Al Wynne. As many know, the Black Forest home and studio shared for more than sixty years by the late Al Wynne and his widow, Lou Wynne, was utterly destroyed by fire this summer. The conflagration took some 400 works by Al in the form of watercolors and drawings, constituting nearly three-quarters of his output, as well as nearly all of Lou's work as a ceramics artist. Luckily, Al's Denver gallery, Z Art Department, had a number of paintings kept safe from harm's way. It is a selection of these surviving works that makes up Al Wynne, a beautiful if somber tribute to one of the state's greatest abstract artists. There are a handful of his classic abstract-expressionist pieces, along with a group of his hard edged abstractions featuring concentric ovals and straight lines. There are even a couple of sculptures. All the paintings, regardless of style, reveal Al's skill as a colorist, as well as his debt to calligraphy, a serious interest for him and, for much of his life, one of his professions. Though there are only fifteen works included, it's enough material to span his career, and thus to convey his greatness. Through November 2 at Z Art Department, 1136 Speer Boulevard, 303-298-8432, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Catalyst. The beautiful grounds of the Denver Botanic Gardens are the ideal place to mount an outdoor sculpture show, and over the past few years, there has been one such presentation after another. This year, the theme is contemporary sculptors in Colorado. The pieces are picturesquely sited throughout in clearings or along the walkways, but since the place is a labyrinth of trails, make sure to get a map to guide you through. Lisa Eldred, DBG director of exhibitions, ably selected some of the top names in the field, but as she's pointed out, the show is hardly encyclopedic; still, she did attempt to include some of the most famous practitioners in the medium, notably James Surls, Linda Fleming and Robert Mangold. Other Colorado sculpture stars in the show are Emmett Culligan, Kim Dickey, Nancy Lovendahl, Terry Maker, Andy Miller, Patrick Marold, Pard Morrison, Carl Reed and Yoshitomo Saito. The work of Saito, based on twigs cast in bronze, seems perfect in this sylvan setting, and the DBG ought to acquire one of his pieces for its permanent collection. Through January 12 at the Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York Street, 720-865-3200, botanicgardens.org. Reviewed September 19.
Figure to Field. For anyone interested in modern art, this traveling show — which examines a pivotal decade in the development of art in America as seen through the lens of a single artist — is essential viewing. Figure to Field: Mark Rothko in the 1940s
features the decade in which Rothko and his contemporaries developed abstract expressionism out of abstract surrealism. In the background was World War II, one effect of which was that many modern artists from Europe fled the Nazis for New York. Their work was exhibited and they became widely known, sparking American artists like Rothko to embrace abstraction. Viewers can follow the artist's stylistic development from abstracted figures into both dream-based and automatist-surrealist-inspired pieces. These compositions morph into what have been dubbed Rothko's multiforms, which culminate in his classic color-field abstractions. There is also a section devoted to Rothko's mentors and contemporaries. including Clyfford Still and Jackson Pollock. Through September 29 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000, denverartmuseum.org. Reviewed September 12.
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John McEnroe. John McEnroe: Beauty Does, at MCA Denver, is made up of an installation in the atrium that's suspended from the soaring ceiling and extends to the lower-level floor, as well as two galleries' worth of sculptures and photos. The intriguing show was organized by MCA curator Nora Burnett Abrams. The installation, which also has the title "Beauty Does," is about conveying the idea of paint without supporting foundations — that is, paint freed from the canvas. Given the colors, though, which range from buttercup yellow to Cheetos orange, another obvious referent is cheese. The portions of the show upstairs include work consistent with McEnroe's established vocabulary of plastics, such as the resin embedded with ropes and the cluster of suspended blobs. But some of the pieces included are unexpected, and not just those photos. Anchoring each of the two galleries is a semi-funky, quasi-constructivist sculpture made of cut-up and reassembled found materials, left in their found finishes and looking as though they constitute a completely separate current in McEnroe's oeuvre. Through September 29 at MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554, mcadenver.org. Reviewed September 19.
Lines and Grids. This show, organized by Marks Aardsma, who serves not only as curator, but as participating artist as well, is the fourth in a series of exhibits she's put together called "Art of the Real." Aardsma is interested in the nature of painting and has invited eight others who share her interests — namely, in using reduced palettes limited to white, gray and black, and employing stripped-down compositions that exemplify pure abstraction. Though the influence of minimalism is easy to see, some of the artists actually embrace expressionism, which is antithetical to the less-is-more style, marking many pieces here as post-minimal. Aardsma has included a number of Colorado artists: David Sawyer, who is interested in lines; Tonia Bonnell, who uses delicate scribbles; Sophia Dixon Dillo, who lays on white-on-white surfaces; and Scott Holdeman, who orchestrates drawn bars. There are also artists from across the country: Diane McGregor is represented by smudged patterns, Kate Beck by linear pieces, Corey Postiglione by interlocking forms, and Sharon Swidler by grids of blocks.
Through June 1 at Space Gallery, 765 Santa Fe Drive, 720-904-1088, spacegallery.org.