Capsule reviews of current exhibits
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.
The Magafan Twins. Ethel and Jenne Magafan were identical twins born in Chicago but raised in Denver. In the 1920s, their art teacher at East High School was so impressed with their talent that he paid their tuition to attend Denver's School of Modern Art, run by Frank Mechau; they later studied at the Kirkland School of Art. In the 1930s, the twins followed Mechau to his Redstone studio and then to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center School. They were right in the midst of the regionalist scene here during the Great Depression, and both completed New Deal-era murals: Ethel's is in the South Broadway post office, and Jenne's is at West High School. Colorado Art Before, During and After the Magafan Twins, now at the Kirkland Museum, displays an economical selection of their paintings and prints, using them as anchors for a more broadly based group show. In addition, "The Riders," an ultra-rare and newly acquired painting by Mechau, is also included. Jenne died in the '50s, but Ethel carried on until the 1990s. Through August 2, Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, 1311 Pearl Street, 303-832-8576, www.kirklandmuseum.org.
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, email@example.com.
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.
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