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Fifteen best Denver ART moments in 2011

We've been rolling off lists this week like there's no tomorrow, and maybe there isn't, considering that pesky 2012 Mayan prophecy and all that. Earlier this week, Jef Otte presented his 10 best moments in Denver arts list , riffing on some of his favorite moments in arts and culture from the year past. Herewith follows a list of Denver's big ART moments, presented in chronological order.

Fifteen best Denver ART moments in 2011

15. World premiere of Night Hunter, an animation by Stacey Steers, Denver Art Museum, February 11

It took Boulder animator Stacey Steers, already a favorite of Denver Art Museum director Christoph Heinrich's, more than four years to complete the painstaking work on her hand-collaged work Night Hunter, a beautiful film that unfolds, for all the work, in just over fifteen minutes. Steers debuted the film at the DAM in February, where it remained on view (along with a Victorian dollhouse assemblage featuring tiny screens flickering animated excerpts through its windows) later as part of the museum's Blink! Light, Sound and the Moving Image exhibition, in itself a fascinating maze of projections, films, neon and TV screens. A stunning achievement in animation, the film has since been making selective film fest rounds, including a screening next month at Sundance. Five years from now, perhaps we'll be marveling at her next triumph.

Fifteen best Denver ART moments in 2011

14. On Being a Woman, Wazee Union, February 18

The brainchild of Westword MasterMind and Titwrench producer Sarah Slater and designer Baily Rose, On Being a Woman was just that -- a free-form expression of womanhood in art, performance and music that spread its tendrils through the hallways of Wazee Union in February. In no way strictly for the girls, the event was pure celebration, a party swimming in both feminism and femininity (indeed, actor Julie Rada spent the show performing in a tub of water) and a kind of joy that happens when women take charge of their destinies.

Fifteen best Denver ART moments in 2011

13. Denver Month of Photography, March 1-30 Denver MOP wasn't new this year, but the citywide celebration of photography did make a bigger splash during its monthlong run, when multiple gallery shows and an international Big Picture photo swap swathed the town in black and white and glorious color. We can hardly wait to see what Mark Sink and his photographic co-conspirators come up with next time.

Fifteen best Denver ART moments in 2011

12. Ladies Fancywork Society, blue bear ball and chain guerrilla knitbomb, April 18 Everyone loves a rebel, and the LFS is a whole band of 'em -- art rebels, that is -- who knit and purl their way through town in the dark of night, leaving behind fiber flowers on fences, leg warmers on public sculptures and cozy wraps for inert urban objects of all kinds. But this one was just a stroke of genius above and beyond their call of sneaky duty: In the dawn's early light, they outfitted Lawrence Argent's "I See What You Mean" (Denver's famous big blue bear peering into the convention center) with a giant yarn blue ball and chain. It was a big moment for yarnbombing -- and Denver. Where will they strike in 2012?

Fifteen best Denver ART moments in 2011

11. Frame of Mind and Design Pioneers: 3D Video Projection Showcase, Create Denver Week, May 13 In May, Create Denver Week expressed the city's artsy soul in many ways, but perhaps the most spectacular moment of all came down on a balmy night in downtown Denver, when two amazing outdoor video events took over the urban landscape: one on the Colorado Convention Center's Jumbo Tron screen and the other projected directly on the wall of the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. That, of course, was cool in itself, but what really made it a scene were the people themselves -- the bustling crowd, gathered in the street, sharing a hi-tech spectacle. It was sheer perfection, under the moon and stars.

Fifteen best Denver ART moments in 2011

10. Microclimates, Super Ordinary Gallery, June 4 The cross-disciplinary installation Microclimates, a collaboration between design entrepreneur Samuel Schimek, artist Rob Mack and fashionista Rebecca Peebles, was just plain fun: It was like an arty fun house you wandered through, discovering woodland creatures and flat gems in forests and caves, all in the confines of Tran and Josh Wills's new RiNo garage gallery Super Ordinary. But it also spilled out onto the street at the opening, which included food trucks, a DJ and a sidewalk runway show featuring designs from Peebles. This sort of savvy circus-style opening is becoming the norm at the gallery, which is just wrapping up another happening showcasing Ray Young Chu.

Fifteen best Denver ART moments in 2011

9. Colorado Photographic Arts Center and Working With Artists announce merger, June

As Month of Photography proves, the local community of photographers can pull a thing together. Here's a hard example of that collaborative nature at work. Now the New Colorado Photographic Arts Center and operating under the leadership of former CPAC head Rupert Jenkins, the Belmar-based enclave will serve that group in every way possible, by offering classes and well-picked exhibitions throughout the year.

8. Denver County Fair, July 28-31

What can't one say about the Denver County Fair? Not strictly an art event, it was itself a work of art -- a come-on to all other county fairs to raise the bar to a whole new, totally contemporary and urban 21st-century level, that Dana Cain and Tracy Weil curated to a "T." A big, messy affair with a million cultural and pop-cultural references, the DCF proved not only that everything's better with a ribbon on it, but that it's good to celebrate who we really are here in Denver: We bake pies, raise goats and grow tomatoes, but we also make art and fashion, delight in life's little oddities and love to eat. This thing can go nowhere other than up. See ya'll at the fair!

Fifteen best Denver ART moments in 2011

7. Thinking About Flying, MCA Denver, August-December While Jef Otte, our defensive correspondent-in-a-jam, did famously partake in a pigeon-racing challenge to mark the opening of this clever exhibit (making him the first person to officially check out a pigeon), the real point of the "exhibit" was totally in line with the MCA's dedication to off-the-wall programming: During the project's run, museum-goers were allowed to check out pigeons and later release them for a return homing journey. As Jonathan Shikes described in advance of the show, it represented "an effort to redefine the relationship between museums -- who are the caretakers of art objects -- and their visitors." Keep it coming, MCA.

Fifteen best Denver ART moments in 2011

6. Carnivalesque, Niza Knoll Gallery, October

A small show, and maybe not one that people would say changed the world, Penney Bidwell's group effort sweetly unpeeled an amazing personal story: Bidwell comes from three generations of circus stock, and her great-grandmother was a tattooed lady. Carnivalesque both celebrated and laid bare the innate sadness of her family history, and during its run, Bidwell and friends put on some crackerjack carnival-themed receptions parties, complete with Ferris wheel.

Fifteen best Denver ART moments in 2011

5. Manitou Chair Project, Manitou Springs, October 9

Colorado Springs artist Sean O'Meallie wasn't really asking for much. He just needed 1,000 chairs and a lot of volunteers to kickstart the Manitou Chair Project: a plan to line the main drag in Manitou Springs with an endless row of chairs to catch the sun's first rays at dawn. He didn't end up with quite that many chairs, but nearly 700 of them did the job in spectacular fashion, and the event was well-documented by a crew of photographers. Some of the best images have now been released as posters touting the charms of Manitou, available through the Business of Art Center in Colorado Springs; see them at the chair project website.

Fifteen best Denver ART moments in 2011

4. PlatteForum is presented a $10,000 national grant by Michelle Obama, November 2

It was no small feat in PlatteForum history when a small delegation from the nonprofit gallery that pairs at-risk ArtLab students with artist/mentors to produce ongoing exhibitions landed in Washington, D.C. for a trip to the White House. They'd won a 2011 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, one of only twelve delegated annually across the nation, fair and square, and were ready for the moment when Michelle Obama handed it to them. As student Salvador Flores-Martinez, who was along for the ride, noted in a statement: "Without PlatteForum, I know I would be in a dead-end job, on the street slanging drugs. I know it sounds rough, but it's the straight-up truth. Having a chance to represent my peers in accepting this award from the First Lady of the United States in the White House is an experience I'll never forget. It showed me that a program like ArtLab that can change kids' lives is recognized and valued." Amen. 3. Phil Bender receives a 2011 Mayor's Award for Excellence in the Arts, November 3

Phil Bender is generally accepted as the grand old man of the Denver co-op scene and the dogged soul who's kept the home fire burning at Pirate: Contemporary Art for more than thirty years. In those ensuing years after Pirate's inception, Bender has seen his gridded found-object works exhibited in higher places, including the Denver Art Museum, but he's still just Phil, and we're all the better for it. See Pirate's 32nd Anniversary Show through January 1. Phil says he's going to be there that Sunday, the actual, true anniversary date: "I'll drink champagne by myself if it comes to that," he notes. On second thought, why don't you join him?

Fifteen best Denver ART moments in 2011

2. Christo's Over the River approved by the Bureau of Land Management, November 7

Renowned international installation artist Christo's had Over the River on the back-burner for more than a decade, but the day the BLM okay went down marked the first time he could truly hope to see it completed. Only a couple minor approvals remain on the docket, and then plans to cover the Arkansas River with fluttering canopies can begin in earnest, with a completion date set for the summer of 2014. Long may Christo's freak flag fly!

Fifteen best Denver ART moments in 2011

1.Clyfford Still Museum opens to the public, November 18

The late abstract expressionist painter Clyfford Still's dream-come-true -- a dedicated, world-class museum housing the bulk of his work -- has become Denver's crowning glory in the art world at large, and it's true: The whole world was watching when the elegant, naturally-lit, bare-bones space designed by Brad Cloepfil and Allied Works Architecture opened for business with a smart exhibit charting Still's development as a painter. The museum has garnered write-ups by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other national forums, but, you know, the truth is that it's all ours. The Clyfford Still Museum is now ours to enjoy, and his large-scale paintings and their hard-edged inner worlds of color-within-color must be seen to be believed. But, still: Let the visiting throngs commence.

To keep up with the Froyd's-eye-view of arts and culture in Denver, "like" my fan page on Facebook.

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