Allen True's West. Allen Tupper True was Denver's premier muralist during the first third of the twentieth century. Sadly, many of his commissions have been painted over or were lost when the buildings they were in were demolished. In an act of cooperation, the three big cultural institutions on the Civic Center are jointly presenting a three-part blockbuster in True's honor, the first time in many years such a collaboration has been attempted. At the Denver Public Library, on the fifth floor, is Allen True and American Illustration, examining his early work in illustration. In the Denver Art Museum's Hamilton Building is Allen True the Fine Artist, which examines his easel painting career. And finally, there's Art for the Public: Allen True's Murals, on the lower level of the Colorado History Museum. The shows demonstrate that True was a top talent and will help to correct the fact that he's mostly been forgotten. Through March 28 at the Denver Public Library, 10 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-1111, www.denverlibrary.org; the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000, www.denverartmuseum.org; Colorado History Museum, 1300 Broadway, 303-866-3682, www.coloradohistory.org.
Barnaby Furnas: Floods. Furnas is a New York artist who's been exhibiting his work since 2000, and this exhibit, in the MCA's Large Works Gallery, is made up entirely of his large abstract paintings. A unique feature of Furnas's personal history is his early embrace of watercolors as his medium. The watercolor method has been out of fashion for fifty years or more and is almost exclusively used today by Sunday painters who typically depict fruit and flowers, so the artist's decision to take it up was a courageous one. The paintings at MCA are not watercolors, but Furnas points out that since they're acrylics, they're water-based and thus behave in some of the same ways. The "Flood" works are large — most notably, "The Whale," which is thirty feet long and was painted on site in the gallery with an audience, no less. Furnas became internationally known in the last few years with representational pieces, but everything at MCA is completely abstract, even if Furnas sees them as hypothetical landscapes. Through January 10 at MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554, www.mcadenver.org. Reviewed October 15.
Embrace! Christoph Heinrich, the Denver Art Museum's director-in-waiting, has unveiled his over-the-top installation show, Embrace! The sprawling exhibit meanders through the four levels of the Frederic C. Hamilton Building, with the atrium becoming the central axis. The idea was to have artists create pieces in response to the outlandish spaces found throughout the unconventional building. Heinrich favored works that allow viewers to walk into them, and since he's partial to painting, that medium plays the starring role (rather than new media, as might be expected). Heinrich selected seventeen artists, and they make for an international cast, including Katharina Grosse from Germany, China's Zhong Biao and El Anatsui from Ghana. But there's also a trio of Denver artists — Rick Dula, John McEnroe and Timothy Weaver, working together with his students from the University of Denver — and bravo to Heinrich for that. Through April 4 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000, www.denverartmuseum.org. Reviewed November 26.
Allen True's West
The Power of Then. Curated by Patty Ortiz, the former director of the Museo de las Américas who now runs the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio, this uneven group show explores the shared Latino experience, as in old-fashioned Chicano art — hence the reference to 'then' in the show's title. But Ortiz adds a wrinkle by zeroing in on post-Chicano works. She selected several Western artists, including two from Colorado: Francisco Zamora and Alex Hernandez. One of the others, Roland Briseño, is essentially given a show within in the show, being represented by many more pieces; unfortunately, as a result, the balance of the exhibit has been thrown off. On the opposite pole is Franco Mondini-Ruiz, who is represented by a handful of tiny sculptures made of found materials. Among the real standouts are David Almaguer, who does neo-pop art using stencils, and Linda Arreola, a conceptualist with a taste for installation. Through January 11 at the Museo de las Américas, 861 Santa Fe Drive, 303-571-4401, www.museo.org. Reviewed October 1.
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.
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Robert Mangold. The dean of Denver's modern sculptors is the subject of a solo for the first time in more than four years. Simply titled Robert Mangold, it is made up of fairly recent work and contains examples of many well-known series, including his famous "Anemotive Kinetics," which are wind-driven spheres made up of colorful metal scoops mounted on rods, and his "PTTSAAES," sculptures, which do not move but are meant to suggest movement. These linear compositions purportedly record the hypothetical and seemingly random movements of an object as suggested by the acronym that stands for "Point Traveling Through Space at an Erratic Speed." A special feature of this exhibit is the fact that it almost didn't happen, since the seventy-something Mangold had a brush with death last year and might not have been around to complete the pieces. It's an absolute must-see. Through December 25 at Artyard Contemporary Sculpture, 1251 South Pearl Street, 303-777-3219, www.artyardsculpture.com. Reviewed December 3.
Shape & Spirit. This wonderful selection of antique bamboo articles is the first show in the newly unveiled Walter and Mona Lutz Gallery on the fifth floor of the Denver Art Museum's Ponti building. Walter and Mona Lutz, for whom the gallery is named, began collecting bamboo from throughout Japan, where they lived; in the 1960s, they expanded their collecting to include bamboo pieces from the rest of Asia. The couple collected ahead of the curve, allowing them to find exquisite things in a wide range of categories. There are baskets, of course, which is what most people might think of when the idea of objects made of bamboo comes up, but there are also sculptures and lanterns, fans and brush-pots, trays and tea-ceremony utensils, among a wide range of both decorative and utilitarian objects. For Shape & Spirit, curator Ron Otsuka selected 200 items from the Lutz collection, which have been given to the DAM. And he has intelligently and beautifully installed them in minimalist-designed showcases made especially for the new gallery. Through March 31 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-866-5000, www.denverartmuseum.org.
Streams of Modernism. A smart-looking survey of modern design put together by guest curators Katherine and Michael McCoy, this show features some of the many important pieces of furniture — mostly chairs — that are part of the Kirkland's impressive permanent collection. The McCoys' narrative is that designers influence one another, and they've taken a doctrinaire approach to the topic, creating a direct line that connects early-twentieth-century vanguard works to pieces done in the late twentieth century. The survey begins with works by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles Rennie Mackintosh before moving on to Bauhaus masters like Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer; it continues with objects by the Cranbrook fellows, such as Charles Eames and Harry Bertoia, and concludes with objects by Italian designers of the '50s through the '70s, notably Gio Ponti and Ettore Sottsass. The show is striking, not only because of the pieces included, but also as a result of the installation that incorporates graphics based on portraits of the designers in the show. Through January 24 at the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, 1311 Pearl Street, 303-832-8576, www.kirklandmuseum.org. Reviewed November 12.