Artisans & Kings. For its first extravaganza of the season, the Denver Art Museum has unveiled a sprawling blockbuster in the Frederic C. Hamilton Building that focuses on the royal collections from the Louvre. You don't have to know much about art to have heard of the Louvre, so Artisans & Kings is likely to attract the general public as well as the DAM's regular audience. For this exhibit, a team of French curators representing painting, sculpture, drawing, tapestries and decorative art opened up cabinets and storerooms and selected pieces that had been in the private collections of the French nobility, in particular kings Louis XIV, XV and XVI. The paintings include a gorgeous and erotic Titian, picturing a woman in her boudoir; an elegant neo-classical allegorical painting by Poussin; a dark and murky Rembrandt of Saint Matthew; and a signature Velázquez, a portrait of the iconic Infanta Margarita, who appears in many of his paintings. The chance to see these four works alone is more than worth the cost of seeing the exhibit; everything else is simply a luxurious bonus. Through January 6 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue, 720-865-5000. Reviewed October 4.
Clyfford Still Unveiled. A master and pioneer of mid-twentieth-century abstract expressionism, painter Clyfford Still was something of an eccentric in the artist-as-egomaniac stripe. His antisocial behavior led to a situation where 94 percent of his artworks remained together after he died — a staggeringly complete chronicle of his oeuvre that is now owned by the City of Denver. As a planned Clyfford Still Museum won't be completed until 2010, the institution's founding director, Dean Sobel, decided to preview a baker's dozen of Still's creations at the Denver Art Museum. Sobel uses the very small show to lay out most of the artist's career and stylistic development. Still worked his way from regionalism to surrealism, then wound up developing abstract expressionism with one of the greatest abstract paintings imaginable, "1944 N No. 1" — and the rest is art history. Though too small to be considered a blockbuster, this exhibit is nonetheless an extremely important one that shouldn't be missed unless you aren't interested in art at all. Through June 30, 2008, at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed July 26.
Masters in Clay. Among the specialty niches that Sandra Phillips Gallery on Santa Fe Drive has found is Colorado ceramics. For several years now, the gallery has showcased contemporary pieces by some of the best clay artists around, but with this show, Phillips has gone a step further. In addition to young talents, the gallery has added works by some acknowledged masters in the field. Paul Soldner, for example, is represented by pieces loaned by the American Ceramics Museum in California. Soldner was a protegé of Peter Voulkos and, like his mentor, a pioneer in abstract-expressionist ceramics. Soldner, now in his eighties, spent decades working in a studio in Basalt during the summers. Other key Colorado ceramicists featured here include the great Maynard Tischler and the remarkable Martha Daniels. Tischler does a variety of original forms, including sculptural vessels, while Daniels specializes in brightly colored abstracted figures. Filling out the roster are pieces by other noted Colorado artists including Carroll Hansen, Julie McNair, Amy Chavez, Bebe Alexander and Katie Caron. Through October 13 at Sandra Phillips Gallery, 744 Santa Fe Drive, 573-5969. Reviewed August 30.
Paul Ecke and Ryan Anderson. Space Gallery director Michael Burnett has paired interesting abstract solo shows, Paul Ecke and Ryan Anderson, to start the season. Ecke, from California, combines expressionist passages with loose geometry and juxtaposes heavily worked fields separated by vertical or horizontal lines. In some cases, he adds hardware, such as metal rings, along with scrawled numbers and letters. Anderson's work is very idiosyncratic, and though he's been exploring his approach to post-minimalism for two years, the results still seem fresh. His original pierces are also well thought out and meticulously crafted. Anderson worked in ceramics before turning to painting, and it's easy to see the superficial ways in which his paintings relate to ceramics, in particular the crystalline effects of his painted grounds. Other related aspects are harder to see, like the use of a potter's wheel to create roundels of paint that are then transferred to the paintings, similar to the pate-sur-pate technique. Through October 13 at Space Gallery, 765 Santa Fe Drive, 720-904-1088. Reviewed October 4.
Position and Drift. Amy Metier is an abstract artist who carries on regardless of the current taste for conceptual realism. Her latest expressionist compositions are being shown off to great effect in her knockout solo, Position and Drift, at William Havu Gallery. Metier, who is on just about everyone's list of the most important painters in Colorado, has been exhibiting her colorful and decidedly retro takes on classic modernism for more than twenty years. Position and Drift is filled with signature work, much of it monumental in size. Taken together, these pieces are a riot of color, with Metier marshaling any number of strong luxurious shades and piling them on top of, and next to, one another. Viewers may be forgiven for mistaking them for examples of abstract expressionism even though they're technically more akin to neo-impressionism; there are recognizable subjects, typically landscapes, underneath all those streaks and smears, providing the paintings with formal structure and automatically juxtaposing the horizontal with the vertical. Through November 3 at William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360. Reviewed September 20.
Quasi-Symmetries. As might be surmised by its scientific-sounding title, Quasi-Symmetries, the subject of Clark Richert's solo is structure. For more than forty years, Richert has created geometric abstractions based on an interest in what he calls non-decorative patterns illustrating his theoretical postulates about the nature of reality. Say what? Luckily, none of his hard-to-understand ideas get in the way of his paintings, which can be appreciated on aesthetic grounds alone. Richert's elegant creations look absolutely perfect in the swank space at Rule. Though the newer pieces in this exhibit are notably lighter in palette and airier in composition than his earlier classic style, the recent works are clearly an outgrowth of the older examples; he creates all-over visual interest by making sure no one area is more eye-catching than any other. Richert is one of Colorado's most highly regarded and influential artists, and his efforts are invariably worth checking out. Consequently, Quasi-Symmetries is one of the most important shows this season. Through November 3 at Rule Gallery, 227 Broadway, 303-777-9473. Reviewed September 20.
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