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 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 at MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554, www.mcadenver.org. Reviewed October 16.
In Contemporary Rhythm: The Art of Ernest L. Blumenschein
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.
Hirst/Koons. Ron Judish, the director of Andrew Kalmar's brand-new T gallery, decided to pair mega-art star Damien Hirst with another big-time artist, Jeff Koons, for the venue's inaugural show. The exhibit includes three pieces by Hirst and four by Koons, but this small number of works underscores the fact that both artists are hotter than hot, so their efforts are hard to come by. Two of the Hirsts come from the artist's series of pieces about butterflies, and one comes from his work about medication. The butterfly prints are photo-based, with the beautiful insects perfectly conveyed. The medication piece looks like a direct appropriation of a prescription-drug package until you notice that the "drug" is called "Cornish Pasty," a meat pie. It manages to refer to pop and its antithesis, minimalism, simultaneously. The four Koonses on the opposite wall are all from the artist's "Monkey Train" series. In them, a photo-based image of the head of a blow-up monkey toy is laid on different though connected grounds. Through December 20 at T gallery, 878-2 Santa Fe Drive, 303-893-0960, www.galleryt.org. Reviewed November 13.
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In Contemporary Rhythm: The Art of Ernest L. Blumenschein. It sounds like a preposterous moment in a cheesy Western. A couple of artists head out from Denver for Mexico by wagon, break down, and start an art colony that goes on strong for the next sixty years. It sounds made up, but it's true. In 1898, Ernest Blumenschein and his neighbor, Bert Phillips, broke down near Taos, and the rest is art history. The Denver Art Museum, in collaboration with the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History and the Phoenix Art Museum, has organized a major solo of Blumenschein's oeuvre called In Contemporary Rhythm: The Art of Ernest L. Blumenschein. The exhibit was co-curated by Elizabeth Cunningham and Peter Hassrick, director of the Petrie Institute of Western American Art at the DAM. The show is the most comprehensive exhibit on Blumenschein ever. It starts with his early work, done in Paris and New York at the turn of the century, then follows his Taos career through the 1950s. A gorgeous presentation, it proves that Blumenschein was a genuine painter's painter. Through February 8 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000, www.denverartmuseum.org. Reviewed November 20.
through a glass, darkly. The inaugural exhibition at Laura Merage's RedLine is through a glass, darkly, curated by Jenny Schlenzka, who's from Germany but lives in New York. The title was inspired by the classic Ingmar Bergman film of the same name, but Schlenzka discovered that the phrase is from the Bible. Watching the elections made her want to do a political show, though not everything here has an apparent message, especially the initial work, "Self-Portrait As Us," by Douglas Gordon, an altered publicity shot of the cast of the TV show Dynasty, set in Denver. Dynasty has a personal resonance for Schlenzka because it was her grandmother's favorite show — called Der Denver Clan in Germany. The one truly incredible piece in the show, and the only one that coherently expresses a political point of view, is by Annette Roberts-Gray, who lives not in Manhattan, London or Berlin, but in Glenwood Springs. It is a large set of shelves painted gray; on them are 1,000 hand-thrown porcelain vases, all impressed with the names of soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Through January 16 at RedLine, 2350 Arapahoe Street, 303-296-4448, www.redlineart.org. Reviewed November 6.
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.