Big-Lots. This show comprises some very big abstract paintings by Wendi Harford that are strong and artistically ambitious. Harford earned a BFA at the University of Denver in the 1970s, where she studied with the late Beverly Rosen, and there are subtle references to her mentor's influences throughout the show, but they are hard to notice. The group of seven monumental paintings by Harford are not, strictly speaking, a body of work or a series, because they display a range of approaches. On the one pole is the stripped painting, "Endless Summer"; and on the other is "Astoria," which looks like graffiti and recalls Harford's birthplace in Queens, New York. In between are several different styles with two "'Sup" and "Bellis Perennis" that look like they're an homage to the late Dale Chisman in the way the forms stand out against a smeary and indefinite ground. Through September 5 at Ironton Studios and Gallery, 3636 Chestnut Street, 303-297-8626, www.irontonstudios.com. Reviewed August 13.
Childsplay. For this show, the floor of Walker Fine Art has been covered with rough-hewn playground equipment made of wood and bronze. And despite the show's title, all of it has been made for, and scaled to, adults, who are meant to interact with the individual pieces. The mostly kinetic sculptures (some are static) are by Colorado artist Kim Ferrer, who's melded schoolyards with Buddhist philosophy: These pieces take up the topic of balance, from physical and psychological perspectives. Standing or sitting on the pieces, viewers aren't supposed to go up and down (though they could), but rather are asked to work with them so that they achieve a kind of equilibrium. In addition to the Ferrer solo, the show includes pieces by Walker's corps of artists, and the walls are covered with paintings, photos and collages that all focus on children, at least broadly. Standouts among these include works by Frank O'Neil, Ben Strawn, Sabin Aell, Bonny Lhotka, Roland Bernier, Jonathan Hils and Eric Corrigan. Through September 4 at Walker Fine Art, 300 West 11th Avenue, #A, 303-355-8955, www.walkerfineart.com. Reviewed August 13.
Confluence 2: Realism. The William Havu Gallery in the Golden Triangle is featuring realism in its second summer group show, including a range of aesthetic manners from traditional representational imagery to surrealism. The show opens with the work of Jeanette Pasin Sloan, a hyper realist who delights in accurately recording constructed still life scenes. Her signature, which shows off her incredible skill, is capturing patterns reflected in silver vessels. Beyond are fanatically rendered industrial landscapes by Rick Dula that are unexpectedly delicate in both size and detail. The odd works out are Robert Ecker's surrealist compositions that could have actually been in an abstract show even if their compositional elements are representational. More expected in an exhibit with the subtitle "realism" are the lyrical landscapes recalling the art of a century ago by Jeff Aeling and Michael Burrows, and the Laurel Swab paintings of fruit and vegetables that are ensconced as a small solo on the mezzanine. Through September 5 at the William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360, www.williamhavugallery.com.
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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Denver Artists Guild Founders. The history of the Denver Artists Guild — an early-twentieth-century group is little known, but it's been documented in this show. The exhibit was organized by collectors Deborah Wadsworth and Cynthia Jennings, with a design by Steve Savageau. Wadsworth and Jennings identified 52 artists who founded the Denver Artists Guild in the 1920s and then went looking for examples by each of them. They did a good job sleuthing, though they were unable to find pieces by a dozen of them. There was apparently no quality control for members of the guild, as there is with today's co-ops, so it goes without saying that the work varies in accomplishment, but most of it is pretty good. As could be expected, given Denver's setting, many of the artists chose mountain landscapes as their subjects, with some real knockout pieces, notably those by David Spivak, Albert Bancroft, Charles Des Moineaux and Allen Tupper True. Another category that's well represented is regionalism, and there are even a handful of modernist pieces. Through August 29 at the Denver Central Library, 10 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-1111, www.denverlibrary.org. Reviewed July 2.
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.
Robert Kushner and Arlene Shechet. New York artist Robert Kushner, who first came to prominence as a performance artist in the 1970s, creates paintings and works on paper based on flowers. His Denver representative, the van Straaten Gallery, is presenting a handsome selection of both in this impressive exhibit. There's a decidedly post-pop-art quality to the paintings, in which large, simplified renditions of flowers are carried out in bright colors that have been accented with glitter, of all things. The works on paper have a much quieter appeal, though Kushner gets a little theatrical by using shiny metallic foils in some of them. The Kushners take up most of the front part of the gallery and have been paired with Arlene Shechet's monotypes in the back. These were done at Riverhouse Editions, a Steamboat Springs-based printmaker associated with the gallery. Shechet is also from New York and is currently the subject of a solo at MCA Denver. The monotypes at van Straaten, done with watercolors, depict abstracted scenes made up of silhouettes of vessels. Through August 29 at van Straaten Gallery, 760 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573-8585, www.vanStraatenGallery.com.
Systems of Knowing. Artist R. Justin Stewart, who has a RedLine residency right now, is the author of a compelling installation exhibit, Systems of Knowing, at Plus Gallery. The show is made up of five separate yet interrelated installations. Every one of them comprises a set of drawings hanging on the wall and a small sculpture placed nearby on a shallow plinth on the floor. The drawings and their related sculptures are literally connected to one another by a red line. Stewart is interested in laying out the way ideas can be translated and transformed from one medium to another — in this case, from drawings to sculptures. In this way, he hopes to illustrate the nature of ideas. Stewart uses drawings of circles done in layers to develop the basic designs. He then carries out the same ideas in the three-dimensional works. For the sculptures, he employs humble materials such as twist ties and plastic o-rings. Because the installations are made of repeated identical elements, they conceptually link up with contemporary ideas about pattern-building and fractals. Through August 28 at Plus Gallery, 2501 Larimer Street, 303-296-0927, www.plusgallery.com. Reviewed August 13.