Apparition. The brand-new Gallery Severn, which is owned by art collector and retired executive Andy Dodd, aims to be what he has called a "launch pad" for emerging artists. This specialty in fresh faces instantly makes the place interesting. Also interesting is Dodd's decision to feature only one artist at a time so that the gallery can promote individuals, individually. Limiting inventory in this way seems like a risky business move, but who knows? It might just work. For the inaugural exhibition, Apparition: The Act of Appearing, Dodd chose to highlight abstract paintings by Dante Ortiz, a young artist who is little known in Denver. Born in Colorado, Ortiz was educated at the Rhode Island School of Design, earning degrees in landscape architecture and fine arts. This led directly to his founding of Studio Forma, a landscape design firm in Boulder. Last year he started painting again, creating the abstracts of overlapping color fields set off by enthusiastic scribbles that make up this show. These bright Ortiz paintings look pretty good in the tidy space. Through June 30 at Gallery Severn, 3210 Tejon Street, 303-532-9369.

Colorado & the West. David Cook Fine Art in LoDo presents an annual survey of regional art that was done in the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth. Every year, the show turns out to be one of the best around. Then again, the finest material from this period is so wonderful that it would be difficult not to come up with a good exhibit. For this, the fifth year, the gallery acquired a large private collection that had been hidden away right here in Denver. This was supplemented by pieces from the estate of Ethel Magafan, including many of her own creations and some by her twin sister, Jenne. Both were protegées of Boardman Robinson at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center School. That institution and its predecessor, the Broadmoor Academy, were important to the development of art in Colorado, and Cook's has frequently focused on artists associated with these schools. Denver artists are also included, notably Vance Kirkland and William Sanderson. Through June 3 at David Cook Fine Art, 1637 Wazee Street, 303-623-8181.

DELIRIOUS and URBAN ORGANICA. There may be some kind of message behind the juicy-looking resin-on-acrylic panels installed in the front of + Gallery that make up Kate Petley's solo, DELIRIOUS, but it's hard to figure out what that would be. Instead, what's striking is how beautiful they are -- and how decorative. Each of Petley's pieces has been mounted on two chrome brackets that hold them to the walls, allowing light to shine through from behind and give them a luminescent quality. A major strength of these Petley's is the colors, from rich ambers to gorgeous blues. Probably as a result of the physics of pouring the liquid resin, the compositions are predominately organic abstractions, which makes them neo-modern. In the back is Jean Arnold's URBAN ORGANICA made up of abstract paintings that reference representational imagery, lending them a retro-quality. Arnold's subjects are the sights she's recorded of motor trips in the West, and to some extent she's able to convey movement of those adventures. Through May 19 at + Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296-0927. Reviewed May 4.


Capsule reviews

From Nordenskiold to Nusbaum. This impressive photo show, on view in the Western History/Genealogy gallery of the Denver Central Library, has the five-volume title of From Nordenskiold to Nusbaum: Archaeology, Photography and Tourism in the Early Years of Mesa Verde National Park. The show was jointly curated by Thomas Carr, archaeologist at the Colorado Historical Society, and Trina Purcell, curator of photography at the Denver Public Library. Carr and Purcell picked through the extensive collections of both the CHS and the DPL to select the pieces. The Nordenskiold part of the title refers to Gustaf Nordenskiold, a Swedish scientist and photographer who explored Mesa Verde in 1891; the Nusbaum part refers to Jesse Logan Nusbaum, who excavated the ruins and became the superintendent of Mesa Verde National Park in 1921. But there's more to it than photos by Nordenskiold and Nusbaum; pieces by William Henry Jackson, Thomas McKee, George Beam, Laura Gilpin and many others fill out the show. Through May 31 at the Western History/Genealogy gallery, Denver Central Library, 10 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-1821. Reviewed April 20.

KAHN + SELESNICK and Gary Emrich. Collaborators Nicholas Kahn, who was born in New York, and Richard Selesnick, from London, create photo-based works purporting to be historic documents, though the scenes they depict are thoroughly preposterous. Their show begins with the pseudo-exotic "The City of Salt," followed by the pseudo-scientific "The Apollo Prophecies," the pseudo-archaeological "Scotlandfuturebog" and the pseudo-National Geographic "The Circular River". There are elaborate stories laid out by the scenarios depicted in each, but without referring to the explanations by the artists, viewers can only get a vague sense of what they might be. Every one of these series is engaging, elegant and well-done, but the images from "The Apollo Prophecies" are the most incredible because they're so convincing. The subject is the moon's surface as recorded in panoramic photos that are more than six feet in length. In a small space in back, Gary Emrich: Spectacle, pushes photography onto a different path, using it to make sculptures. Both through May 27 at the Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788. Reviewed May 4.

Mel Strawn: Coins & Medals +. Sandra Phillips Gallery has stumbled onto a niche in the art market: featuring the work of well-known Colorado artists from yesteryear. Last month it was Ruth Todd, who is in her nineties; now it's Mel Strawn, who, in his seventies, is quite a bit younger. Strawn moved to Denver in 1969 to succeed Vance Kirkland as the head of the art school at the University of Denver, a post he held until 1984. This show is not a retrospective of the artist's work; some early abstracts and several newer works are included. In addition to abstract-expressionist compositions, there are several paintings that include elements based on the shapes of coins and medals, as indicated in the show's title. Some are large mixed-media constructions that look like the kind of thing a general would wear, except much, much larger. Strawn takes large circular forms and suspends them from huge brackets hung with enormous ribbons. The shape, which refers directly to real commemoratives, adds an overriding pop flavor. Through May 18 at Sandra Phillips Gallery, 744 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573-5969. Reviewed April 27.

Never Leaving Aztln. This exhibit, put together by Museo de las Américas director Patty Ortiz with suggestions from George Rivera, takes on issues relevant to Chicano art versus what's called post-Chicano art. The show is not the first volley in this war of opposing ideals. In 2005, the Center for Visual Art in LoDo mounted Leaving Aztlán, which was meant to highlight how post-Chicano art had superseded Chicano art because of its greater relevance. Never Leaving Aztlán was conceived as an answer to that show. But even though Chicano art plays a part in the Museo presentation, it's post-Chicano artists who carry the day, just like at the CVA. One of the most impressive things is "Carpa Stage," by Carlos Frésquez, Frank Zamora and Los Supersónicos. It's an enormous installation of a full-sized stage modeled on those from Mexican tent shows and includes an array of images based on Mexican, Catholic and American corporate sources. Other standouts are the four paintings by Quintín Gonzalez and the installation of a found crib with a kinetic monster-truck toy inside, by Lewis de Soto. Through May 21 at the Museo de las Américas, 861 Santa Fe Drive, 303-571-4401. Reviewed March 2.

see into liquid. This theme is centered on images of water. Occupying both the main floor and the mezzanine of the Museum of Contemporary Art, the secret to the exhibit's success is that it's a beautiful exhibit filled with beautiful things. There are marvelous drawings and prints, many elegant photos, and the three videos are fabulous -- and that's saying something. Director Cydney Payton came up with the idea for this show when she noticed that artists from all over the world were using water for inspiration. The most famous artist involved in the show is Robert Longo -- who is also the best represented -- but there are also other well-known names, including Catherine Opie and Richard Misrach. Rebecca Di Domenico is the only Colorado artist chosen, with most of the others hailing from either the east or west coast, or from different spots around the world. A show about water in landlocked Denver does have a geographic disconnect, but then again, who isn't familiar with the sea? Through May 28 at the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, 1275 19th Street, 303-298-7554. Reviewed February 23.


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