Becoming van Gogh. Timothy Standring, the Denver Art Museum's curator of painting and sculpture, is the brains behind the very compelling, very interesting and, most of all, very successful Becoming van Gogh, on display now. When we think of van Gogh, we are actually only thinking of the work of the last few years of his life — the late 1880s — but the revelation here is his other work. Especially intriguing are the paintings from his early years in Holland, with more of them on view in this show than you could even find on the Internet. Surely the most famous — and among the most valuable — are the two portraits of the Roulin family from 1888. "Postman Joseph Roulin" and "Portrait of Madame Augustine Roulin and Baby Marcelle" are stunning and worth the price of admission all by themselves. This homegrown blockbuster will only appear in Denver and shouldn't be missed. Advance tickets are required; see website for extended holiday hours. Through January 20 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000, www.denverartmuseum.org. Reviewed November 14.
Clyfford Still. For the opening of the Clyfford Still Museum, director Dean Sobel has installed a career survey of the great artist that 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. Then there's his first great leap forward, as the representational surrealist works give way to abstract ones. 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. Through December 31 at the Clyfford Still Museum, 1250 Bannock Street, 720-354-4880, clyffordstillmuseum.org. Reviewed January 31.
El Anatsui. This traveling exhibition is El Anatsui's first-ever retrospective. It was organized by the Museum for African Art in New York by curator Lisa Binder, with the Denver Art Museum's Nancy Blomberg, head of the Native Arts Department, acting as host curator. A Ghanaian by birth, Anatsui spent most of his career in Nigeria, where he was a professor of art. It was during this time that he had his Eureka! moment — when he crossed indigenous African forms with international sensibilities in a series of wooden trays, common fixtures of the local markets. The altered trays are brilliant, anticipating everything that would come later. From this modest beginning, Anatsui worked in a wide range of mediums, eventually hitting on the thing that established his world wide fame: his woven-metal wall hangings. These undulating abstract tapestries are made of smashed metal bottle caps formed into rectilinear shapes, and the colors of the found caps are masterfully arranged so that they seem to shimmer. Through December 30 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000, www.denverartmuseum.org. Reviewed September 20.
Judy Pfaff et al. The spectacular in-depth solo, Judy Pfaff, stretches into several of the exhibition rooms at the remarkably capacious Robischon Gallery. Pfaff is an acknowledged master of contemporary installation art, and her example has been a source of inspiration for generations of younger artists, including two former students, Ann Hamilton and Jessica Stockholder. As the show unfolds, viewers are confronted by all-over abstract wall-relief sculptures that literally glow due to the incorporation of fluorescent lights. The fluorescent tubes are essentially hidden behind accumulations of honeycomb cardboard, expanded foam and all manner of plastic, much of it stretched into organic shapes. Many also incorporate ready-made Chinese lanterns, which work very well with the overall expressionist compositions. The atmosphere these pieces create in the gallery is magical. The Pfaff solo is bracketed by two others — a small show, Ana Maria Hernando, and a larger one, Katy Stone. Though all three have distinct visions. their respective pieces flow together. Extended through December 29 at Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788, www.robischongallery.com. Reviewed October 18.
Marc Chagall and
Michelle Barnes. The pair of offerings at the Singer Gallery in the Mizel Arts and Culture Center puts together the work of a deceased modern master from Europe with pieces done by an established Denver artist. The pattern that connects them is the topic of the Old Testament. The interlocking exhibits were organized by Singer curator Simon Zalkind. The design of the gallery allows Zalkind to mount two solos simultaneously, and he has installed Marc Chagall and the Bible on the perimeter walls, while Michelle Barnes: The Good Book is hung on the two double-sided diagonal walls in the center. The Chagalls — etchings and lithographs mostly dating from the '50s to the '80s — are magnificent. They were collected by Wayne F. Yakes, an important local enthusiast. The Barnes acrylic paintings, done in the late 1990s, are a revelation. Taking on the same topics as Chagall — Adam and Eve, Joseph and his Brothers, etc. — Barnes infuses these tiny, jewel-like paintings with a whiff of the pre-modern symbolist movement, plus a little dash of swords-and-sandals Hollywood. Through December 20 at the Singer Gallery, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-316-6360, www.maccjcc.org.
Susan Meyer. The provocatively titled solo Plato's Retreat, at Plus Gallery, showcases some recent work by conceptualist Susan Meyer, who teaches art at the University of Denver. What makes the title provocative is that it refers to a heterosexual swingers' club in New York in the early AIDS era, whose existence and closure mirrored the change in America from the free-sex utopia of the '80s to a disease-ridden dystopia. The show's title piece is an installation on a set of risers that looks like a simultaneously ancient and futuristic miniature city. Meyer used digitized laser cutters to partly cut out shaped fragments that she then stacked to form the "city," complete with little acrylic "windows" and actual live plants. Related, at least ideologically, is "Shelter Rock," a stacked acrylic-sheet form in the shape of a rock, with a room complete with tiny people inserted into a notch in the side. Meyer lays out a series of works that anticipate "Shelter Rock," including a video of an actual rock, a drawing of it, and a three-dimensional model created through transmedia. Through November 24 at Plus Gallery, 2501 Larimer Street, 720-394-8484, www.plusgallery.com. Reviewed November 9.
Theodore Waddell. With the increasing interest in modern and contemporary Western art, Theodore Waddell's Abstract Angus, curated by the DAM's Thomas Smith, is perfectly timed. From the entrance to the Gates Family Gallery, visitors are confronted by "Monida Angus," a mural so big you can't see it all until you get inside. Running across four large panels, the painting — which was specially created for this show — depicts cattle grazing in the foreground of a mountain range. Or at least that's what it looks like from across the room, because when you get up close, the cattle and scrub and even the mountains and sky are nothing more than rough and heavy smears of paint. This is true of all the Waddells here; some of them are almost non-objective, with hardly any landscape referents at all. For instance, "Motherwell's Angus," from the DAM's collection, is made up solely of a scruffy, dirty-white color field over which black dashes have been randomly inserted to stand in for the cows on a snow-covered plain. Through December 2 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000, www.denverartmuseum.org. Reviewed June 28.
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