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.
Gary Emrich. Though paintings and sculptures are the stock-in-trade of its Modern and Contemporary department, the Denver Art Museum also puts the spotlight on new media, such as video, in its own dedicated space, called the Fuse Box. That's where Gary Emrich: Contact is midway through its run. Emrich, whose work has often been seen at the DAM, is a local pioneer in the video medium, and a work of his was the first video the institution ever acquired. For Contact, Emrich has created an installation that comprises two separate projections. Up toward the ceiling is a round screen on which found images of the moon appear; beyond that is a wall-sized projection of flowers and bees that Emrich created himself. Both are set to a soundtrack of NASA communicating with astronauts. The show's title equates the bees landing on the flowers to the men landing on the moon. It's impossible to mention all the free-associational connections in Contact, but a significant one is Emrich's paying homage to his father, a local filmmaker. Through April 8 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000, www.denverartmuseum.org. Reviewed January 26.
Irene Delka McCray and Barbara Groh. Sandra Phillips has stocked her namesake gallery with the work of solid talents. The current show, Threads: Irene Delka McCray and Barbara Groh, is a case in point, putting together pieces by an important Denver artist (McCray) and those of an artist who used to live here (Groh). McCray, whose work falls into the contemporary-realist category, is an influential teacher who has spawned a virtual school of followers. In these latest paintings and drawings, she essentially abandons the figure — her former signature subject — and replaces it with elaborate and breathtakingly detailed depictions of drapery. Groh's work, mostly in the form of drawings, is completely abstract, but somehow works well with the McCrays. A set of mixed-media pieces that use clay as though it were watercolor are gorgeous. Also interesting are the fragments from an installation she did some years ago at MCA Denver, in which automatist lines in graphite were applied to paper. Through February 25 at the Sandra Phillips Gallery, 744 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573-5969, www.thesandraphillipsgallery.com.
Robert Mangold, et al. This sprawling exhibit begins on the grounds of the Arvada Center and continues through the half-dozen exhibition spaces on the lower level inside — and it has to be considered the most important exhibit of the season. Robert Mangold Retrospective: Works From 1955 to Present lays out the Denver artist's career in rough chronological order, though sometimes pieces of vastly different dates are shown together if they are from the same series. Mangold's concern is movement, either actual or conceptual references to it. The exhibit was put together by Collin Parson, who is rapidly distinguishing himself as one of the city's top curators, even if his official role at the center is as exhibition designer. Parson has also put together two other significant shows on the upper level. First is Homare Ikeda/Monroe Hodder
pairing the organic abstractions by Ikeda with the post-minimal expressionist paintings by Hodder. In the Theater Gallery is Lost and Found: A North Sea Collaboration
featuring sculptures by Carl Reed and Thomas Claesson. These shows are not to be missed. Through April 1 at the Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, 720-898-7200, www.arvadacenter.org .
West of Center. Rambling over the three levels of MCA Denver, this exhibit is part of an informal national trend that aims to upwardly reappraise the place of the American West in the art world. The show, the full title of which is West of Center: Art and the Counterculture Experiment in America, 1965-1977, was organized by director Adam Lerner and his wife and co-curator, Elissa Auther; they also co-edited a scholarly catalogue on the subject, the scope of which is far broader than that of this exhibit. The displays are not sequential, but rather a series of completely autonomous presentations, each devoted to a different part of the topic. The curators have cast a wide net, in the process deconstructing standard ideas about art in the West from that time, typically seen as being dominated by psychedelic posters — which aren't even included here. Instead they present the Cockettes drag-queen group, Black Panther broadsides and the utopian Ant Farm Collective. The show's crescendo centers on Colorado's own Drop City. Through February 19 at MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554, www.mcadenver.org. Reviewed December 22.
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