2005 Biennial BLOW OUT. This is the third in a series of biennials presented at Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art. In the past, participation in these biennials was limited to artists from around here; for the 2005 version, it's been expanded to include artists working in most of the Western states. Despite this, artists from Colorado still dominate the show: Six of the ten chosen by celebrity juror Kenny Schachter live in our state. These six, most from Denver, are Louisa Armbrust, who's exhibiting digital drawings; Patti Hallock, color photos; Susan Meyer, a wood-and-metal installation; Jason Patz, color digital lightjet prints; David Sharpe, pinhole photos; and Jeff Starr, painted ceramic sculptures. Sherlock Terry from New Mexico is showing lenticular photos. The other three, all from Arizona, are: Angela Ellsworth, embroidered paper napkins; Denis Gillingwater, installation with closed-circuit TV; and Jessica James Lansdon, a mixed-media installation in contact paper and yarn. Controversies aside, the show looks great. Through September 25 at the Museum of Contemporary Art. 1275 19th Street, 303-298-7554. Reviewed July 14.
Digitopia. Despite its title, Digitopia, a group show now at Studio Aiello, is not limited to digital art. In the front bay is an installation with sound by Kim Ferrer, in which old-fashioned swings are hung on rough ropes mounted to logs attached to the ceiling. The middle bay has been subdivided to give each of the artists separate spaces. In the first are digital drawings and acrylic paintings by rising art star Louisa Armbrust, one of the ten artists selected for the Museum of Contemporary Art's 2005 Biennial BLOW OUT. Incredibly, Armbrust, who does edgy hybrids of pop and minimalism, was booked for this show before the MCA announced she was in the biennial, so it's only a happy coincidence that she's in both at the same time. In the other sections are a digital photo installation by Leon Grodski that has something to do with Wal-Mart; a group of Playboy-style digital female nudes by George Arias; and an installation about time and sensory overload, among other things, by a North Carolina-based artist collective called Rudy, which is made up of Joyce Rudinsky and Eric Niemi. Through September 5 at Studio Aiello, 3563 Walnut Street, 303-297-8166. Reviewed on August 4.
Into the Night and Patterns. A second floor is being added to the building where the Spark Gallery is located. Despite the inconvenience of the construction, the shows must go on -- and they have. Longtime Denver artist Elaine Ricklin is presenting Into the Night, a show that brings together photographs and related prints on the topic of dusk, though if she hadn't said so, they might just as well be depictions of the dawn. Soft light, reflective light and shadows are some of the possibilities that Ricklin explores. One interesting image is a predominantly amber-colored photo that's a self-portrait of sorts, with Ricklin recording her shadow cast against a very ugly front door. Paired with the Ricklin show is Patterns, an exhibit featuring embroidered pictures by established textile artist Rob Watt. The embroideries are conceived as drawings or paintings, and some of them refer to pop culture, particularly the comics. Embroidery is a rarely seen medium in contemporary art -- it's too time-consuming for most -- but the results are undeniably intriguing, at least in Watt's case. An opening reception for both shows will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, August 26. Through September 17 at Spark Gallery, 900 Santa Fe Drive, 720-889-2200.
Japanese Design Today 100. This exhibit, which features an examination of contemporary Japanese design, is likely to be the last of the big shows at Metro State's Center for Visual Art. That's because the budget's been drastically cut and director Kathy Andrews is leaving as a result. Poignantly, the show opened on Andrews's last day. She attended the opening reception, keeping a stiff upper lip while bidding a farewell to her supporters and the institution she ran for the past three years. Although Andrews installed the design exhibit, the Japan Foundation organized it with selections made by a panel of Japanese curators and designers. A lot of their choices are high-tech gadgets, including digital cameras, game stations and even a robotic dog, but there are also low-tech articles such as vases and toys. One of the exhibit's most interesting features is the lack of a discernable Japanese aesthetic, which is so obvious in older material. Instead, almost everything seems as though it could just as easily have been made in the U.S. Through August 27 at the Center for Visual Art, 1734 Wazee Street, 303-294-5207.
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Luminosity. The Museum of Outdoor Arts, ensconced in the newish Englewood CityCentre, is best known for the sculpture displays it has scattered around the metro area, including the main cache in front of Englewood's municipal building. But there's also an indoor space where MOA mounts art shows, and it's currently outfitted with a multimedia show on the topic of "the quality of radiant light." Regionally famous artist Daniel Sprick is the only painter in the show, with everyone else doing photography or photo-based techniques. In the photography category are David Sharpe's shots of Robert Smithson's "Spiral Jetty," a pioneering earthworks piece that had been flooded by the Great Salt Lake but has recently reemerged as the water has receded. Another photographer, Anne Arden McDonald, specializes in figure studies set in abandoned buildings. The two artists doing photo-based pieces are Randy Brown, who does hybrids of painting and photography, and Jason Musgrave, who created an impressive large-scale installation made of various materials, including glass, chrome and photography. Through September 1 at the Museum of Outdoor Arts, 1000 Englewood Parkway, #2-230, 303-806-0440.
Shooting Star. The handsome exhibit Shooting Star: The Artwork of Frank Mechau (1904-1946) is currently on view in the Vida Ellison Gallery on level seven of the Denver Central Library. Mechau grew up in Colorado, but in the 1920s he went in search of first-rate art training and spent time in Chicago and Paris. In Paris, he was exposed to modernism, which left a lasting impression on the style of his work. He returned to Colorado in the 1930s, where regionalist style of the Boardman Robinson type ruled. Mechau's signature is a combination of Parisian modernism and good old American regionalism -- an interesting combo, to say the least, and one that Mechau got a lot of mileage from. His most famous subjects were horses, which strike a nice regionalist note, but his modernist versions of the animals are flattened and lack details. Mechau died in his forties and though his career was cut short, he was one of the most significant Colorado artists working in the early twentieth century. That makes this show long overdue. Through August 30 at the Denver Central Library, 10 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-1814. Reviewed July 21.
STEPHEN BATURA and JAMES COLBERT. In the olden days -- meaning a couple of years ago -- August was decidedly not the time to see solos dedicated to established talents. That has all changed. For example, despite being the off season, there are not only one, but two, solos given over to a significant Colorado artist at Robischon Gallery. The first is STEPHEN BATURA: Neighborhood, featuring the Denver artist's signature representational paintings based on historic photos. In this recent group of casein-on-panel paintings, Batura documents in breathtaking detail the moving of a house. Batura has done a number of commissions around town and is currently working on a mural for the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. The second solo is JAMES COLBERT: Visitations, featuring recent landscape paintings by the noted Boulder-based artist. Unlike Batura, whose pieces are photo-related, Colbert's come out of the tradition of representational painting, in particular the regionalist style of the early twentieth century, which gives his work a local resonance. Through September 10 at Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788. Reviewed August 18.
Summer Group Exhibition. This show at the Rule Gallery has an informal quality, nonetheless it's excellent. The first thing up is Mary Ehrin's installation made of tubular metal, faux crystals on chains and white feathers. The Ehrin crowds the things near it, so make a point not to miss the marvelous suite of Andy Libertone drawings that are partly hidden by the installation. Next to the Libertones is a selection of Jeff Starr's outlandish ceramics, including several bongs. Across from the Starrs are gorgeous photos by Jason Patz who, since 2002, has been taking his own picture. Despite the constrictions implicit in self-portraiture, he's been able to create a wide range of visual experiences. On the opposite wall are two intriguing paintings by one of the acknowledged contemporary masters of the area, Dale Chisman. Around the corner is a single sublime painting in a deep aqua with multi-colored lines done by Clark Richert, another local master. This show bring together several generations of Denver artists from old-timers who started their careers in the '60s to kids who weren't even born until the 1980s. Through September 10 at the Rule Gallery, 111 Broadway, 303-777-9473. Reviewed August 4.