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.
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Emilio Lobato, David Mazza and Dale Chisman. The main attraction at Havu is Emilio Lobato: De Veras, featuring an eye-dazzling display of paintings that rely on the horizontal line for their visual interest. Lobato is well known, with a distinguished career that dates back several decades. Some of the amazing attributes associated with him are his fine technical skills, his boundless creativity and his staggeringly dedicated work ethic, which results in a mind-dizzying number of artworks. For this show alone, he did nearly fifty new pieces! Sprinkled throughout the main floor are sculptures that make up David Mazza: New Works. Mazza has made a name for himself with zigzagging spires of metal, sometimes painted with automotive lacquers, at other times finished so that the natural characteristics of the material show through. Upstairs on the mezzanine at Havu is Dale Chisman 1943-2008, which looks at the artist's works on paper. These incredible monotypes and mixed-media works were commissioned by gallery owner Bill Havu between 1987 and 1997. Through February 21 at the William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360, www.williamhavugallery.com. Reviewed February 5.
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.
Emilio Lobato, David Mazza and Dale Chisman
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.
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.