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BECAUSE THE EARTH IS 1/3 DIRT. The CU Art Museum on the University of Colorado's Boulder campus is an unlikely setting for a blockbuster contemporary ceramics exhibit -- but here it is, anyway. The show was curated by a committee that included museum director Lisa Tamiris Becker and CU art faculty members Scott Chamberlin, Kim Dickey and Jeanne Quinn, and it features an international array of artists working with clay. This quartet of experts invited eleven artists from around the world to exhibit their pieces, and nearly every one they chose is on the front lines of the ceramic medium. Some of them, such as Walter McConnell, are really pushing the envelope. His installation is made of moist clay in a plastic enclosure, meaning it's not even ceramic, because it hasn't been fired. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the hyperrealist "Bird's Wing," by Ted Muehling, crafted out of good, old-fashioned, high-fired white bisque porcelain. Leopold Foulem, Lawson Oyekan, Wim Delvoye and Annabeth Rosen are among the other talented participants in the show. Through March 19 at the CU Art Museum in the Sibell-Wolle Fine Arts Building on the CU-Boulder campus, 303-492-8300. Reviewed February 26.

Burdens. The current show at Denver's Artyard Sculpture Gallery is Burdens, which features the latest body of work by Carley Warren, a famous name in local sculpture circles. The exhibit highlights Warren's signature style with a group of her familiar wooden sculptures, which are delicate and vulnerable-looking. Warren has exhibited her work in the Denver area since the 1960s, and it has long been informed by her interest in narrative feminist themes. She inspired a younger generation of feminist artists locally, and a number of them made their own reputations with work based partly on her example. Warren's sculptures demonstrate her enduring interest in fine craftsmanship, her judicious material choices, and her ability to imbue thoroughly non-objective forms with deep psychological meanings. Another strength is her simple palette of golden brown and flat black with a little red thrown in here and there. Warren's small and subtle sculptures make this modest little gallery look positively grand. Through March 13 at the Artyard Sculpture Gallery, 1251 South Pearl Street, 303-777-3219. Reviewed February 26.

Don Stinson, Chuck Forsman and Eric Paddock/Jim Colbert. The Western landscape's natural beauty has taken hold of the imagination of generations of artists, but during the last twenty years, some have chosen to examine the stickier topic of civilization's affect on the scenery. This intellectual approach is the collective theme of a group of exhibits at Robischon Gallery. In the front is Don Stinson: Art and Ruins, which includes three monumental representational paintings of three separate conceptual earthworks from the '60s and '70s along with his more familiar views of abandoned drive-ins and motels. In the middle spaces is Chuck Forsman, which is made up of photos from the artist's book, Western Rider: Views From a Car Window. Forsman is best known as a painter, but it turns out that he has also been taking photos for decades. In the Viewing Room Gallery is Eric Paddock/Jim Colbert, which combines Western landscape photos from Paddock's book, Belonging to the West, with paintings of the same subject by Colbert. An opening reception and book signing is scheduled for Thursday, March 4, at 6 p.m. Through April 10 at the Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788.

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, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 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. 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. A reception for both shows is set for Thursday, March 4, at 6 p.m.; the exhibits run through 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.

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.

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.

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.


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