George Carlson. Put together by curator Ann Daley, who has shaped and defined the Western collection at the Denver Art Museum, George Carlson: Heart of the West deals with the career of an accomplished neo-traditional artist who looks to the century-old Impressionist style for inspiration. The Carlson exhibit includes nearly three dozen pastels and bronzes, along with a single painting. Though he doesn't consider himself to be a Western artist — his latest efforts are about ballet dancers — Carlson has typically turned to Western subject matter. He specializes in heroic depictions of American Indians and of horses. Daley has made his drawings and sculptures of horses the main course in Heart of the West. Carlson's horses are undeniably beautiful and finely made, but what attracted Daley is the way the artist has conferred personalities on them. His horses are also more abstract than his Indians. As conservative as his neo-traditional work may be — and it is very conservative — Carlson is a consummate artist whose skill is undeniable. Through April 13 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed February 21.
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.
More Big Beautiful Things
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.
Inspiring Impressionism. This is hardly your run-of-the-mill effort in which a cavalcade of big-name European artists are represented by minor works. Instead, it's an intellectually stimulating exhibit crowded with iconic pieces by some of the most significant artists who ever took brush to canvas. Curated by the DAM's Timothy Standring and London's Ann Dumas, the traveling show examines the little-explored relationship between the Impressionists and the Old Masters. The intelligent installation has been handled so that viewers are literally forced to recognize the relationships Standring and Dumas have laid out among several sets of separate pieces of widely different dates and from various points of origin. These comparisons lead viewers to make insightful observations because their conclusions have been built in to the installation itself — not through wall text, but through the paintings and drawings alone. There are a lot of important pieces, including in-depth selections of Cézanne, Monet, Renoir and others. Through May 25 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed February 21.
More Big Beautiful Things. Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; other times, the parts are greater than the whole. That's the case with this show. Several of the works are superb, and even those that aren't are intriguing. But the exhibit lacks a regular rhythm and tilts out of balance. There are interesting installations by Chris Lavery, both about weather. Virginia Folkestad also looks at natural forces in "Migration," an installation that includes a wooden framework and hundreds of pieces of folded paper — reminiscent of a flock of birds — held together by thousands of pins. Linda Foster Leonhard likewise embraces ecological issues — if only in the choice of using recycled rubber tires for her work. Justin Beard's marvelous "Bike Messenger" includes a bicycle made of found materials and a short film that represents a novel take on the title. The gifted Emmett Culligan is the odd man out, being a sculptor as opposed to an installation artist and a neo-modernist instead of a postmodernist. Through March 30 at the Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, 720-898-7200. Reviewed February 28.
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