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 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed July 26.
Colorado Clay 2008. This biennial at the Foothills Art Center in Golden is the one constant in the state's ceramics world. For this edition, the somewhat skewed perspective of celebrity juror Richard Notkin is on view. To his credit, Notkin has been up front about his prejudices in favor of figurative imagery and against functional ceramics. One notable exception to this anti-functional sensibility is Jonathan Kaplan's vases, and I'd say his gorgeous work is the major revelation of the show. Kaplan's high standards of both art and craft are emphatically obvious. A real standout among the figural sculptors — a group that dominates the show — is Caroline Douglas. Her sculptures are examples of magic realism in which children's storybook characterizations are given an edgy feel. Stylistically related are the odd goth busts by Marie E.v.B. Gibbons, in which she combines casts of readymades with custom-done elements. Chandler Romeo is one of the only artists in the show doing contemporary sculpture, in the form of pedestals topped by earth-toned tiles that depict simplified topographical features. Through March 9 at the Foothills Art Center, 809 15th Street, Golden, 303-279-3299. Reviewed February 14.
Face East. Gallery co-directors Jim Robischon and Jennifer Doran usually go the extra mile to put together a great show, but in this case they went an extra few thousand, traveling all the way to China to pick out pieces for Face East, their salute to contemporary Chinese art. In many cases, they selected works right out of the studios and foundries where they were produced. The show includes more than fifty paintings, prints and sculptures by several of the biggest names in Chinese art as well as promising newcomers. Several of the artists do work that comments on Chinese politics, such as Sui Jainguo's untitled fiberglass Mao jackets or Suo Tan's "Fashion and Mao" busts, while others are more sociological, doing pieces that refer to the collision of East and West in today's China. There are some great sculptures by the Luo Brothers that pair traditional depictions of babies with cases of Pepsi, and the fabulous monumental striding peasant with a sow over his shoulders by Chen Wenling. In a quieter mood are He Jian's paper pieces about the life of Chinese youth. Through March 1 at Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788. Reviewed February 7.
Colorado Clay 2008
Grounded. This good-looking exhibit pairs recent landscape-based abstract paintings by Lui Ferreyra with photos recording roadside landmarks by Peter Brown. Ferreyra fractures the imagery in his distinctive work by reducing it to non-repeating patterns of geometric shapes. There are reverberations of cubism in this, as well as references to digitization and, believe it or not, paint-by-numbers. The forms, in this case mountains, are merely suggested as opposed to being literally defined. Different shapes are carried out in different colors, with the artist turning to these colors (more than to their shapes) to distinguish features of the landscape. Brown, whose large-format Cibachrome prints capture the vanishing rural life of the West, uses a deep focus, which brings viewers into the pictures. He often looks for minimalist scenes like a tabletop-flat field plowed into straight furrows, unfolding beneath a crystal-clear sky. In others, he appropriates the informal monumentality of boarded-up stores or rusting farm buildings. Through February 23 at Sandy Carson Gallery, 760 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573-8585. Reviewed January 17.
Impressionist and Modern Masters. This large show has been installed in the second-floor galleries of the new wing at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. A traveling endeavor, the exhibit is meant to bring attention to the beleaguered New Orleans Museum of Art by showcasing its collection and to get a good deal of it out of town while the building undergoes reconstruction necessitated by the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. Rather than a look at 19th-century impressionism and 20th-century modernism, as you'd expect, this blockbuster is more broadly based, constituting a greatest-hits survey of the NOMA's collection that also includes pieces from the 17th and 18th centuries. That's why the show represents a solid offering with a lot to teach about the art of Europe and the United States over the last several centuries. And the intelligent installation, which is based on a historic perspective and divides the material into three distinct phases, underscores the sequential nature of the development of art as it inevitably marched toward modernism. Through March 9 at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 West Dale Street, Colorado Springs, 1-719-634-5581. Reviewed January 24.
The Nature of Things. For its first show of the new year, Havu Gallery is presenting a duet dedicated to recent creations by painting pair Sushe and Tracy Felix. The couple's works have almost always been presented together during their twenty-year-plus careers. Both artists look to the art history of the region — in particular, the transcendentalists working in New Mexico and the early modernists in Colorado. Both do landscape-based abstractions, but their styles are distinctive and individualistic. Sushe's abstracts are non-repetitive patterns that evoke the land via simple shapes and elements suggesting the trees, the sky and even birds. Tracy, on the other hand, directly references specific mountain views but conventionalizes the elements of the landscape so that they look like vintage cartoon images, à la Jellystone Park. As a bonus, Havu is featuring Erick Johnson, a display of abstract sculptures by this well-known Colorado artist. Through February 23 at the William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360. Reviewed January 17.
Star Power. To celebrate the opening of the new Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver by architect David Adjaye, director Cydney Payton organized several solo shows collectively titled Star Power: Museum as Body Electric. The festivities begin on the lower level in The Whole Room with Candice Breitz's "Legend," a grid of video screens showing Jamaicans singing Bob Marley songs. On the first-floor Photography Gallery are collages by Collier Schorr that explore a cute teenage boy with poses modeled on female figures depicted in Andrew Wyeth's paintings. On the second-floor Paper Works Gallery is an exhibition of crude, expressionist watercolors of female nudes by Chris Ofili who, like Adjaye, is an African-born artist living in the United Kingdom. In the Promenade is an odd and vaguely amateurish installation by Wangechi Mutu that includes bottles of milk and strapping tape. Finally, in the Large Works Gallery is an untitled if eye-dazzling installation of mirrors and mirror-clad figures by David Altmejd. Through March 2 at the MCA/D, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554.
Story. The broad implications of this exhibit's title, Story, gave its organizers -- Center for Visual Art director Jennifer Garner and assistant director Cicely Cullen -- the freedom to build an odd if interesting show. In it, the only pattern connecting the artists is their shared interest in telling stories visually. The idea began when artist and Metropolitan State College of Denver drawing professor Sandy Lane asked for a slot to present pieces by Brent Green, a visiting artist from Pennsylvania. Realizing that Green's work was narrative, Garner and Cullen each chose a prominent Colorado artist to flesh out the concept. Garner tapped internationally famous sculptor James Surls, and Cullen picked Denver's own Jill Hadley Hooper. All three do distinctive pieces in different styles employing different mediums: Green does folksy animation, Surls does organic sculpture and Hooper does expressionist painting. Thank goodness the CVA is big enough to present each separately, because this group exhibit functions better as three tales than as a single coherent Story. Through February 23 at the Center for Visual Art, 1734 Wazee Street, 303-294-5207. Reviewed January 31.
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