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. Through June 30 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed July 26.
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.
The Plains of Sweet Regret
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.
The Plains of Sweet Regret and Last Place. The Laboratory of Art and Ideas at Belmar, nicknamed the Lab, currently has two shows. The Plains of Sweet Regret, a multi-screen video installation by New York artist Mary Lucier, highlights the steep decline of rural life on the high plains as corporate agribusiness displaces small farmers and kills small towns. The arc of the piece, which definitely has a regional flavor, is a hypnotic rodeo sequence set to George Strait's plaintive ballad "I Can Still Make Cheyenne." In an interesting move, Lab director Adam Lerner decided to pair it with Last Place, a series of conceptual works by local legend Phil Bender. For decades, Bender has picked up discarded objects and assembled them in their original states to create installations or sculptural cycles. The idea is that what he does is art because he says it is, and apparently everyone agrees. It's amazing how much visual mileage Bender has been able to get out of his single revelation that art is about perception. Through May 1 at the Lab at Belmar, 404 South Upham Street, 303-934-1777. Reviewed March 6.
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Yu-Cheng Chou. On view in the Lu and Chris Law New Media Gallery on the first floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art is a video installation that represents this Chinese-born, Paris-based artist's first-ever museum show in America. Director Cydney Payton was an early proponent of the new Chinese art, and it was the MCA that hosted the area's first major show on the topic several years ago. Yu-Cheng's conceptual work in video and digital printing conveys the appeal of Chinese art because it's based on a hybrid of Eastern and Western sensibilities. In assembling and organizing Yu-Cheng Chou, Payton combated video's greatest shortcoming — that it is often boring — by taking a more-is-more approach to the installation, in which a lot is going on at the same time. The artist embraces a wide range of approaches, with some pieces referencing classic Chinese art and others coming out of Japanese-derived animation. But regardless of his sources, all have been created in an international context. Yu-Cheng Chou is a nice little show, and even if you're indifferent to video, it's still worth seeing. Through July 6 at the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554. Reviewed March 6.