American Dreams. Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid were among the first artists to embrace conceptual realism in the 1960s. Although the two no longer collaborate, American Dreams, at the Singer Gallery, focuses on a body of work they did in the 1990s. The paintings and collages combine images of George Washington and Vladimir Lenin, along with a supporting cast that includes Isadora Duncan, Marcel Duchamp, Stalin, Hitler and, of course, Freud. When Komar and Melamid began working collaboratively a generation ago in what was then the Soviet Union, freedom in the arts was unheard of, and painters were expected to be socialist realists. Oddly enough, this was the perfect hothouse for their irreverent work; all Komar and Melamid had to do was put an ironic twist on the subject, execute it in a traditional style, and voilà — they conveyed an ironic and thereby contemporary sensibility. They've done the same thing in the outrageous pieces of Washington as Lenin. Through November 11 at the Singer Gallery, Mizel Center, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-316-6360. Reviewed October 18.
Artisans & Kings. For its first extravaganza of the season, the Denver Art Museum has unveiled a sprawling blockbuster in the Frederic C. Hamilton Building that focuses on the royal collections from the Louvre. You don't have to know much about art to have heard of the Louvre, so Artisans & Kings is likely to attract both the general public as well as the DAM's regular audience. For this exhibit, a team of French curators representing painting, sculpture, drawing, tapestries and decorative art opened the cabinets and storerooms, selecting pieces that had been in the private collections of the French nobility — in particular, kings Louis XIV, XV and XVI. The paintings include a gorgeous and erotic Titian, picturing a woman in her boudoir; an elegant neo-classical allegorical painting by Poussin; a dark and murky Rembrandt of Saint Matthew; and a signature Velázquez, a portrait of the iconic Infanta Margarita, who appears in many of his paintings. The chance to see these four works alone is more than worth the cost of seeing the exhibit; everything else is simply a luxurious bonus. Through January 6 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue, 720-865-5000. Reviewed October 4.
Clyfford Still Unveiled. A master and pioneer of mid-twentieth-century abstract expressionism, painter Clyfford Still was something of an eccentric in the artist-as-egomaniac stripe. His antisocial behavior led to a situation where 94 percent of his artworks remained together after he died — a staggeringly complete chronicle of his oeuvre that is now owned by the City of Denver. As a planned Clyfford Still Museum won't be completed until 2010, the institution's founding director, Dean Sobel, decided to preview a baker's dozen of Still's creations at the Denver Art Museum. Sobel uses the very small show to lay out most of the artist's career and stylistic development. Still worked his way from regionalism to surrealism, then wound up developing abstract expressionism with one of the greatest abstract paintings imaginable, "1944 N No. 1" — and the rest is art history. Though too small to be considered a blockbuster, this exhibit is nonetheless an extremely important one that shouldn't be missed unless you aren't interested in art at all. Through June 30, 2008, at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed July 26.
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Position and Drift. Amy Metier is an abstract artist who carries on regardless of the current taste for conceptual realism. Her latest expressionist compositions are being shown off to great effect in her knockout solo, Position and Drift, at William Havu Gallery. Metier, who is on just about everyone's list of the most important painters in Colorado, has been exhibiting her colorful and decidedly retro takes on classic modernism for more than twenty years. Position and Drift is filled with signature work, much of it monumental in size. Taken together, these pieces are a riot of color, with Metier marshaling any number of strong luxurious shades and piling them on top of, and next to, one another. Viewers may be forgiven for mistaking them for examples of abstract expressionism even though they're technically more akin to neo-impressionism; there are recognizable subjects, typically landscapes, underneath all those streaks and smears, providing the paintings with formal structure and automatically juxtaposing the horizontal with the vertical. Through November 3 at William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360. Reviewed September 20.
Quasi-Symmetries. As might be surmised by its scientific-sounding title, Quasi-Symmetries, the subject of Clark Richert's solo is structure. For more than forty years, Richert has created geometric abstractions based on an interest in what he calls non-decorative patterns illustrating his theoretical postulates about the nature of reality. Say what? Luckily, none of his hard-to-understand ideas get in the way of his paintings, which can be appreciated on aesthetic grounds alone. Richert's elegant creations look absolutely perfect in the swank space at Rule. Though the newer pieces in this exhibit are notably lighter in palette and airier in composition than his earlier classic style, the recent works are clearly an outgrowth of the older examples; he creates all-over visual interest by making sure no one area is more eye-catching than any other. Richert is one of Colorado's most highly regarded and influential artists, and his efforts are invariably worth checking out. Consequently, Quasi-Symmetries is one of the most important shows this season. Through November 3 at Rule Gallery, 227 Broadway, 303-777-9473. Reviewed September 20.
Substance. Don't expect to see anything that might pass for a luxury item in Substance: Diverse Practices From the Periphery, the large and ambitious design show at the Center for Visual Art. Instead, the thoughtful and thought-provoking show, put together by Lisa Abendroth, is given over to design meant to deal with social issues such as the need for clean drinking water and affordable housing. This doesn't mean there aren't beautiful things to see; it's just that beauty is beside the point for Abendroth, who zeroed in on functional attributes to guide her selections. To shift the topic away from "aesthetics," she chose pieces based on how they "changed lives" and not on how they looked. Despite this goal, it's impossible not to observe that the key stylistic issue present is modernism, even if Abendroth didn't want the viewer to notice. This is no surprise, considering that "form follows function" is the anthem of modernism. Plus, the functionalist wing of the movement is alone among contemporary expressions in that it sets out to address human needs. Through November 9 at the Center for Visual Art, 1734 Wazee Street, 303-294-5207. Reviewed October 25.