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.
Heidi Jung. A longtime Ironton resident artist is the subject of Forest for the Trees: New Work by Heidi Jung, which features a five-part monumental drawing that totals seventeen feet in length. Jung has done contemporary takes on plants for years, and in these new pieces, natural images are used to create all-over compositions with no particular focal point — like an abstraction. Jung has painted the back wall green to give the room a gladed feel and hung that "Forest" on it. Done in ink on vellum applied to flat panels, "Forest" looks like a mural. Attaching the translucent paper to the panels creates an unusual surface that looks for all the world like painting. The trees in "Forest" are aspens with their white trunks forming a regular rhythm across the long horizontal composition. Putting "Forest" in context are two small versions of the same approach, "Centercut" I and II. Also very nice are a group of works on paper, with "Mist," which is essentially white on white, standing out. Through April 7 at Ironton Studios and Gallery, 3636 Chestnut Place, 303-297-8626, www.irontonstudios.com.
Out Figured. Though the depiction of the figure is a tradition that's as old as the hills, contemporary artists are still exploring the topic. Jennifer Garner, longtime director of the Center for Visual Art, selected artists who not only explore the figure, but imbue their works with psychological, spiritual or mystical content. Garner zeroes in on painting and photography but also includes some sculpture, and the resulting show is chock-full of disturbing images. There is a Colorado contingent in the form of the Corvo Brothers, Irene Delka McCray and Marie Vlasic. New York artist Jenny Morgan, Atlanta-based Christina West and the late John Coplans complete the roster. There's an interesting connection between two of the artists: Morgan was McCray's student a decade ago at the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design. It turns out that Out Figured is Garner's swan song at the CVA; she's giving up the director's job that she's held for half a dozen years and returning to teaching. Though a gain for her students, it's a genuine loss to the community. Through April 7 at Metro State College's Center for Visual Art, 965 Santa Fe Drive, 303-294-5207, www.metrostatecva.org.
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 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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