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. 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.
Inner Circle. This striking duet at Space Gallery pairs the recent efforts of mixed-media artist extraordinaire Ryan David Anderson with the non-narrative photographs of emerging artist Aaron Jones. Since Anderson does abstracts that refer to ceramics, it might seem strange — conceptually, at least — to put his work together with that of a photographer, but it works, with the divergent styles being exceedingly simpatico. Much of the connection has to do with the fact that both artists employ the circle as a compositional device. Anderson's pieces sport unusual finishes that he creates using materials as varied as clay and spray paint. He allows these substances to show off their natural attributes, especially the odd effects they exhibit as they dry. Jones takes color shots of actual things, but by using filters, he makes them look otherworldly. As a chaser, the gallery has installed a show that includes pieces by Mark Castator, Stephen Shachtman, Sarah Fox, Haze Diedrich, Michael Burnett and Lewis McInnis. Through February 28 at Space Gallery, 765 Santa Fe Drive, 720-904-1088, www.spacegallery.org.
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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Shooting the West et al. Photography has a special place in the American West, as cameras arrived with some of the very first pioneers and scouts. This makes sense, because the West was settled at precisely the same time as photography was coming of age. The Arvada Center is currently presenting three photo shows about our region — two based on historic material and one combining both old and new pieces. Upstairs are the two history shows. William J. Collins Photography: The Vanishing West, the Developing West examines the work of a documentarian active in the early twentieth century, while Edward S. Curtis: Photographs of Native Americans is a portfolio of the great artist's famous nineteenth-century sepia-toned portraits. Downstairs is the large and impressive Shooting the West, which includes pieces by the late Otto Roach and his protegé, Dutch Walla, as well as lens legend Hal Gould and contemporary practitioners such as Chuck Forsman, Robert Adams, Eric Paddock, Kevin O'Connell, David Sharpe, Scott Engel and others. Through February 22 at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, 720-898-7200, www.arvadacenter.org.