AB EX. Several Denver art venues are presenting shows to salute the opening this past fall of the Clyfford Still Museum, with most featuring displays anchored by abstracts. A stunningly beautiful example of this is AB EX: Positions and Dispositions, at the capacious Robischon Gallery. The exhibit comprises five discrete parts — four solos and a small group show — with each occupying its own space or spaces. In the set of rooms beyond the entry, the work of Gary Komarin has been installed. Komarin, a protégé of Philip Guston, is a contemporary painter who works in a neo-abstract-expressionist style. In the small back space are works by a trio of Still students — Frank Lobdell, Jack Jefferson and Charles Strong. Manuel Neri, a master of figural abstraction, is represented in the large center gallery. Up front in an intimate space are some never-before-shown works on paper by Dale Chisman. And finally, there's a nice selection of works by Still's fellow traveler, Robert Motherwell. This is unquestionably one of the best shows this season. Through March 10 at Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788, www.robischongallery.com.
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.
Faculty Triennial. Dan Jacobs, the director of the Myhren Gallery at the University of Denver is known for his interest in the art history of the region, and that's why he has organized this faculty show as a snapshot of this moment in time. Since the department was founded by Vance Kirkland in the 1920s, DU's art faculty has included many of the city's and state's most worthwhile artists. This is still the case, as exemplified by Lawrence "Big Blue Bear" Argent, who teaches sculpture there. Though Argent is clearly the most famous artist in the Faculty Triennial, there are other well-known locals in the show — notably, sculptor Susan Meyer and painter Jeffrey Keith. Ceramics are an important specialty at DU, with Mia Mulvey and Lauren Mayer teaching in the field. High-tech processes are another area of focus at DU, which has state-or-the-art facilities. In this realm are some remarkable pieces by Rafael Fajardo: cut-out posters taken from an anti-drug computer game he developed, which can be assembled into sculptures. Through March 11 at the Victoria H. Myhren Gallery, 2121 East Asbury Avenue, 303-871-2846, www.du.edu. Reviewed February 16.
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.
Still in Context. One of several recent shows meant to honor the opening of the Clyfford Still Museum, Still in Context brings together a variety of abstract artists with tenuous connections to the abstract-expressionist king. Referencing the history of American abstraction, there are works by Still contemporaries Helen Frankenthaler, David Hare and Grace Hartigan, all of whom came of age over half a century ago. Then there is a pair of mini-solos dedicated to two of Still's former students, Sam Scott and Ed Kerns. Despite this firsthand association, both Scott and Kerns do work that is distinct from that of their shared mentor. Denver's Jeremy Hillhouse, who died in 2009, is also featured in the show, represented by his signature abstracted landscapes and some pure abstractions. Hillhouse's relationship to Still is more nebulous than that of the other artists. Upstairs, Rick Dula's hyperrealist watercolors of the construction of the CSM are on display. Taken together, though the connections are loose, everything winds up being a visual feast anyway. Through April 7 at 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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