It's hardly news that Denver is a sports town -- think of all the money the city has thrown at its professional sports teams in recent years -- but this is something of an art town, too.
Those of us in the visual arts march to a different drummer than do most of our jock-crazed neighbors who don't give a hoot about beauty. Though we may find ourselves in a distinct minority, there are enough of us to engender our own values, customs and events -- lots and lots of events. The volume of attractions is positively daunting here on the cusp of the new exhibition cycle. So now, as it begins to unfold, is a good time to get a glimpse of the first leg of this season's art parade -- before we get run over by it, overwhelmed with all the possibilities.
Overwhelmed -- or, more properly, overwhelming -- is an apt description of the upcoming El Greco to Picasso from the Phillips Collection at the DAM (100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000), set to open on October 4. We're in masterpiece country here, with major works not only by El Greco and Picasso, but also by such luminaries as Van Gogh, Cézanne and Matisse, among a heavenly host of others. The DAM is hyping the exhibit as the most important painting show ever presented in Denver -- and having seen images of some of the pieces that will be included, I guarantee the hype is right on the mark.
Augustus Saint-Gaudens: American Sculptor of the Gilded Age opened a couple of weeks ago, and for those interested in the Beaux Arts style of the turn of the last century, the rewards are great. The two-part exhibit is being jointly presented by the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (30 West Dale Street, Colorado Springs, 1-719-634-5581) and the American Numismatic Association (818 North Cascade Avenue, Colorado Springs, 1-719-632-2646), conveniently located right next door.
Making the drive to Pueblo and back takes the better part of a day, but considering the attractions this fall at the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center (210 North Santa Fe Avenue, Pueblo, 1-719-295-7200), it might make sense anyway. The appeal is a quintet of top-notch shows. First is John Buck: A Selection of Prints, which also includes recent sculptures by the nationally known Montana artist. Next is Jean Gumpper: Recent Work, focusing on the Colorado Springs-based artist's woodcuts. Also on display is Bruce Hilvitz: Nancy Boy, which examines serigraphs by a Pueblo native who just returned after living in New York and San Francisco. The final three shows are really parts of the same, all focusing on a single artist, the late New Mexico printmaker Gene Kloss. They are Gene Kloss: A Centennial Tribute; Gene Kloss: The Early Years; and Gene Kloss Drawings. All five shows at the Sangre de Cristo are already open.
Closer to home is Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art (1275 19th Street, 303-298-7554), which is presenting the provocatively titled BLOOD: Lines & Connections. The exhibit, which opens on October 3, showcases political art from far away, including selections from a host of obscure, if established, artists, such as Mexico's Minerva Cuevas, Zhang Huan from China, and the Ukraine's Victor Sydorenko. The exhibit does include the work of one famous artist, Yoko Ono, who, as we all know, hails from the good old U.S.A. The MCA is also hosting a pair of off-site shows: The Dikeou Collection, which highlights contemporary art collected by Devon and Pany Dikeou; and middle ground, a group of recent paintings by Denver artist Stephen Batura.
Other Denver-area art centers and museums are also in the thick of the fall-exhibition crush; several of them take a look at multiculturalism. Metro's Center for the Visual Arts (1734 Wazee Street, 303-294-5207) just unveiled Borderlands, which addresses Hispanic art from the American Southwest and northern Mexico. The Museo de las Américas (861 Santa Fe Drive, 303-571-4401) recently opened Miradas del Arte Mexicano/A Vision of Mexican Art, which has a wide variety of media by some of the best-known Mexican artists of the contemporary period, including Francisco Toledo, Alfredo Castañeda and some three dozen others.
Another show with an international mood is Symbols of the Big Bang at the Singer Gallery at the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture (350 South Dahlia Street, 303-399-2660), which opened last weekend. It's an exhibition made up of recent efforts by the collaborative team of Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, the premier Russian emigré artists in this country. Organized with the cooperation of LoDo's Sloane Gallery, the Denver representative for Komar and Melamid, the show explores the connections between creation myths and the big-bang theory.
The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities (6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 720-898-7200) has two compelling solos opening this weekend. On the top floor is Debbie Masuoka: Big Hare: Ceramic Sculpture, made up of monumental rabbit heads created by the former Colorado artist who now lives in Nebraska. In the main gallery is Frank Sampson Retrospective; it's one of the most anticipated shows of the season, because it features one of Colorado's acknowledged masters. Frank Sampson features the University of Colorado professor emeritus's paintings from the '50s to the present. Sampson is also the subject of Frank Sampson: Recent Work, presented in one of the city's top commercial venues, the Sandy Carson Gallery (760 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573-8585). The Sampson show is paired with Virginia Folkestad, featuring the Castle Rock artist's well-known installations. The two shows open on September 12. Coming up later this fall will be Floyd Tunson, which will include abstract paintings by the famous Manitou Springs-based artist.
The Robischon Gallery (1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788) is presenting an exhibit opening on September 13; it will be dedicated to another significant contemporary Colorado artist, Scott Chamberlin. The show focuses on the Boulder/Denver artist's organic ceramics. Also on view is Gary Komarin, a solo show by a New York painter. In November and December, it's Anne Connell, highlighting the Oregon artist's Renaissance-based representational paintings.
Amy Metier & Bethany Kriegsman, a duet of abstractions by two of the area's most respected painters, opens September 12 at the William Havu Gallery (1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360), which is also introducing Joanne Kerrihard in a small show on the mezzanine. In November, it's another pair of major local painting talents in an exhibition built for two, Luis Eades & Margaretta Gilboy.
The Rule Gallery (111 Broadway, 303-777-9473) started the season last week with Richard Hull: Recent Paintings and Michael Eastman: Cuba, photographs. Hull, from Chicago, does paintings that are abstract and expressionist without being abstract-expressionist, and Eastman, from St. Louis, gets a creepy surrealist effect with unaltered color photos of ruined rooms, among other things. In December, Mary Obering examines the hard-edged paintings by this onetime Denver artist who now lives in New York.
One downer this season is the fact that Ron Judish closed his gallery, making the big five the big four: Sandy Carson, Robischon, William Havu and Rule. But Judish is still around, even if his gallery isn't. He's associated with Luscious, at the Andenken Gallery (2110 Market Street, 303-292-3281). The exhibit, which opens September 12, includes abstract plastic sculptures by Kate Petley, organic-fiber sculptures by Gail Wagner and color-field paintings by Sharon Smolinski. In October and November, Andenken hosts the third edition of Force Future, an invitational group show of new talent.
Studio Aiello (3563 Walnut Street, 303-297-8166) is doing Best of Show, which opened last week. The large exhibit is the work of three artists: New York videographer Leon Grodski, Denver photo-realist painter Frank O'Neill and Denver sculptor Patricia Aaron. Judish is also involved here with Heads, set for October and November, which brings together Ft. Collins painter Marius Lehene and New York photographer Kevin Cooley, both from Aiello, with Denver painter John Hull and New York photographer Ron Katz from Judish.
At Cordell Taylor Gallery (2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296-0927), the fall opener Synesthesia: New Paintings by Karen McClanahan features the minimalist abstractions by a former Denver artist who recently moved to New York. The title of the show refers to the idea that colors produce sounds. In October, Bryan Andrews takes the gallery with The Legend of the Seven Calendar Diner, a show combining his totemic sculptures and drawings. In November, Kelly & Kelley pairs landscape-based abstractions by New Mexico's Warren Kelly with the pattern and text paintings of Louisiana's Kelli Scott Kelley.
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Fresh Art Gallery (900 Santa Fe Drive, 303-623-2200) will open Memory believes before knowing remembers on September 19; the group show will include a video installation by Anne Angyal, photo-emulsion paintings by Steven Starsas, paintings on metal by Madeleine Dodge and mechanized sculptures by Joe Riché; all are from Colorado. In November, Lauri Lynnxe Murphy's mixed-media paintings will be seen in depth at Fresh, in a show that's still in the planning stages.
And the list of worthy art pursuits goes on and on. There's Soft Sensations, a group show of abstract paintings that opened last week at Space Gallery (765 Santa Fe Drive, 720-904-1088), which will be followed by back-to-back shows, the first including Tyler Aiello, the second Monica Aiello. And there's Alchemy at Walker Fine Art (300 West 11th Avenue, 303-355-8955), opening on September 12, which puts together abstract mixed-media paintings by Ben Strawn from Salida with mixed-materials sculptures by Denver's Norman Epp.
This is not to forget the many solos at the alternative spaces -- Spark, Pirate, Edge and Core -- with a new selection of exhibits showing up every three or four weeks. Plus, there are the photo galleries, notably Camera Obscura, the Colorado Photographic Arts Center and Gallery Sink, which will have new shows every month. There are also campus-based galleries, like the CU Art Museum, the Victoria H. Myhren Gallery at the University of Denver, and the Steele Gallery at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design; the art centers in the hinterlands, including the Foothills Art Center, the Fort Collins Museum of Contemporary Art and the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art; and dozens of other, smaller venues.
Denver may be home to a gang of sports nuts, but in town and up and down the Front Range, there are more than enough diversions for those whose be-all and end-all is art. And you know what? Unlike everyone else, we couldn't care less how well some guy kicks, hits or bounces a ball.