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 August 14 at the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, 1311 Pearl Street, 303-832-8576, www.kirklandmuseum.org. Reviewed June 23
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.
Reclamation. This group show, organized by Jennifer Garner, features five Colorado artists — along with a solo from California's Ann Weber — who made pieces out of trash or other humble materials. Brian Cavanaugh is represented by an installation in which a gun seems to have sprayed paint and materials across the wall. In a gallery anchored by an installation on the floor, with photos and other documents on the walls, Yumi Janairo Roth lays out her process. Next up are wall pieces by Jon Rietfors, in which the artist deconstructs photos by mounting fragments of them on the bottoms of vessels. Terry Maker presents narrative pieces made from sliced bundles of discards, while Sabin Aell has done an installation made of re-colored strips of billboard vinyl. Weber, meanwhile, is represented by her signature cardboard sculptures; especially interesting are the multi-colored ones that were not painted but were made from colored cardboard. Through August 13 at the Metro State Center for Visual Art, 965 Santa Fe Drive, 303-294-5207, www.metrostatecva.org.
Ted Larsen and New Work. Ted Larsen, who works in New Mexico, is a modernist formalist — but with a twist. Though geometric abstraction is clearly a key part of his aesthetic, the results are post-minimal rather than minimal. That's because he uses found materials — in particular, sheets of metal — so he also embraces the arte povera approach, which he labels in his artist's statement as "bricolage," or using whatever's available. Despite all the issues Larsen's pieces raise, his work fits comfortably into the hard-edged scene in New Mexico and Colorado. The Larsen show establishes the character of New Work, the group exhibit that occupies the rest of the many spaces at Robischon. Though there are internationally known art stars here (notably, Judy Pfaff and Jessica Stockholder), there is also a big contingent of Colorado artists who undeniably hold their own with the big-timers. The locals include John McEnroe, Derrick Velasquez, Wendi Harford, Terry Maker and Linda Fleming. Through August 20 at Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788, www.robischongallery.com. Reviewed July 7.
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.
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