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. Reviewed June 23
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A Ceramic Collaboration. To celebrate the fourth anniversary of his Plinth Gallery, which is specifically dedicated to contemporary ceramics, Jonathan Kaplan has mounted a show that highlights the clay scene in Colorado. Conceptually, the show has two parts, but it's been installed as a single idea. The first part is a salute to the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass and includes the work of many artists who were fellows and faculty at the facility — notably, one of its founders, the late Paul Soldner, as well as its current director, Doug Casebeer. The other part of the show highlights the work of ceramic artists who aren't part of the Anderson Ranch scene. Kaplan put out a call for submissions to any Colorado ceramicist or potter and was overwhelmed when more than one hundred responded. He clearly attempted to be inclusive in his selections, and as a result, the works range from small slip-casts of ready-mades on one extreme to large, heavily worked hand-built or hand-thrown pieces on the other. Though it fills only two small spaces, this is clearly a major show. Through July 30 at Plinth Gallery, 3520 Brighton Boulevard, 303-295-0717, http://plinthgallery.com.
John Haeseler Revisited. When an artist does work that is ahead of his or her time, it often goes underappreciated. To some extent, that's what happened to John Haeseler when he created pieces, beginning in the '70s, that both responded to dada and pop art and addressed social issues — in particular, his own gay identity. Haeseler was wildly experimental and worked in a variety of mediums, including textiles, painting, drawing and even sculpture, in the form of ready-mades that he altered. And some of his work was representational and some of it was abstract or process-based. In these ways, he influenced other significant artists working here at the time, notably Rex Ray and Floyd Tunson. The artist died prematurely in 2007, leaving behind a sizable body of work, including a piece in the collection of the Denver Art Museum. That painting shows Haeseler himself — a big man at over six feet and some 300 pounds — depicted as a glamorous woman. The exhibit at Z can hardly be called a retrospective, but it is well worth a look. Through July 9 at Z Art Department, 1156 Speer Boulevard, 303-298-8432, www.zartdept.com. Reviewed June 30.
Toy Stories. Bill Havu has put together a fun-loving summer show that looks at paintings and sculptures that refer in some way to kids' toys. The exhibit is dominated by California artists such as Phillip Maberry and Scott Walker, who, working together, have produced Murakami-esque sculptures that look like cheap inflatable beach toys but are actually ceramics. Michael Brennan, Michael Stevens, Frances Lerner and, in a separate solo on the mezzanine, Ann Weber all hail from the Golden State. A couple of artists, namely Laurel Swab and Esteban Blanco, come from other spots around the country. Swab, a super-realist represented by a suite of small dark paintings depicting enigmatic objects, is based in Colorado. Blanco, who lives in Florida, is a sculptor, and his pieces also have an enigmatic quality. There are examples of two distinct series, one dealing with toy warships, the other the elaborate torture of Barbie dolls. Both things — directing toy boats and damaging dolls — have long been popular diversions for little boys. Through September 3 at the William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360, www.williamhavugallery.com.
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.