, Picasso painted them with glazes in his own inimitable way, decorating the surfaces with images of the kinds of strange animals and figures that had already been made famous in his paintings. The resulting pieces were the prototypes for the handmade limited editions on display in Picasso: 25 Years of Edition Ceramics. This type of collaborative and serial approach to studio ceramics may seem strange by American standards, but it's a tried-and-true practice in countries such as France. Through February 28 at the Metro State Center for the Visual Arts, 1734 Wazee Street, 303-294-5207. Reviewed February 5.
ROBERT COLESCOTT & GLENN LIGON. This noteworthy effort is the first in a planned series of exhibits at the Victoria H. Myhren Gallery at the University of Denver. The series will explore the more than 200 works of contemporary art that have been promised to the Denver Art Museum by high-profile collectors Vicki and Kent Logan. This show represents a new era of cooperation between DU and the DAM, even garnering DU access to the Logans' private stash. Shannen Hill, a DU art historian, organized the show, and her expertise in African and African-American art was put to good use, as Colescott and Ligon are currently among the most prominent black artists nationally. Both artists address the African-American experience, but that's where the similarities end. Colescott is an expressionist, mixing a faux-naive style with references to everyday experience. In contrast, Ligon is post-pop and often employs photo-based techniques that result in super-sophisticated pieces. Through February 27 at the Victoria H. Myhren Gallery, 2121 East Asbury Avenue, 303-871-2846. Reviewed February 12.
Vance Kirkland. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the late Vance Kirkland's birth. In honor of the centennial, the Colorado History Museum has mounted a salute to the legendary Colorado artist with the epic title of Vance Kirkland: A Colorado Painter's Life, Early Works and Beyond. Though there are some remarkable early Kirklands in the show, notably a full-sized pencil sketch for a WPA-era mural, the exhibit includes lots more than that. First, there is the work of nearly twenty of Kirkland's friends and colleagues -- among the modern artists in the state from the mid-twentieth century -- and even some contemporary art. Second, interspersed throughout is a design show surveying furniture, pottery and other decorative arts from 1900 to the 1960s. This over-the-top approach can only mean one thing: Hugh Grant, director of the Kirkland Museum, orchestrated it. Grant was a co-curator of the show, and nearly all the art and artifacts in it were selected personally by him and loaned to the CHM from the Kirkland's fabulous collection. Through April 4 at the Colorado History Museum, 1300 Broadway, 303-866-3682. Reviewed December 25.