Adam Helms. This solo in the MCA's Paper Works Gallery is the New York artist's first museum show anywhere. In his works on paper and in a monumental sculpture that conjures up a shooting blind, Helms explores political themes, especially armed struggle. He takes images of different radical and extremist movements from different places and times and makes copies of them. Then he combines them into singular images to create archetypes. In "Shadow: Portrait of a Jihadi," for instance, Helms has taken a shot of what looks like an American soldier in 1960s Vietnam and blackened out the face in the manner of the hooded Islamic terrorists of today. His technique is as interesting as his imagery, and in this piece, he has silkscreen-printed both sides of a sheet of translucent vellum, lending it an almost hallucinogenic character. Through January 18 at the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554, www.mcadenver.org.
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 January 18, 2009, at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed July 26, 2007.
Damien Hirst. You'd have to be living under a rock — or have absolutely no interest in contemporary art — not to know that Damien Hirst is a superstar, and that everything he makes is worth millions of dollars apiece. The tight solo at MCA Denver (formerly known as the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver) is not the first time that local art audiences have had a chance to see Hirst's creations in person, but it is his first single-artist show anywhere in the American West. Hirst's "Natural History" series of dead animals in cases is surely his most famous type of work. There's an incredible one in the MCA show called "Saint Sebastian: Exquisite Pain," made up of a bullock that's been pierced with arrows. It's simultaneously compelling and repellent. "Saint Sebastian" dominates the Large Works Gallery, but there are three other Hirst pieces, including two very different paintings from his "Butterfly" series, in which actual butterflies are affixed to the paintings, and one of his post-minimal "Medicine Cabinets." It's apparent that Hirst is brilliant, with an eye for beauty, though his mind goes in for ugliness. Through August 30, 2009, at MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554, www.mcadenver.org. Reviewed October 16.
Place and Time
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Daniel Richter: A Major Survey. Christoph Heinrich, the curator of modern and contemporary art at the Denver Art Museum, must be a workaholic — the latest evidence being this exhibit featuring more than fifty Daniel Richter paintings, most of which are monumental in size. Heinrich sees the youthful Richter as among the most important painters working in Germany today. Richter credits French impressionism among his inspirational sources, but he is more of an heir to early-twentieth-century expressionists like Edvard Munch and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. He is also connected to modernists like Asger Jorn, whom Richter believes to be among his aesthetic foundations. In most of the paintings in the show, Richter has tried to cram as much visual material into his pictures as he can. He also applies paint in many different ways and in an array of hues so that they explode with form and color. This DAM solo reveals Richter's talent and, even more so, his heroic ambition. Through January 11 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000, www.denverartmuseum.org. Reviewed October 9.
Dave Yust: Looking Back/Looking Forward. This show, put together by Collin Parson, is enormous, taking over the Lower Galleries at the Arvada Center. But it's not a retrospective, because it doesn't provide an overview of Yust's career; instead, it focuses on only two types of his work: circular and semi-circular paintings and prints done in the 1970s, and elliptical pieces created in the last couple of years. The differences between the two types are easy to see, and not just because the earlier ones are round and the later ones are oval. Yust's approach to picture-making also changed from the flat, evenly-painted or printed hard-edged works of the '70s to the expressively painted or printed soft-edged feeling of his later efforts. Interestingly, while post-minimalism has brought Yust's earlier aesthetic to the forefront, his newer style is fairly idiosyncratic and doesn't plug in directly to current international trends. Through November 16 at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, 720-898-7200, www.arvadacenter.org. Reviewed October 2.
Place and Time and Walt Kuhn. One of the ways you can tell that Blake Milteer is an imaginative curator is by how well he programs shows. The most recent evidence can be seen in two interrelated exhibits at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. In Place and Time, Denver photographer Edie Winograde has traveled to live re-creations of various historic events and taken photos from which she does tinted inkjets. The narrative is the struggle of the Indians and settlers. Her signature images are blurry, conveying movement, but they also provide a link to the other show. In Walt Kuhn, the early-twentieth-century painter, who spent a lot of time in Colorado, does cowboys and Indians under the influence of European vanguard art, which means his images are blurry, too. The paintings are part of a series, "An Imaginary History of the West," that Kuhn did between 1918 and 1920. They are from the CSFAC's permanent collection, a gift from the artist's widow made over fifty years ago. Through January 4 at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 West Dale Street, Colorado Springs, 1-719-634-5583, www.csfineartscenter.org.
Wynne/Wynne. Hugh Grant, director of the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, has relentlessly carried the torch for Colorado's art history, doing more to promote awareness of this important legacy than anyone has. Wynne/Wynne is the latest in a series of shows at the Kirkland saluting artists who came to the fore between the '50s and the '70s. It highlights the careers of Al and Lou Wynne, an abstract painter and a modernist ceramicist, respectively. The Wynnes have lived and worked in the Black Forest north of Colorado Springs for decades, each creating significant bodies of work. Further, Al is among the most important abstract painters to have ever worked here. Wynne/Wynne was co-curated by well-known painter Tracy Felix, who selected all the works and unfortunately embraced diversity instead of cohesiveness in Al's work – something that makes it impossible to notice the artist's signature style. On the other hand, Felix was able to convey Lou's career cogently. Through January 4 at the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, 1311 Pearl Street, 303-832-4774, www.kirklandmuseum.org. Reviewed October 23.