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, clyffordstillmuseum.org. Reviewed January 31.
Jenny Morgan.Though she was born and raised in Salt Lake City and has lived in New York for nearly a decade, painter Jenny Morgan has maintained her presence in the Denver art scene through regular exhibits at Plus Gallery. Her latest effort, Kith and Kin: New Paintings by Jenny Morgan, is a small solo — there are only eight paintings — but that's enough to handsomely lay out her current painterly concerns. Morgan is a contemporary realist whose paintings are based on photos. However, she is not a photo-realist; her work references other approaches, such as pop art and conceptualism. As the exhibit's title suggests, the subjects of the paintings are Morgan's friends and relatives. The resulting portraits, which are way over life-sized, reveal that Morgan has astounding technical skills, as she is able to render the models with a high degree of accuracy. She even shows off by carrying out some areas as though they are out-of-focus. A couple of the portraits have blocked-out passages painted as flat silhouettes in bold colors, a la pioneering conceptualist John Baldessari. Through July 14 at Plus Gallery, 2501 Larimer Street, 303-296-0927, www.plusgallery.com.
Kevin Curry. The very smart-looking Kevin Curry: Between Chaos and Order is dominated by conceptual abstractions made from reclaimed materials. Curry moved to Colorado in 2009 and has made something of a splash since then. His breakout piece was the recently unveiled "Face the Sun," on Tennyson Street near 41st Avenue. The central element of this sculpture comprises three stiles covered with cut-up found signs. A number of pieces at Rule may be closely associated with "Face the Sun." For "447 Days," Curry has created a trio of boxes made of cut up and reassembled metal signs, so that the words on the signs become abstract forms. Some of these reassembled signs are more lyrical — in particular, "Chicken in the Box": The original sign was hand-painted, which allows Curry to not only exploit the found sign as a material, but also to annex the found brushstrokes on it. Despite all this heady appropriation, there's an abstract-expressionist quality to the piece. The associational referents are different for "Location," which is based on a printed sign and seems like a pattern painting. Though June 16 at Rule Gallery, 3340 Walnut Street, 303-777-9473, www.rulegallery.com. Reviewed May 24.
Material Abstraction.The pattern that connects the artists included inMaterial Abstraction is the way that each exploits the unique properties of his or her particular medium. And what a batch of mediums they use — including automotive lacquer, vinyl and recycled objects. The kind of work on view is conceptual abstraction, as it expresses intellectual content via abstract means. This is an approach that's been coming on strong internationally over the last decade, rivaling conceptual realism for primacy. The show includes artists from around the country, but many of the best pieces are by local talents. Among the standouts are the elegant pierced-metal sculptures by Linda Fleming, a notable figure in the history of contemporary art in Colorado. Striking, too, are the wall constructions made with bookbinding vinyl that take their forms through the exploitation of gravity, by up-and-coming art star Derrick Velasquez. Also included are choice pieces by Lisa Stefanelli, Katy Stone, Reed Danziger, Jamie Brunson, Ted Larson, Tyler Beard, Terry Maker and John McEnroe. Through June 30 at Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788, www.robischongallery.com.
Parson in Perspective. This is a major show for a major local artist, and it includes pieces that Charles Parson has done over the past decade or so, many of which have never been exhibited in Denver. Parson has tirelessly followed his own course since the 1970s, building sculptures and installations that bridge the gap between abstraction and conceptual art and between the figure and the landscape. His typical materials are ready-made hardware like nuts and bolts, and sheets of steel, glass and stone, as well as found materials like iron fragments from demolished structures and broken pieces of stone. Parson's pieces have a decidedly architectonic character and could even pass as building ornaments — but there's a lot more going on. First, many are totemic, while others suggest the shape of altars, gates or stanchions. These associations give the work an unspecified spirituality. Second, Parson has used industrial materials to convey said spirituality — an unlikely choice. Third, in size and shape, these works can be viewed as stand-ins for the human figure. Through June 30 at Z Art Department, 1136 Speer Boulevard, 303-298-8432, www.zartdept.com. Reviewed May 17.
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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