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
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.
Group Exhibition. The theme that connects the stylistically diverse pieces in Group Exhibition is the environment, but that aspect of the show is pretty subtle in some of the pieces. For example, while Paul Jacobsen's meticulously done charcoal-on-paper full-figure nude portraits seem fairly traditional, the artist says they were done by eschewing the use of digital photography for studies and so are meant to refer to work made off the grid. It's interesting how effective artists can be at using traditional approaches like straightforward realism to come up with pieces that are clearly contemporary in their intention. This is true of the pieces by the two Colorado artists in the show — one a standard-bearer, Don Stinson, and one a relatively recent transplant from the Northwest coast, Lanny DeVuono. Stinson does drawings; DeVuono is a painter. The final two artists, Hong Seon Jang and Molly Dilworth, do work that's more abstract than that of their exhibitionmates, but their pieces still make references to the natural world. Through July 16 at the David B. Smith Gallery, 1543 Wazee Street, #A, 303-893-4234, www.davidbsmithgallery.com. Reviewed July 7.
Marvelous Mud. This homegrown blockbuster is not a single show but rather eight different ones, all about clay. In the Ponti tower are Potters of Precision: The Coors Porcelain Company, an exhibit featuring aesthetically pleasing laboratory vessels made in Golden; Nampeyo: Excellence by Name, which examines the accomplishments of the first American Indian woman to gain ceramic fame; Mud to Masterpiece: Mexican Colonial Ceramics, which not only shows off pots from Mexico, but also Chinese porcelains that influenced the Mexican work; Blue and White: A Ceramic Journey, a look at classic Chinese blue-and-white ware and how it changed the taste of the world; and Dirty Pictures, made up of photos that include all kinds of soils. Over in the Hamilton, there's Marajó: Ancient Ceramics at the Mouth of the Amazon, a first-ever look at these remarkable prehistoric works in clay from Brazil. This is also the site of Overthrown: Clay Without Limits, a contemporary invitational ceramics show, and Focus: Earth & Fire, featuring modern and contemporary works from the permanent collection. Through September 18 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000, www.denverartmuseum.org. Reviewed July 21.
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.
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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.