15 Colorado Artists. The Kirkland Museum is presenting a historical show that tracks the beginnings of post-war modernism in Denver using the artist group 15 Colorado Artists as an index. The story goes that the Denver Artists Guild was hostile to modernism at the time. This led to a split, with the modernists breaking off to form their own organization, the 15, which included Jean Charlot, Mina Conant, Angelo Di Benedetto, Vance Kirkland, William Sanderson and Frank Vavra. Eventually, many more joined. The exhibit was put together by collector and art history sleuth Deborah Wadsworth and museum director Hugh Grant. One interesting revelation is how tepid these early modern works were and that, despite the fact that the traditional artists (and the Denver Post) thought of them as "radicals," the members of the 15 were pretty conservative. As a result, the exhibit proves beyond any doubt that Colorado Springs — and not Denver — was where modernism was happening in the state in the '40s. Through July 31 at the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, 1311 Pearl Street, 303-832-8576, www.kirklandmuseum.org.
I've Gotcha Covered. In the expansive front room at Walker Fine Art, two of Colorado's most established contemporary artists, Roland Bernier and Bill Vielehr, have been brought together for an unlikely pairing. Both have enjoyed long careers with lots of successes under their individual belts. Bernier, who lives in Denver, is best known for his conceptual work, in which the letters of the alphabet are exploited for their formal characteristics more often than for their meanings as parts of words. For this recent batch of pieces, Bernier has blown the letters up, carrying them out as shallow bas-reliefs made of various materials. In what seems like a new take, each letter functions separately, though they also make up a group that goes from A to Z. Boulder-based Vielehr is represented by his signature sculptures, which are left in the natural shade of the aluminum, some with areas of golden yellow. They take the shape of abstracted columns, with both simple, straightforward poles and more complex shapes derived from stacks of separate cylinders. Through June 18 at Walker Fine Art, 300 West 11th Avenue, #A, 303-355-8955, www.walkerfineart.com. Reviewed June 9.
Margaret Neumann. Earlier this year, Robin Rule made the surprise announcement that she was relocating her swank-looking Broadway gallery to a much smaller space, next to Ice Cube in the RiNo neighborhood. A couple of weeks ago, she opened the doors on this latest iteration of Rule Gallery with Margaret Neumann: As I Once Knew It... made up of paintings and drawings by the ultra-idiosyncratic artist. Neumann's signature style can be characterized by the sense of discomfort her works convey. Her figures are awkwardly posed and clearly out of balance from a compositional standpoint. And the paint has been both methodically and clumsily applied. Her palette of blacks and reds also contributes to the uneasiness and edginess of the pictures. To complete this anti-aesthetic program, the subjects Neumann depicts are disturbing in themselves, like the man with the bleeding head wound. Through June 24 at Rule Gallery, 3340 Walnut Street, 303-777-9473, www.rulegallery.com. Reviewed May 19.
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Sue Simon, Susan Rubin and Jimmy Sellars. Three sharp-looking shows now at Spark Gallery feature a range of approaches. In the west part of the main space is the elegant Sue Simon: Trajectory, in which multi-panel paintings combine linear abstractions with mathematical equations. The point of the paintings is that everything in the universe is in motion, even if many things — like these paintings — appear to be static. In the east part of the space is Susan Rubin: Five, a Sensory Garden, which is completely different in its aims. The "Five" in the title refers to the senses — sight, touch, taste, sound and smell — but despite this reference, the actual topic of these drawings is plant life. The last of the Spark trio is Jimmy Sellars: My Year as a Rabbit, in the north gallery. These mostly small works are done in digital prints on fibrous paper, which sort of gives them the appearance of pages from comic books, as do the images, which are flat and simplified. They look like hand-done drawings rather than computer-generated images. Through June 19 at Spark Gallery, 900 Santa Fe Drive, 720-889-2200, www.sparkgallery.com. Reviewed June 2.
What Is Modern? Department of Architecture, Design and Graphics curator Darrin Alfred has put together this large show dedicated to furniture and decor from the early nineteenth to the early 21st century. Alfred has included groundbreaking tables, storage units, lighting and — no surprise here, considering Alfred's specialty — graphics. Laudably, Alfred takes a chronological look at how technological advancements informed the development of modernism, starting with a bentwood chair from 1808 by Samuel Gragg. Its overall form is very sleek, with a gracefully curving back, but the details are very different, being almost precious, like the little hooves that mark the termination of the legs. One of the newest pieces in the show is "Roadrunner," a chair from 2006 by Colorado's own David Larabee and Dexter Thornton working together as DoubleButter. Made of a cheap synthetic, the chair is nonetheless elegant. In between the two chairs, Alfred has installed a wide assortment of classics from the annals of modernism. Through November 30 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000, www.denverartmuseum.org. Reviewed December 23.