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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 forms of watercolors, prints, drawings and photos by more than two dozen artists -- making it a very big presentation, considering how small the Emil Nelson Gallery is. The mood is classic modernist with some very choice items by major artists, including Elaine deKooning, 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 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. -- Reviewed June 3

Dots, Blobs and Angels. Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art is presenting an enormous solo that is dedicated to the late David Rigsby, an artist who played a big part in the local art scene in the '70s and '80s. The exhibit was organized by director Cydney Payton, who installed it more or less chronologically, allowing Rigsby's stylistic development to shine throughout. The oldest works in the show are two oils on book covers done when Rigsby was a little boy; the newest were done right before he died in a car accident in 1993 -- some of these were done on book covers, too. In between, Rigsby created scores of abstract and figural paintings, as well as a body of remarkable sculptures made of wood and recycled rubber. The outlandish title, Dots, Blobs and Angels, refers to some of the things Rigsby depicted -- though much of what he sculpted during his forty-year-plus career defies description. Clearly, it's one of the hottest shows of the summer. Through September 19 at the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, 1275 19th Street, 303-298-7554.

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, 303-623-8181.

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 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.

scene Colorado/sin Colorado. The Denver Art Museum's local extravaganza, scene Colorado/sin Colorado, has quickly become one of the most talked-about shows this year. And that's no surprise considering that it includes more than three dozen Colorado artists represented by more than seventy works of art. Dianne Vanderlip, curator of modern and contemporary art, organized the exhibit, pulling work from the impressive holdings of the DAM's permanent collection. A couple of the artists included no longer live here -- notably Gary Sweeney, whose piece inspired the show's title, and "genius grant" recipient Robert Adams -- but their works in this show were created when they did. Vanderlip decided to exclude deceased Colorado artists -- and that's too bad. However, even with this limitation, she's undeniably assembled a worthy cavalcade of talent. The pieces date back over the past quarter century, which is the period during which Vanderlip has held the modern and contemporary reins at the DAM. Though far from encyclopedic, the show does cover a lot of ground. Through August 22 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed June 17.

State of the Union and The Sociable Anchorite. Earlier this season, Cordell Taylor Gallery and Ron Judish Fine Art merged into the new +Zeile/Judish Gallery, which meant that some of the artists represented by each gallery would have to go. They put the artists into three categories: represented, exhibiting, and those who were unceremoniously shown the door. The first category --artists represented by the gallery -- is the subject of the great group show State of the Union. Most of the artists chosen are thoroughly established figures, including realist John Hull, abstract expressionist Al Wynne, minimalist Paul Sarkisian and post-minimalist Bruce Price. But there are also a handful of emerging artists, such as Colin Livingston and Karen McClanahan. The result is wild, requiring aesthetic gear changes every few feet. In addition to State of the Union, +Zeile/Judish is presenting a small solo, The Sociable Anchorite, for which Oregon artist Gabriel Liston created a wall of tiny paintings of storybook figures. They're done in blue on white, which makes them look like Delft tiles. Through July 3 at +Zeile/Judish, 2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296-0927. Reviewed June 17.

Telling Fantasies and Manor House Races. Interest in figural painter Irene Delka McCray's work has been on the upswing lately, making her new Pirate solo, Telling Fantasies, a hot prospect. There's no denying McCray's technical skill, which is one reason why she has work in the Denver Art Museum collection. Her older pieces -- like the one at the DAM -- are lyrical, but in recent years she's moved more toward a goth aesthetic. These new works address sex and death, and the resulting paintings are not pretty -- but they are pretty interesting. Also at Pirate is Manor House Races, featuring work by Julie Puma, who creates mixed-media pieces that combine photo imagery, printmaking, words and lots of scribbles. Her style owes a debt to pop art, which is all the rage right now. In addition, there are other attractions at the Pirate co-op and at HazMat, which is the new name for ILK @ Pirate. All of the shows open on Friday, June 25, with a reception set for 7 to 10 p.m. Through July 11 at Pirate: a contemporary art oasis, 3659 Navajo Street, 303-458-6058.


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