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.
Guilty Pleasures. Although juried shows are typically open — meaning anyone doing any kind of work can enter — sometimes they have themes, as is the case with this year's annual at Spark, titled Guilty Pleasures. The juror is William Biety, who ran the Sandy Carson Gallery and, later, the van Straaten Gallery, and currently has his own business: Space-Editor, an art consultancy. Biety took an anything-goes approach in interpreting the idea of "guilty pleasures," and the result is a free-for-all. As could be expected, there are some goofy and funky interpretations of the theme — but there are also some standouts, including the interesting sculptures by Jeanette Bush, April Noble and Ted Fish and the sophisticated paintings by Christian Bailey, Barbara Yeatch, A. Miriam Green and Gabriel Luis Perez. The two Perez pieces are especially contemporary-looking. The pop-y, photo-based works of roadside scenes by Kelly McCormack and the unusual wall-reliefs made of cut pieces of wood by Chris DeKnikker are also very nice. Through February 26 at Spark Gallery, 900 Santa Fe Drive, 720-889-2200, http://sparkgallery.com.
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.
Katie Caron and Martha Russo; Jerry Morris. An over-the-top installation anchors Oxytocin: Katie Caron and Martha Russo, the title of which refers to a hormone associated with childbirth. Though both artists have established reputations in ceramics, this installation falls into the mixed-media category, as clay is just one of several materials used. And it's clearly part of the same series with "Apoptosis," which was displayed at the Denver Art Museum last year. Caron and Russo, both from northern Colorado, have each enhanced — annotated? — the main work by including their individual works, the ideas of which were brought together in this singular collaborative piece, which is fabulous. Also on view are the two installations that make up Pendent Tendencies: Jerry Morris. Taking on big issues such as wisdom and politics, Morris uses hanging Plexiglas and ceramic and plastic elements to abstractly lay out his ideas, which are heavily influenced by Eastern philosophy. Morris, a relatively new member of this up-and-coming co-op, is an emerging artist who lives and works in Colorado Springs. Through January 28 at Ice Cube Gallery, 3320 Walnut Street, 303-292-1822, http://icecubegallery.com. Reviewed January 19.
Liz Miller. The biggest art news this season was the opening of the Clyfford Still Museum, and to celebrate, a number of local art institutions mounted salutes to Still. Among the most unusual is Liz Miller: Recalcitrant Mimesis. Miller, an emerging artist from Minnesota, is known for her works made of cut paper or felt, which look something like a cross between papel picado and origami. For Recalcitrant Mimesis, she's created a monumental installation made up of hundreds of pieces of felt attached together and suspended from the walls and the ceiling of the David B. Smith Gallery. The shapes, cut with electric scissors, are jagged and vertically oriented, like Still's chosen forms. And the limited palette that includes two rosy shades with mustard yellow, black and white also recalls Still's work. Ultimately, though, since the installation is three-dimensional, it is completely un-Still-ian, as he was the master of overall flatness. Through February 18 at David B. Smith Gallery, 1543 A Wazee Street, 303-893-4234, www.davidbsmithgallery.com. Reviewed February 9.
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, which pairs the organic abstractions by Ikeda with Hodder's post-minimal expressionist paintings. In the Theater Gallery is Lost and Found: A North Sea Collaboration, which features 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.
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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