Chuck Forsman. The Denver Art Museum's curator of photography and media arts, Eric Paddock, has a special interest in photos of the American West. For Seen in Passing: Photographs by Chuck Forsman, Paddock chose works from two series by Forsman: "Western Rider" and "Walking Magpie." Beginning in the 1970s, Forsman became known nationally for his paintings, which deconstructed the landscape ideal of the great Romantic painters of the nineteenth century, such as Bierstadt. In these works, Forsman pointedly included incursions by humanity in otherwise pristine views; elements like quarries and road cuts are used to violate the natural beauty that surrounds them. Twenty years later, in the 1990s, Forsman realized that in the process of carrying on his career as a painter, he had also become an accomplished photographer, and he began to exhibit his photos. This is where the show at the DAM picks up the story. The photos, like Forsman's paintings, feature views with often disturbing juxtapositions of ugliness and beauty. Through May 25 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000, denverartmuseum.org. Reviewed April 24.
Forsman, Dorfman, Sharpe and Hayeur. The Robischon Gallery is presenting a quartet of solos, with all four featured artists looking at the landscape from a range of contemporary perspectives. In the initial set of spaces at the gallery is Chuck Forsman: Markers, which coincides with the Boulder artist's exhibit at the Denver Art Museum. But at Robischon, although photos are included, it's Forsman's iconic, environmentally informed paintings that dominate. Installed in the next set of rooms is Elena Dorfman: Empire Falling, which features digital montages based on images of abandoned and flooded quarries. Dorfman, who is based in L.A., has built her career on figure photography; this is her first series of landscapes. The next solo, David Sharpe: Waterthread, is the most poetic of the four. Colorado's Sharpe is nationally known for his large-scale pinhole photos, including color prints like the ones in this exhibit. The final show, in the screening room, is Isabelle Hayeur: Flow, a projected video of bucolic scenes that transition into shots of industry, smoke and trains. Through May 10 at Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788, robischongallery.com. Reviewed April 24.
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Matt O'Neill. Denver artist Matt O'Neill is the subject of the most significant exhibit of his career, Matt O'Neill: Thrift Store Sublime, at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. As the title suggests, O'Neill likes to reconcile lowbrow aesthetics with highbrow ideas. Over the years, he has embraced a number of styles, and this show features several stylistic phases arranged in a loose sequence. The artist's best-known series is made up of takes on old yearbook photos that have been pushed through a surrealist sieve. In these paintings, the sitters have had their facial features moved around à la Picasso. Next are representational paintings, which reveal that the artist is tremendously adept at traditional picture-making — even if he does have his tongue in his cheek, as in the giant portrait of a tiny Chihuahua. The most recent paintings are pure abstractions — some of which riff on geometric abstraction, others on abstract expressionism. Finally, there's a wall covered with O'Neill's faux wood-shop doodles done in ink that ape the look of ballpoint etchings. Through July 13 at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 West Dale Street, Colorado Springs, 719-634-5583, csfineartscenter.org.
Modern Masters. The blockbuster formula continues to work at the Denver Art Museum — as is evident in the out-of-this-world Modern Masters: 20th Century Icons From the Albright-Knox Gallery. A traveling show, the Denver version was curated by Dean Sobel, director of the Clyfford Still Museum. (Sobel also did a companion exhibit there that can be seen with the same admission ticket.) The selections begin with the giants of post-impressionism — there's a Gauguin that will stop you in your tracks — and run up to the masters of minimalism and pop art. Truly, the strength of the collection is in abstract expressionism, with some of the greatest masterpieces of that movement on view, including major signature examples by the likes of Gorky, Pollock, Motherwell, Rothko and Still, among others. Visionary collectors and curators at the Albright-Knox were able to assemble such a trove of riches by often buying the pieces when they were still new and thus still affordable. These are some of the most important works of art to have ever been shown in Colorado. Do not miss this show. Through June 8 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000, denverartmuseum.org. Reviewed April 10.