Abstractions on Paper. The current show at the Emil Nelson Gallery, is a fascinating group endeavor put together by director Hugo Anderson. The exhibit combines historic and contemporary works in the forms of watercolors, prints, drawings and photos by more than two dozen artists. 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, 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 he 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 instinctually 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.
John Buck and Manuel Neri. Sculpture is the main attraction at LoDo's Robischon Gallery, where a large solo, John Buck: New Sculpture, is paired with the tasty little confection Manuel Neri: Sculpture/Drawings. Montana's Buck and California's Neri are among the most significant contemporary artists working out West. The Bucks, both sculptures and prints, are wonderful and represent a clear continuation of the work he's been doing for a long time. Buck's signature sculptures are torsos with elaborate abstractions where the figures' heads should be, making it easy to interpret that he's using the abstracts to convey the image of thinking. The Neri show has the mood of a museum offering, and it includes abstract figural sculpture -- Neri's acknowledged forte -- along with paintings on paper. Whether two- or three-dimensional, everything exemplifies Neri's signature style of one part classicism and one part funk. Through June 19 at Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788. Reviewed May 20.
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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. Born in Russia in 1922, Olitski gained fame in the 1950s and '60s with ultra-hip color-field paintings. 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, 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 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.
Justin Beard: Second Hand Smoke. There's an unusual show at Capsule gallery called Justin Beard: Second Hand Smoke that represents a very strong early showing for a young, emerging artist. Beard uses cigarette smoke to produce duotone representational images of faces, which he calls "nicotine drawings," by forcefully pulling smoke through paper so that tars are transferred onto it. In the middle of Capsule is a custom-made red-vinyl banquette and a black and white table suggestive of a '50s diner booth. On the table is an open sketchbook with a black cover, a black ashtray and a red lighter. Hidden in the banquette is a vacuum that's connected to the sketchbook by a system of tubes in the table's base and pedestal. The resulting drawings, displayed on the walls surrounding the smoke-drawing booth, are surprisingly traditional-looking, and Beard explained that they are about the art he liked before he went to college as well as what he's interested in now. Through June 1 at Capsule, 554 Santa Fe Drive, 303-623-3460. Reviewed May 20.
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. Nahmias's approach is to capture the picturesque quality of rural life while also raising such issues as low wages and overcrowded living conditions. 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.
North American Sculpture Exhibition. The selections for this year's North American Sculpture Exhibition at Foothills Art Center in Golden, were made by celebrity artist James Surls, who gained fame as in Texas but now lives in Colorado. For the always-important though invariably quirky show, Surls put together an oddball display dominated by figural sculptures; some of them are pretty uninspired and doctrinaire examples of neo-traditionalism, but others are convincingly contemporary. However, it's undeniable that Surls was very conservative in his picks. Artists in the show hail from around the country, but, as in the past, the single biggest group is from Colorado -- though there are fewer locals than ever and even fewer who are well known. Among the area artists who got their work through the aesthetic obstacle course set up by Surls are Patricia Aaron, Alicia Bailey, Marie E.v.B. Gibbons, Bonnie Ferrill Roman, Maureen K. Scott, Jan Steinhauser and Sumi Von Dassow. Among the many artists from elsewhere are Tyler Meadows Davis from Utah, Lazar Christian Fonkin from British Columbia and Jonathan W. Hils from Oklahoma. Through June 6 at the Foothills Art Center, 809 15th Street, Golden, 303-279-3922. Reviewed May 20.