The Armory Group. In a summer art calendar that's uncharacteristically filled with significant exhibitions, The Armory Group: 40 Years has got to be one of the most important of them all. The story begins back in 1966 in Boulder -- specifically, in the fine-arts department at the University of Colorado. The title of the show refers to a former armory the fine-art department used for graduate studios, and it was there that the group coalesced. The artists of the Armory Group went on to do many things, including founding Drop City, the artful commune near Trinidad, and the CrissCross group, which published a nationally distributed art magazine. And there was Edge Gallery in Boulder and Spark Gallery in Denver. The group includes some of the most respected artists to have worked in Colorado, such as Dale Chisman, Clark Richert, John De Andrea, Margaret Neumann and George Woodman, among others. Woodman's pithy essay in the brochure in the must-read. Through August 20 at the Singer Gallery, Mizel Center for Arts and Culture, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-399-2660. Reviewed July 13.
Balanced Dissolution. Chuck Parson, one of the region's top sculptors, is an artist whose work you'd expect to see in a fall slot, but his solo, Balanced Dissolution, is on right now at Artyard. Parson does non-objective metal sculptures with deep roots in conceptual art and constructivism. He's chiefly interested in creating freestanding sculptures with an industrial aesthetic that comes from their heavy-duty materials, such as steel and stone. But he's also been involved with all kinds of new media, including performance, video and installation. In the small indoor space at Artyard, Parson has installed two large sculptures surrounded by his 3-D dimensional drawings, giving the humble little room a swank atmosphere. The main part of the exhibit is outdoors, and while the works are impressive, they've been poorly installed. There's some kind of unnamed spiritual content to most of these large outdoor pieces, since most recall the form of altars. Through July 31 at Artyard, 1251 South Pearl Street, 303-777-3219. Reviewed June 15.
Bernar Venet: Sculpture and Works on Paper. Sitting on the lawn of the Colorado Convention Center is "Indeterminate Line," an enormous rusted-steel sculpture in the form of a spiral doodle. The piece, by Bernar Venet, is one of the most important works of art in the city, even though the French-born New York-based artist's local fame only dates back to its unveiling two years ago. Taking advantage of the rise in the internationally famous artist's Denver stature, Robischon Gallery is presenting Bernar Venet: Sculpture and Works on Paper. Though modest, with only one mid-sized sculpture and a half-dozen small ones, the exhibit is heart-stopping in its elegance. Venet began making serious work in the 1960s, and by the '80s, his steel sculptures, which relate to both expressionism and minimalism, were being built around the world. Since then, Venet's art career has flourished, and the pieces at Robischon provide a good introduction to his recent interests. This gorgeous show is definitely one of the best offerings so far this year. Through July 29 at Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788. Reviewed June15.
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Decades of Influence. This four-part extravaganza is not only the magnum opus for MCA director Cydney Payton's career thus far, but it's also one of the most important shows to be presented in the area in years. Decades of Influence: Colorado 1985 -- Present goes a long way in demonstrating how vast and sophisticated the art scene around here is, especially when you start to list in your mind all the important players who aren't included. The exhibit starts at the MCA with the 1985 to 1995 portion, and continues on at the Center for Visual Art, a co-sponsor of the show, where the artists representing 1996 to 2006 are ensconced. Then there's the Gates Sculpture Triangle, where outdoor creations are displayed, and finally the Carol Keller Project Space, which houses an installation. Through August 27 at Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, 1275 19th Street; Center for Visual Art, 1734 Wazee Street; Gates Sculpture Triangle, 1551 Wewatta Street; and Carol Keller Project Space, 1513 Boulder Street. For information, call 303-298-7554. Reviewed June 22 and 29.
Heaven and Earth. The Museo de las Américas is mostly given over to exhibitions of contemporary art that carry political messages. For Heaven and Earth, however, the institution turned its sights on historic art from Mexico, borrowing from the Jan and Frederick Mayer Collection of Spanish Colonial Art at the Denver Art Museum. In addition to the DAM, the Museo also collaborated with the Agency for Architecture, which designed environments for the pieces to sit in. Mexico was a Spanish colony from 1521 to 1850, thus Spain was the main source for cultural ideals. The Spanish made it their goal to convert the indigenous people to Roman Catholicism, and this show focuses on the religious art that played a role in that. Religious subjects, often commissioned by churches, convents and monasteries, represent the main aesthetic interest for Mexican artists of that time, and, as could be expected, there's no shortage of images of the Virgin, the Crucifixion and the saints. However, the exhibit ultimately reveals that Mexican art is not comparable to Spanish art, despite Spain's key role in its development. Through October 8 at the Museo de las Américas, 861 Santa Fe Drive, 303-571-4401.
Something to Consider. This is a wonderful summer show, filled with fresh-looking contemporary paintings and ceramic sculptures. And it's a knockout despite being called Something to Consider, a title that's so broad as to be meaningless. The post-abstract-expressionist paintings are by Quintín González, who keeps getting better and better. The small, square acrylic-on-panel pieces resemble carnival spin art, but upon closer examination, it's clear they haven't been spun. Instead, Gonzalez begins by covering the panel in a flat coat of paint and then pours on different colors, sometimes one over another, so that he can combine multiple shades. One remarkable feature is the way Gonzalez is able to bring together different colors yet also keep them separate and unblended. The thoroughly non-objective Gonzalez paintings have nothing to with Rebekah Bogard's odd and whimsical three-dimensional works that are also on display. But somehow the glazed earthenware pieces based on imaginary insects work perfectly with them. Through July 29 at Sandy Carson Gallery, 760 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573-8585.
VAVRA Triptych. This is only the second time in its history that the Kirkland Museum has squeezed a show into its jam-packed galleries. In two of the museum's principal rooms, director Hugh Grant installed paintings by renowned Denver painter Frank Vavra, his wife, painter Kathleen Huffman Vavra, and their daughter, Diana Vavra, who made sculptures, prints and mosaics. Because the Kirkland has no specifically dedicated space to present the show, the Vavra works are displayed among the ceramics, glass, furniture, sculptures and paintings by others in the permanent collection. Frank Vavra embraced many styles over his half-century-long career, but two stand out: impressionism during the 1920s, and abstract surrealism in the '40s and '50s. Kathleen Huffman Vavra's work of the '20s and '30s, mostly in the form of regionalist watercolors, is extremely nice, and some were actually shown at the Denver Art Museum in a solo she had there. Finally, there are pieces in various mediums by Diana Vavra dating from the '50s to the '70s. Through August 20 at the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, 1311 Pearl Street, 303-832-8576. Reviewed July 20.