Collective Nouns. Metropolitan State College isn't just one of the city's major institutions of higher learning; it's also the state's largest art school. The most obvious evidence of this is the college's Center for Visual Art in LoDo, a mini-museum. A more subtle indication of the importance of art at Metro is the school's enormous art department, which includes nearly fifty faculty members. Every so often, the CVA puts the spotlight on these instructors, as it has with this show. The exhibit is large and diverse, but it's also uneven. One thing that's apparent is the importance accorded to photography and photo-related mediums there, with lots of interesting photos, but there are also compelling installations, paintings and drawings. Among the standouts are pieces by Kenn Bisio, Rebecca Dolan, Natascha Seideneck, Edie Winograde, Kelly Monico with Scott Bagus, Cinthea Fiss, Peter Regenold Bergman, Casey McGuire, Sandy Lane, Brian Evans, Bonnie Ferrill Roman, Anna Kaye, Mark Brasuell, Amy Metier and Carlos Frésquez. Through April 23 at the MSCD Center for Visual Art, 1734 Wazee Street, 303-294-5207, www.mscd.edu. Reviewed April 9.
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.
Fifty Years of Colorado Art. Ever since the turn of the twentieth century, there's been increasing interest in our state's impressive art history. Several galleries and independent art dealers have served this need, and now there's one more: Z Art Department, which was just opened by Randy Roberts. The gallery is located between two operations owned by Roberts, Zeitgeist and Z Modern, which focus on vintage design and new design, respectively. Z Art Department will specialize in regional art from the 1930s to the 1980s, with the first show called Fifty Years of Colorado Art: 1937-1987. Roberts has gathered up a marvelous selection; the oldest is a painting of a cottage in the woods by John Edward Thompson, Colorado's first modernist. There are a number of works by Denver's own Edward Marecak, as well as Herbert Bayer from Aspen, both of whom are slated for solo exhibits at Z in the near future. Also represented in this inaugural show are painters Charles Bunnell, Mina Conant and Mark Travis, and sculptor Edgar Britton. Through April 30 at Z Art Department, 1136 North Speer Boulevard, 303-298-8432, firstname.lastname@example.org.
New & Noteworthy. Alice Zrebiec is astoundingly well versed in the field of quilts, which makes her the ideal textile curator at the Denver Art Museum, an institution with a world-class assortment of them. For the latest show on quilts in the Neusteter Gallery, on the sixth floor of the DAM's Ponti building, Zrebiec has put together a show that's anchored by a recent acquisition, an early nineteenth-century album quilt — the Hopkins Family quilt — which is surrounded by nine others from the same era. The Hopkins Family quilt — the 'new' in the exhibit's title — has a white field on which a red grid of lines divides the surface up into a set of individual frames in which different motifs, including flowers, musical instruments, a mantle and a sailing ship, among other everyday things about the family, are presented. The other quilts — the 'noteworthy' part — are of widely different types, including an impressive bridal quilt, an autograph quilt (where donors had a calligrapher sign their names in the various fabric blocks) and even a quilt inspired by Old Glory. Through December 31 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-913-0096, www.denverartmuseum.org.
The Psychedelic Experience. The AIGA graphics curator, Darrin Alfred, has only been on the job at the Denver Art Museum for a year, and already he's the author of a major blockbuster, The Psychedelic Experience: Rock Posters From the San Francisco Bay Area. Alfred selected around 300 posters from a gift of more than 800 relevant pieces from Boulder collector David Tippett. A connoisseur, Tippett sought examples that were in the finest condition available and those that were artist-signed. Alfred uses the show to feature the principal artists involved in the movement and exhibits the work of each in separate sections. This was a smart move, since it conveys the idea that a range of sensibilities, including art nouveau, surrealism and pop art, among other sources, came together to form the psychedelic poster style. Specialists in the field have identified a big five, but Alfred doesn't agree, so there are seven stars (one of which is a team) in this exhibit: Lee Conklin, Rick Griffin, Alton Kelley & Stanley Mouse, Bonnie MacLean, Victor Moscoso, David Singer and Wes Wilson. Through July 19 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. www.denverartmuseum.org.
Rex Ray. The Promenade Space on the second floor of MCA Denver is both a passageway and an exhibition hall. Given its limited size and unconventional plan — the main wall runs diagonally to the windows opposite it — the Promenade has been used exclusively for single installations. The latest example is an untitled mural by San Francisco artist Rex Ray, who used to live in Colorado. Ray has a national reputation based not just on his fine art, but as a designer of everything from books to coffee mugs. Ray created the mural specifically for this show and specially designed the fabulous wallpaper that surrounds it. The mural is signature Ray, with shapes that rise from the base in the manner of a still-life or landscape. The shapes have been made from cut-outs of painted papers that have been laid against a stunning blue ground, and were inspired by organic forms, or at least abstractions of them, as seen in mid-century modern design. The wallpaper has a spare, all-over pattern on a white ground, complementing the mural without competing with it. Through January 31 at MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554, www.mcadenver.org.
Zenith. Northern Colorado artist Dave Phelps is the subject of this small solo featuring his unusual post-pop-style work — work that addresses advertising and consumerism even if Phelps himself downplays any socio-political content. Phelps creates both mixed-media collages and sculptures using such ubiquitous items as food packages, Unicode labels, stickers and even pieces of tire tread. In the two-dimensional collages, some of which also include painted panels, Phelps is able to achieve striking visual effects by irreverently referring to minimalism and geometric abstraction. In "Crunch," a tour de force, Phelps brackets a canvas painted with black polka dots on an acid-green field with a pair of constructivist compositions comprising rectangles of brightly colored brand-name packaging — some of it surprisingly shopworn. "Squirt" is similar, but its composition is asymmetrical. Also included are a couple of sculptures that include old television sets, one of which is the show's title piece, "Zenith." These sculptures are likewise covered with cut-up packaging. Through April 18 at the Sandra Phillips Gallery, 744 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573-5969, www.thesandraphillipsgallery.com.
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