1959. Dean Sobel, director of the Clyfford Still Museum, is the host curator for Modern Masters at the Denver Art Museum, and he's done a companion exhibit at his own stamping grounds called 1959: The Albright-Knox Art Gallery Exhibition Recreated. (Special tickets allow visitors to see both.) The backstory for the CSM exhibit is that the Still show at the Albright-Knox in 1959 marked the first exhibit of the artist's work after he famously withdrew from the art world in 1951. Sobel is relentlessly trying to keep things interesting at the CSM, and this show definitely does that. Still had nothing but contempt for most museums, but he had a soft spot for the Albright-Knox. Still curated that show himself, and it's interesting to note that he included not only his then-recent work but also pieces that were twenty years old at the time, thus providing viewers with the chance to understand how he viewed his own trajectory from abstract surrealism to abstract expressionism. The show also has lots of documentary material, including photos of the original show and a recording of Still reading the catalogue essay he wrote. Through June 15 at the Clyfford Still Museum, 1250 Bannock Street, 720-354-4880, clyffordstillmuseum.org. Reviewed May 8..
Amy Metier. The William Havu Gallery is currently showing Amy Metier: Preconceived Notions, a marvelous solo that's filled with modernist-derived abstractions. The show — Metier's first in-town solo in two years — fills the gallery's entire main level, not only with her signature paintings, but also with prints featuring experimental compositions that are decidedly unlike those in the paintings; there is also a group of distinctive little drawings/collages, which are thoroughly unexpected. The works on paper — the prints and the drawings/collages — may indicate a new direction for Metier, as they seem much more non-objective than the paintings; those are fairly classic Metiers, with references to landscapes or still-life scenes. The prints — linocuts and monotypes — are completely different, with a mostly hard-edged approach to the forms. Also indicating a new direction are the extremely small mixed-media works, in which loose grids have been used to organize the compositions. Through June 7 at the William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360, williamhavugallery.com. Reviewed May 15.
Frank Sampson. Throughout his long career, Frank Sampson — who moved to Boulder in 1960 to teach painting at the University of Colorado — has always swum upstream, stylistically speaking. Though the local contemporary scene, like that of the art world in general, was embracing abstraction and conceptual art during those years, Sampson tenaciously held on to to his idiosyncratic approach to figural compositions. His style is informed by a storybook or magic-realist sensibility. Now in his '80s, Sampson is still at work in his studio, as he proves in Frank Sampson: New Paintings, now at Sandra Phillips Gallery. The signature pieces here start with the muddy ochre-toned, old-master-ish environments that he likes to conjure up; he then inserts oddball elements like anthropomorphized animals, jesters or other unexpected characters, another of his favorite pursuits. These details may be read as either whimsical or ominous, depending on the overall character of the particular painting in which they appear. Through June 7 at Sandra Phillips Gallery, 420 West 12th Avenue, 303-573-5969, thesandraphillipsgallery.
Introductions. There's a whole new crop of galleries coming online around town, and one of the latest to open is Michael Warren Contemporary, which is filling a storied space in the Denver art world. A couple of years ago, it was the location of the van Straaten Gallery and, before that, the Sandy Carson Gallery. Though Michael Warren sounds like one person, the name actually refers to two: artist Michael McClung and his partner, Warren Campbell. The two are widely traveled and have long been habitués of galleries from coast to coast (as well as here in the Mile High City), where they've encountered and signed up many artists. Work by those artists makes up the gallery's debut show, Introductions. There are some prominent locals thrown into the mix, including Yoshitomo Saito, Heidi Jung, Quintin Gonzalez, Margaret Neumann and Collin Parson. McClung and Campbell have broad tastes, as proved by the wild diversity of the selections on view. Through June 14 at Michael Warren Contemporary, 760 Santa Fe Drive, 303-667-2447, michaelwarrencontemporary.com.
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 inks that ape the look of ballpoint drawings. Through July 13 at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 West Dale Street, Colorado Springs, 719-634-5583, csfineartscenter.org. Reviewed May 22.
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