American Art Invitational. Art, like politics, can be divided into liberal and conservative camps, with contemporary art representing the left and traditional art the right. But unlike politics, where the baton can pass back and forth between the two opposites, the art world has been run decisively by the liberals for well over a century. That's why contemporary art is the mainstay of museums, galleries and the art press while traditional art has stayed in the margins. But there's still an audience (and a clientele) for old-fashioned pictures of flowers, mountains and people. For twenty years, the Artists of America exhibit highlighted this kind of material at the Colorado History Museum. That long run ended seven years ago, but Saks Galleries in Cherry Creek North is hoping to revive the idea of an annual representational show with the American Art Invitational. The exhibit includes fifty artists who are famous in this realm, such as George Carlson, Mark Daily, Quang Ho, Kevin Weckbach and Michelle Torrez. Through December 31 at Saks Galleries, 3019 East Second Avenue, 303-333-4144.
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.
American Art Invitational
Color as Field. It's no exaggeration to say that Color as Field: American Painting 1950-1975 is one of the best shows presented in Denver in a generation. Filled with a who's who of American art — Still, Rothko, Frankenthaler, Stella — it's like a brief vacation into a world where nothing matters except for achieving a purely visual experience. This is that legendary art-about-art that conservative cultural commentators love to exhort for its meaninglessness while those in the art world praise it just as stridently for its intoxicating beauty. The title of the show is misleading because guest curator, Karen Wilkin, working for the American Federation of the Arts, which organized this traveling exhibit, has taken an inclusive and thereby unorthodox view of the concept of the color-field movement of the '50s through the '70s. Though Wilkin includes the doctrinaire examples of color field, she also reaches back to abstract expressionism and forward to geometric abstraction, arguing that all of it is part of the color-field ethos. Through February 3 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed November 8.
Marecak Diptych. Kirkland Museum director Hugh Grant has put together yet another exhibit meant to enhance our understanding of Colorado's rich art history. Marecak Diptych celebrates the work of husband-and-wife artists Edward and Donna Marecak, both of whom died in the 1990s. The couple met in the 1940s, when they were students at the now-closed Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center School, which was nationally known in its day. Edward was an accomplished painter with a taste for figural abstraction. His work is often filled with whimsical characterizations of people whose bodies are elements in patterns or designs that cover the canvases from edge to edge. He also liked to delve into fairy-tale territory, displaying a love for witches, in particular. The magical and imaginary world he conjured up links his work to that of his good friend, the late Edgar Britton. Donna was an expert at ceramics, and her pieces reveal an astounding level of control on the potter's wheel. The crisp forms and tight decorations are so precise, they look as though they were engineered. Through December 9 at the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, 1311 Pearl Street, 303-832-8576. Reviewed November 1.
Muniz Remastered. Creating intelligent work with oddball materials, including Bosco chocolate syrup, string, dirt, magazine ads, backhoes and skywriting airplanes, is the signature specialty of Vik Muniz, a Brazilian-born New York artist. His actual medium is photography, which he uses to record the ephemeral images he makes or orchestrates, but in truth, he doesn't consider himself a photographer, and that's understandable. The artist's cleverness and intelligence is shown off to great effect in Muniz Remastered: Photographs From the West Collection, one of the most compelling exhibits in town during this year's strong fall season. The extravaganza was co-curated by Devon Dikeou and Lee Stoetzel and surveys Muniz's outlandish explorations of other people's work, including that of Rembrandt, Géricault and Cezanne. It's too bad the show has not been arranged chronologically, though it looks gorgeous as it is. Plus the ten-year-span covered by this presentation is a relatively short period of time, so everything is essentially from the same era. Through January 20, at the Museo de las Américas, 861 Santa Fe Drive, 303-571-4401. Reviewed November 15.
Optimiste/Pessimiste et al. Ivar Zeile has opened up the front space of his Plus Gallery for a pair of good-looking solos that were brought together as a single show. On the walls are recent abstracts by Frank Martinez that make up Optimiste/Pessimiste. Using loud colors laid out in intriguing organic shapes, Martinez harnesses drips and runs of paint to create patterns that are barely controlled for these works, which represent a major step forward for him. The vivid hues and non-narrative character allow them to work well with the otherwise very different Walk in the Park, a sculptural group by California artist Michael Whiting. A constructivist known for his non-objective sculptures in rectilinear shapes, Whiting has pushed his geometric forms toward representational imagery in his new work by creating a wilderness scene made up of hard-edged takes on nature. Finally, in the niche in the back is Sorry mom but Nipsey Russell...a tiny exhibit of handsome mixed-material paintings-cum-wall-sculptures by Hunt Rettig. Through December 7 at Plus Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296-0927. Reviewed November 22.
Star Power. To celebrate the new Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver by architect David Adjaye, director Cydney Payton has organized seven solos collectively titled Star Power: Museum as Body Electric. The festivities begin on the lower level, where Candice Breitz's "Legend," a grid of video screens on which Jamaicans are singing Bob Marley songs, is installed. On the first floor in the New Media Gallery is "Faces," a mixed-media installation in which a spider form and a skull shape move to music by Carlos Amorales, and in the Photography Gallery are collages by Collier Schorr that explore a really cute teenage boy. On the second floor, in the Paper Works Gallery, there's an exhibition of watercolors of female nudes by Chris Ofili, who, like Adjaye, is an African-born artist who lives in the United Kingdom. In the Project Gallery is an installation called "Whare Shakairo," by Maori-artist Rangi Kipa, meant to rehabilitate Tiki culture. In the Promenade is an installation by Wangechi Mutu. Finally, in the Large Works Gallery is an untitled installation of mirrors by David Altmejd that's really an eye-dazzler. Through February 9 at the MCA/D, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554.
Works on Paper by Bill Joseph. Bill Joseph, who died in 2003, is best remembered as a sculptor, and several of his pieces are prominently sited downtown. However, Joseph was also adept at making more intimately scaled drawings, as revealed by this display, which includes more than a score of drawings surveying the artist's career from the 1940s to the 1980s. Joseph, born in 1926, began his career in the 1940s as a traditional realist, and several beautiful portraits dating from this time are in the show. But in the late '50s and early '60s, he embraced figural abstraction and stuck with it for most of the rest of his career. This elegant exhibit was organized by Robert St. John, who chose pieces from the artist's estate. Joseph only rarely dated drawings, and once he embraced figural abstraction, his style remained consistent over many decades. This explains why the selections have not been hung chronologically. But it's a shame that neither St. John nor the Joseph family was willing to take a stab at laying them out in order so that viewers could follow his development as an artist. Through December 7 at the O'Sullivan Art Gallery, Regis University, 3333 Regis Boulevard, 303-964-3634. Reviewed November 8.
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