Energy Effects. MCA Denver director Adam Lerner and architect Paul Andersen have put together one of the most important of the many Biennial shows on display now. The exhibit, with the epic title of Energy Effects: Art and Artifacts From the Landscape of Glorious Excess, begins outside the building where Gonzalo Lebrija's sculpture from his "Between Life and Death" series has been installed. The sculpture depicts a car set vertically over a reflecting puddle and the artist has used an actual car and puddle to do it. This is one of the coolest sculptures in town and it's an index to the show because as suggested by its title, the exhibit explores how energy is expended, and not how it's conserved. Once inside you'll notice two interventions in the atrium, one of which, Ciro Najle's "cumulus" hangs from the ceiling, and the other, Orly Genger's "Reg", inappropriately blocks our path. Both pair nature with science, the two poles of the show, with pieces by Viviane Le Courtois, Martha Russo and Janine Gordon referring to nature, while Don Stinson, Willard Wigan and Jim Sanborn, salute science. Through September 13 at MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554, www.mcadenver.org. Reviewed July 15.
Exposure. Eric Paddock is the Denver Art Museum's first full-fledged photo curator to head up his own new department. To unveil the permanent gallery for photography in the Ponti tower, he's put together Exposure: Photos From the Vault, highlighting a range of gems from the DAM's collection. Collected in fits and spurts, the museum's photo holdings are very uneven, but as Paddock proves with this show, there are a lot of masterworks in it anyway. As could be expected, considering the impressive Wolf Collection of early Western landscapes, there are quite a few pieces by the pioneers of that field, notably Carleton Watkins. And there are a number of well-known photos by famous modern photographers like Diane Arbus, Ansel Adams and Garry Winogrand. Another important feature of the exhibit is the inclusion of many Colorado photographers, including Kevin O'Connell and Wes Kennedy. This aspect is not unexpected coming from a curator who spent most of his career at the Colorado Historical Society. Through October 31, at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. www.denverartmuseum.org. Reviewed May 20.
Maria Cristina Carlini. This is an outdoor sculpture show dedicated to a contemporary Italian artist. On display at both the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design campus and the Auraria campus, it represents an unprecedented act of cooperation between the two institutions and was curated by Cortney Stell, director of RMCAD's Philip J. Steele Gallery. The four large Carlinis are scattered around the beautiful RMCAD campus, which has a series of small historic buildings and lovely historic flower beds. One of them, "Out and Inside," has been given to the campus and will remain there after the show comes down. The work is like a pair of three-dimensional puzzle pieces set on end. The Auraria portion of the show includes three more monumental Carlinis, all sited near the Emmanuel Gallery. Among these is "Madre," which has been given to Auraria and is now part of its permanent collection. Through October 1 at RMCAD, 1600 Pierce Street, Lakewood, 303-753-6046, www.rmcad.edu, and the Auraria campus, Colfax Avenue and Speer Boulevard. Reviewed August 12.
Merge. The large exhibit Merge: 2010 Metro State Alumni Exhibition is a juried effort that acts as a survey of graduates of Metro's art department. The jurors were former chair Barbara Houghton and current chair Greg Watts; the exhibit was laid out by Center for Visual Art director Jennifer Garner and assistant director Cecily Cullen. One of its greatest strengths is photography, with a number of first-rate pieces on view. This has something to do with the fact that both Houghton and Watts are themselves photographers, but it's also because Metro has such a finely developed photo program. Standout pieces include those by Gabriel Christus, J. John Priola, Sean Rozales, Merlin Madrid, Jeffrey Ball and Kathryn Gregonis. Video is photo-related, and there's an impressive example in the work of Luzia Ornelas. Other great works include a grid of paintings by Evan Colbert and the singular painting by Josiah Lopez. Also strong are three-dimensional works by Mary Cay, Mark Friday, Dave Seiler and Jennifer Jeannelle. Through August 28 at the Center for Visual Art, 965 Santa Fe Drive, 303-294-5207, www.metrostatecva.org. Reviewed July 29.
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Moore in the Gardens. Henry Moore, who died in 1986, was Great Britain's most important modern sculptor. Born in 1898, he began to create artwork shortly after World War I, becoming internationally famous by the 1930s. Moore was one of a legion of important artists who responded to Picasso's surrealism, but he made the style his own. This traveling exhibit, sponsored by the Henry Moore Foundation, has been installed on the grounds of the Denver Botanic Gardens, with two pieces at the DBG annex at Chatfield (8500 Deer Creek Canyon Road, Littleton). The main part of the exhibit begins in the Boettcher Memorial Center, where a collection of the artist's tools and maquettes are crowded into showcases, and where a single work has been installed in a fountain. Most of the other pieces have been displayed around the gardens. The monumental works, typically in bronze, look absolutely perfect in the landscaped settings, and that makes sense, since Moore himself was a serious gardener. Too bad the DBG can't keep them. Through January 31 at the Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York Street, 720-865-3500, www.botanicgardens.org. Reviewed June 17.
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 September 19 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-866-5000, www.denverartmuseum.org.
Yoshitomo Saito. This very elegant show is made up of Yoshitomo Saito's expertly done floor-bound sculptures as well as his wall-mounted bas-relief pieces and installations. The exhibit's subtitle — All God's Children Got Rhythm — is taken from a bebop tune associated with the late Stan Getz. It also refers to a large wall-mounted installation in the show that's made up of scores of individual bronze casts of plants arranged to form a circle from which a horizontal line emerges off one end. For the majority of these, Saito has taken twigs and branches and has twisted or woven them into various shapes to form the basis for his bronzes. Baskets and nets are referred to in some of these works, but the most powerful pieces are those from the artist's "Colorado Loop" series, in which tree branches have been bent into spirals. Though deceptively simple, these pieces have a tremendous dynamism, tension and visual power. Saito's bronze-casting skills are of the highest order, and his patinas in traditional brown and verdigris are likewise remarkable. Through August 28 at Rule Gallery, 227 Broadway, 303-777-9473, www.rulegallery.com. Reviewed August 12.