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 December 31 at the Clyfford Still Museum, 1250 Bannock Street, 720-354-4880, http://clyffordstillmuseum.org. Reviewed January 31.
Ed Ruscha. Colorado is linked to the Beat Generation thanks to Neal Cassady and because it was a stopover Los Angeles-based conceptualist Ed Ruscha has taken quotes from that novel and created a series of works that incorporate and interpret them in photo-based landscapes or abstracts. The pieces are signature Ruschas, featuring floating text at the picture plane, with the images underneath receding behind it. Ruscha has his own Denver connection, through the massive multi-part mural "A Rolling History of Colorado and the West" in Schlessman Hall at the Denver Public Library. The DAM show is displayed in the Western-art galleries on level two of the Hamilton. Ruscha — and Kerouac, for that matter — are thus put into the context of Western art. In this way, the DAM is passively promoting the once-radical idea that Western art encompasses not just Remingtons, but Ruschas, too, and thereby supporting an ongoing shift in perceptions that's taking over the field. Ruscha is obviously a Western artist; after all, he lives and works in the West. Through April 22 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000, www.denverartmuseum.org.
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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.
Xi Zhang. This small yet strong solo, the full title of which is 11 Ceremonies: New Paintings by Xi Zhang, features a selection of recent paintings by this young Colorado artist who is a native of China. The paintings have an ambitious quality from several perspectives, including technique, subject matter and, most important, a kind of visual charisma. This final characteristic makes Zhang's works seem more monumental than they actually are — though they are pretty large. Stylistically, Zhang is an expressionist. Among the many strengths of his paintings are the elaborately intriguing surfaces and the strong and widely varied palettes that differ from canvas to canvas. Speaking of colors, Zhang's taste for bold palettes is clear evidence of his origins in Chinese aesthetics, but he's also apparently channeling the recent art history of figuration in America and Europe, making the resulting works extremely sophisticated and interesting. Though it's true that Zhang's in-your-face paintings are not conventionally beautiful, there are many things about them that are. Through April 14 at Plus Gallery, 2501 Larimer Street, 303-296-0927, www.plusgallery.com. Reviewed April 5.