Colorado Modernism: 1930-1970. Though some believe that Colorado art doesn't stand up to scrutiny because it's so far behind the times, they're wrong. Take modernist abstraction, for example: Local artists, especially those in Colorado Springs, were working in styles such as cubo-regionalism, surrealism and abstract expressionism as early as artists anywhere else in the country. That makes sense, because so many of the most important artists who worked here studied in places like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. This must-see show, put together by artist and amateur art historian Tracy Felix, is a display of the state's noble abstract tradition. The miniature blockbuster is given over almost entirely to painting, with only one photographer and one sculptor being included. The painting prejudice is understandable, because curator Felix is a painter, and like nearly all painters, he's mainly interested in his own medium. But it's a minor complaint, because the show, chock-full of treasures by the likes of Vance Kirkland, Charles Bunnell, Mary Chenoweth and Al Wynne, is absolutely marvelous. Through Setpember 3 at Foothills Art Center, 809 15th Street, Golden, 303-279-3922.
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.
James Surls, Ligia Bouton and Shark's. The Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art has gotten a jump on the upcoming season with the star attraction James Surls: A Cut Above, which features selected works by the famous sculptor who made his name in Texas in the '80s but has lived in Colorado since 1998. Surls's medium of choice is carved wood, and his signature is leaving the wood in its subtle array of natural colors. After carving, he assembles his sinuously cut forms into unlikely arrangements, often hanging them from the ceiling. Also on tap is Ligia Bouton: Hybrids, a video that explores identity though wardrobe with a decidedly feminist stamp; Bouton, who lives in Santa Fe, juxtaposes images of herself wearing different outfits like a burkha on one side and a tutu on the other. Finally there's Woodcut Prints From Shark's Ink: Out of the Woods, with works on paper by Betty Woodman, Red Grooms, John Buck, Roy De Forest and others, produced by Bud Shark in his famous print shop in nearby Lyons. Through October 14 at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, 1750 13th Street, Boulder, 303-443-2122.
PIECES OF ME. Michael Brohman is a sculptor who works in the traditional medium of bronze and refers to the equally traditional representational style. But it's what he refers to that makes so much of his work outrageous. Brohman is quite adept at setting off gag reflexes through his upsetting sculptures. (His hybrids of babies and chickens come to mind.) For his current solo at Pirate, PIECES OF ME, Brohman cast parts of his body and then assembled them -- or would that be disassembled? -- so that the imagery suggests dismemberment. There's that stomach-in-the-throat feeling that I was talking about. In one life-sized piece, the artist is depicted as having been castrated. Yuck. Brohman has also included a group of his "Reliquary" pieces, casts of his head with creepy things -- human teeth with gold fillings or glass eyes, for example -- inside. These objects were owned by people unknown to him, yet he feels the need to make these caskets for their remains. An opening reception will be held on Friday, September 1, from 6 to 10 p.m. Through September 17, at Pirate: Contemporary Art, 3665 Navajo Street, 303-458-6058.
Sarah Fox, Ryan Anderson, Morgan Barnes. Michael Burnett's Space Gallery is filled with what looks like a group show but is actually a trio of solos, all with self-referential titles. On the south wall is Sarah Fox, on the north Ryan Anderson, and in a separate gallery behind, Morgan Barnes. Fox does retro abstracts that recall the work of the 1950s and '60s in their formal aspects as well as their cool and breezy palette. Across from these are paintings by Anderson, a young artist who does a lot of interesting work. The Andersons at Space include a couple that hark back to the work he's been showing over the past couple of years, in which he pours lacquer onto panels, creating all-over abstractions. Plus, there are some experimental paintings with controlled compositions. Beyond are a handful of pieces by Morgan Barnes, a talented young sculptor who used to live in Colorado but has relocated to California. The pieces, mostly made of steel, are kinetic and have audible features. All have naturalistic patinas with lots of gorgeous brown rust. Through September 9 at Space Gallery, 765 Santa Fe Drive, 720-904-1088. Reviewed August 17.
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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 September 10 at the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, 1311 Pearl Street, 303-832-8576. Reviewed July 20.