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 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. Through April 10 at the Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788.
Frederic Remington. One of the great artist-propagandists for the Old West was Frederic Remington, an illustrator, sculptor and aesthetically ambitious painter. That talent is revealed in Frederic Remington: The Color of Night, which is displayed in the Gates Foundation Gallery on the seventh floor of the Denver Art Museum. The 25 paintings of night, ranging from sunset to sunrise and all hours in between, were done during the last years of the artist's life, between 1900 and 1909. These dark, mostly impressionist-style paintings indicate that Remington knew what was happening in the most sophisticated currents of the art world of his time. In addition, Remington based many of his paintings not on sketches but on photographs he took himself, and the graphic quality of his compositions is obviously the result. Many in the art world loathe Western art, but these Remingtons are not just about the romance of the frontier days -- they also have a lot to do with the rise of early modern art in America. Through March 14 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed March 4.
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.
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.
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Over A Billion Served. The main winter exhibit at Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art is by Julie Segraves, executive director of Denver's Asian Art Coordinating Council, who brought 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. This exhibit is absolutely awesome, and the photos in it are so unusual and so good that they will leave a lasting impression on anyone who sees them. Through May 9 at Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art, 1275 19th Street, 303-298-7554. Reviewed February 19.
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.
Wet Paint. Though this is being billed as a group show, Wet Paint at the William Havu Gallery is actually a combination of three strong and expansive solos. In the front space, and in the nooks and crannies around it, are Jeffrey Keith's recent all-over abstractions that loosely refer to geometric abstraction. In the window space and around the base of the staircase are abstracts that are densely populated with John Himmelfarb's drawn elements, some of them cartoonish. And finally, in the space in the middle and under the mezzanine are Michael Rubin's out-of-this-world neo-abstract-expressionist monochrome paintings. All three artists' paintings are closely related stylistically, but each has a distinctly different approach, so there's no mistaking who's who. Because the three artists live and work in different big cities, with Keith here in Denver, Himmelfarb in Chicago, and Rubin in New York, Wet Paint proves that classic contemporary abstraction is still relevant. Through April 10 at the William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360.