Birger Sandzén. Though Birger Sandzén was born in Sweden, studied painting there and in Paris and later made his permanent home in Kansas, we in Colorado can claim him as one of our own. Sandzén found his muse here — in our stunning scenery — and after his first extended stay in 1908, returned and subsequently spent nearly every summer in Colorado between 1913 and 1952. He died in 1954. The exhibit, which may be the largest ever devoted to the artist, was organized by Blake Milteer, the director of the museum at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Milteer decided not to arrange the show in chronological order, but to his credit, he has gone to great pains to demonstrate not only how the artist's work changed over the decades, but also the elaborate process Sandzén undertook in his artistic practice. The oldest piece in the exhibit is from 1910, but based on the works included, the artist apparently came upon his signature aesthetic in 1917 and continued to produce in a similar vein into the 1930s. These mature paintings are absolutely out of this world. Through January 8 at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 West Dale Street, Colorado Springs, 719-634-5583, www.csfineartscenter.org. Reviewed November 17.
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Clyfford Still. For the opening of the Clyfford Still Museum, founding director Dean Sobel has installed a career survey of the great artist. Clyfford Still: Inaugural Exhibition starts with the artist's realist self-portrait and features his remarkable post-impressionist works from the 1920s. Next are Still's works from the '30s, with some odd takes on regionalism and some figurative surrealist paintings. Sobel saw a seed for Still's abstract expressionism in the line following the shoulders of the figures in these works that appears throughout the artist's career. Then there's his first great leap forward as the representational surrealist works give way to abstract ones. Still makes his big break in the early 1940s, becoming the first artist to arrive at abstract expressionism. Seeing so many classic Stills at once is an indescribable experience. Looking at the work dating from the '40s and '50s, it's easy to see why Still is regarded as one of the great masters of American art. Sobel has also done a survey of Still's career in miniature using the artist's works on paper. Through March 31 at the Clyfford Still Museum, 1250 Bannock Street, 720-354-4880, http://clyffordstillmuseum.org. Reviewed November 10.
Colorado Abstract Expressionism. Presenting an exhibit on abstraction in Colorado at the Kirkland makes a lot of sense, since the museum's namesake, Vance Kirkland, was the first local abstract painter to have elicited notice. Plus, director Hugh Grant has done more to champion the region's art history than anyone else. The show Grant conceived is really four interrelated exhibits. First is the Kirkland solo, with Grant installing the main exhibition room with the artist's work, as well as putting pieces on display in the old studio. Then, in the smaller exhibition room, there's the work of Kirkland's contemporaries. Scattered throughout are the two other legs of this sprawling show — the abstract sculptures and later abstraction in painting — separated from the permanent displays only by the colored strips on the identifying labels. The abstract-sculpture group includes pieces by both historic and contemporary artists, as does the later-abstraction section. There are so many marvelous things in Colorado Abstract Expressionism, its amorphousness winds up being a minor complaint. Through April 1 at the Kirkland Museum, 1311 Pearl Street, 303-832-8576,www.kirklandmuseum.org. Reviewed December 8.