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.
Designing Women. The genesis for this surprisingly large show dates back to the late 1990s, when Denverites Jill Wiltse and Kirk Brown began to discover British production textiles from the 1950s. Driven with a passion, Wiltse and Brown avidly sought out more and more relevant examples, most of them purchased in London. The exhibit was organized by their personal curator, Shanna Shelby, working together with Tariana Navas-Nieves, a curator at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Textiles were a key part of the "New Look" that helped redefine Britain after World War II. Wiltse and Brown identified three key designers — Lucienne Day, Marian Mahler and Jacqueline Groag — and there are major sections of the show devoted to each. And although all three were stylistically related, Day in particular found her own new way, while Mahler and Groag both did work rooted in early continental modernism. Through January 25, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 West Dale Street, Colorado Springs, 1-719-634-5581, www.csfineartscenter.org. Reviewed December 18.
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.
Paul Soldner Ceramics. This in-depth retrospective dedicated to Paul Soldner, an artist's artist who's had a longtime connection to Colorado, includes scores of pieces done over the past fifty years. Soldner spent his student years in Boulder and then settled in California, but he returned to the Rockies pretty much annually, working in a studio near Aspen. While in that area, he helped to found the world-renowned Anderson Ranch Art Center, where he taught and gave demonstrations. Soldner was an early student of Peter Voulkos, the true pioneer of abstract-expressionist ceramics. Students of the history of ceramics are familiar with the revolution launched by Voulkos, but far fewer are aware of the incredible accomplishments of the master's protegé, Soldner, even here in Colorado. Organized by Myhren Gallery director Dan Jacobs, the show is made up of pieces borrowed from David Armstrong, founder of California's American Museum of Ceramic Art, a major repository for Soldner's output. A must-see exhibit for those interested in ceramics. Through February 22 at the Victoria H. Myhren Gallery, 2121 East Asbury Avenue, 303-871-3716, www.du/art/myhrengallery.htm.
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