Abstractions on Paper. The current show at the city's coziest little art shop, the Emil Nelson Gallery, is a fascinating group endeavor put together by director Hugo Anderson. The exhibit combines historic and contemporary works in the form of watercolors, prints, drawings and photos by more than two dozen artists -- making it a very big presentation, considering how small the gallery is. The mood is classic modernist, with some very choice items by major artists, including Elaine de Kooning, Stanley Hayter, Mauricio Lasansky and, of course, Herbert Bayer, a gallery favorite. Though the late Bayer, who was an Aspen resident, has been included in shows here before, the watercolors in this one are being publicly exhibited for the first time. One of them, an abstraction based on nature from the 1940s, has a decidedly Colorado look, having been done soon after Bayer moved here. Among the regional contemporary artists in the show are Lanse Kleaveland, Sarah Vaeth and Irene Watts. Like the historic artists, these current practitioners have embraced classic abstraction. Through June 26 at the Emil Nelson Gallery, 1307 Bannock Street, 303-534-0996. Reviewed May 6.
Dale Chisman: New Paintings. With Dale Chisman: New Paintings at the Rule Gallery, Denver abstractionist Dale Chisman has done it again: He's come up with a fresh batch of sophisticated works of art, as he always does. Chisman is, of course, the dean of the city's modernist painters. His artistic career stretches back to the 1960s, when he was in college. It's been two years since he's shown his work in town, but given the strength of this eponymous solo, it was definitely worth the wait. In this group of recent paintings, Chisman has clearly changed his style. But as radical as they appear, they still bear a relationship to his classic work of the '80s and '90s. Like those, these latest paintings feature compositions of shapes that are roughly geometric and have been laid over colored grounds. And though he's long used automatist lines applied instinctively to fill out his pictures, in these current pieces, the lines have become dense webs of paint that all but obscure the arrangement of forms underneath. With these thoroughly original paintings that look completely new, good old Chisman has been rejuvenated. Through June 26 at Rule Gallery, 111 Broadway, 303-777-9473.
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. The frontrunner in the current generation of Chinese artists, Zhang Huan, is not a pop artist, however, but a conceptualist; he's 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, 2003.
Jules Olitski: Half a Life's Work. The Singer Gallery at the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture is presenting an important show, Jules Olitski: Half a Life's Work: Selected Paintings 1972-2002. Guest-curator William Biety, director of the Sandy Carson Gallery, organized the exhibit and was able to get the paintings straight from the artist, as the two are longtime friends. Born in Russia in 1922, Olitski gained fame in the 1950s and '60s with ultra-hip color-field paintings created by staining and spraying canvases. These paintings made him one of the key post-painterly artists of that time. But the Singer show picks up the story in the '70s (hence the reference to half a life's work in the title), when Olitski was moving away from stains and toward thick, heavy coats of paint mounded up in peaks of impasto. These paintings were often carried out in iridescent pigments developed especially for him. In the '90s, Olitski made the radical -- for a non-objective artist like him -- shift to landscape painting, but for the past couple of years, he has returned to his roots with poured and stained paintings. Through June 2 at the Singer Gallery, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-399-2660. Reviewed May 6
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The Migrant Project: Contemporary California Farm Workers. California-based photographer Rick Nahmias was researching famed TV journalist Edward R. Murrow when he came upon Harvest of Shame, a 1960s documentary about farm workers. The Murrow film inspired Nahmias to revisit the topic, and the results are the dozens of wonderful photos that make up The Migrant Project at the Museo de las Américas. This traveling exhibit has been supplemented by a small salute to activist Cesar Chavez, who was a champion of farm-worker rights. The Chavez display is the perfect set-up for The Migrant Project, which highlights farm workers' struggles using poetically composed black-and-white photos. Nahmias's approach is to capture the picturesque quality of rural life while also raising such issues as low wages and overcrowded living conditions. The handsome selenium prints with blurry borders recall traditional paintings. Nahmias has a brilliant sense for composition and for using the effects of reflected natural light. Through June 12 at the Museo de las Américas, 861 Santa Fe Drive, 303-571-4401. Reviewed April 29.
The Painter's Eye: Colorado and the West. There's been increasing interest in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century art of the American West. LoDo's David Cook Fine Art has made this kind of thing its specialty, and the gallery's latest must-see offering is The Painter's Eye: Colorado and the West, which includes more than a hundred historic paintings, drawings and prints. Many of the artists in the show were associated with the famous Western art schools, including Colorado's Broadmoor Academy and the Laguna Art Association in California. There is an extensive group of tradition landscapes by local master Charles Partridge Adams, as well as gorgeous impressionist and expressionist paintings by the likes of Birger Sandzén and Edgar Alwin Payne. In addition to these viewer-friendly kinds of things, there are also examples of more advanced art, in particular social realism, including pieces by Boardman Robinson and Peppino Mangravite, and even modernism, with work by vanguard figures such as Andrew Dasburg and Doel Reed. Through June 26 at David Cook Fine Art, 1637 Wazee Street, 303-623-4817.
Painting a New World. There are no famous artists in the Denver Art Museum's current blockbuster, but even without that kind of draw, it really shouldn't be missed. Donna Pierce, the museum's curator of Spanish Colonial art organized it in-house, which means that it's a rare bird -- a traveling show that's actually departing from Denver instead of arriving here. The local origin is reason enough to check it out, but there are fifty other reasons, too: the magnificent paintings. Pierce started working on the project in 1999, when she was hired. Many of the pieces are from the collection of Jan and Fred Mayer, longtime museum donors, but Pierce not only hunted for things here in town, she also searched for them in the museums and private collections of Mexico and Europe. Many of the works on display are the kind of things we'd expect -- Spanish baroque religious paintings -- but others are completely unexpected, such as two unforgettable paintings carried out in feathers, an art form associated with the Aztecs. Through July 25 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed April 29.
W.O.W (words on wheels) W.O.P. (words on paper). By all reports, the Fresh Art Gallery should have been closed by now, but there's one last show, titled W.O.W (words on wheels) W.O.P. (words on paper). This solo exhibit occupies the entire set of spaces in the large gallery and showcases work done during the past year or so by one of Denver's most important and hardest-working artists, Roland Bernier. Both an abstract painter and a conceptual artist, Bernier has long used the aesthetic rather than the narrative possibilities of words to create his pieces. Those things he describes as being "words on wheels" are handsome and cerebral sculptures, wooden boxes that have been filled with stacks of letters cut out from the same wood. The letters are arranged into words -- but taken together, the words don't make any sense. The boxes are mounted on casters so they can be moved, which is where the "wheels" come in. The "words on paper" portion is made up of photocopied prints and other photo-based methods and includes a few pieces in which Bernier actually uses people. The show, organized and sponsored by Bernier himself, is an absolute must. Through May 29 at Fresh Art Gallery, 900 Santa Fe Drive, 303-623-2200.