Breaking the Mold. In 2003, Connecticut collector Virginia Vogel Mattern donated some 300 pieces of contemporary American Indian art to the Denver Art Museum. For a special show inaugurating the new Frederic C. Hamilton Building, Native Arts curator Nancy Blomberg selected over 100 works for the impressive Breaking the Mold: The Virginia Vogel Mattern Collection of Contemporary Native American Art, which is installed in the Martin & McCormick Gallery on level two. Mattern began collecting in 1992, when she purchased a miniature pot by Delores Curran in Santa Fe; though she remained interested in miniatures, she also pursued prize-winning pieces from annual American Indian art shows, focused on multiple generations of the Tafoya and Nampayo families and explored through pottery, textiles and paintings the interrelationships of the Navajo, Zuni and San Ildefonso peoples. But Mattern's interest in innovation (the "breaking the mold" of the show's title) is evident in such pieces as Hubert Candelario's coiled clay jar with holes cut into the sides so that it's non-functional, but beautiful. Through August 31, 2007, at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed November 23.
FantÔme Afrique. After a couple of years in preparation, the Laboratory of Art and Ideas at Belmar has opened with FantÔme Afrique, a three-screen film by British artist Isaac Julien. In it, Julien focuses on the cinema culture in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, a center for African film. The title is a play on L'Afrique FantÔme, a book by Michel Leiris, who was a surrealist and an ethnographer. Julien's intention is to show how Western culture has affected Africa, which is the opposite of what Leiris did in his book. The images of dancers, buildings and movies set to a soundtrack are hypnotic and lyrical. Called the Lab for short, this place aims to showcase vanguard art in the suburbs. Director Adam Lerner served as master teacher in the Denver Art Museum's department of modern and contemporary art. The Lab may be found amid McDonald's and Bed, Bath & Beyonds, but Lerner sees as being between McSweeney's and Burning Man. Actually, it's above Zales. Through December 30 at the Lab at Belmar, 404 South Upham Street, 303-742-1520. Reviewed September 14.
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Marilyn Monroe. Legendary movie star Marilyn Monroe was the definition of photogenic, and several photographers built their careers on memorable photos of her. Camera Obscura Gallery is hosting a duet titled Marilyn Monroe: Beginning and End that looks at glamour shots by Andre de Dienes done between 1945, when he hired Monroe as a model, and 1953, when their romantic relationship ended. Many consider de Dienes's photos to be the best images of Marilyn Monroe ever done, which is really saying something. The shots by de Dienes are paired with those by George Barris, whose photos were done in 1962, shortly before the actress's death. Barris was a photojournalist assigned to do a feature on Monroe, and he met her on the set of her last film, the unfinished Something's Got to Give. Barris is believed to have taken the last photos of the star, but he refused to publish them until long after her death. Through December 31 at Camera Obscura Gallery, 1309 Bannock Street, 303-623-4059. Reviewed November 30.
Mile High Steel. This compelling exhibit was organized by Dennis Walla, who sifted through the archives of Otto Roach, a commercial photographer who founded Roach Studios (now Roach Photos Inc.) in the 1930s. "I wanted to do something on industrial photography," says Walla, a co-owner of Gallery Roach. "And as I was going through the archives, I discovered that most of it was from the early '40s, and the photos were of Denver companies doing work for the war effort." Walla selected more than three dozen images related to eleven different metal fabricators, a number of them in what is now River North, for Mile High Steel: Denver's Steel Fabrication Industry during World War II. Roach was hired by these companies to produce pictures that would help them get government contracts. Despite the original intent of the photos, which are created from vintage 8x10 negatives, Roach brought a tremendous sense of artistry to them. Through January 31 at Gallery Roach, 860 Broadway, 303-839-5202. Reviewed November 30.
Susan Goldstein and Judy Anderson. Simon Zalkind, director of the Singer Gallery in the Mizel Center, likes to promote underappreciated artists, and he's doing just that with Susan Goldstein: COMING TO AMERICA: A Retrospective. Goldstein has been producing first-rate work in several different mediums for the better part of a decade. But even though she is one of Denver's most interesting photographers and collagists, just about everything she has displayed has been at the humble Edge Gallery, an artist co-op. Though the Singer show is a retrospective, Goldstein made it impossible to arrange the exhibit chronologically, because she did ten new pieces in each of the series she's created since the '90s. And once she comes up with a strategy, she hardly wavers, with the result that her pieces within a series, regardless of age, are astoundingly consistent conceptually, aesthetically and technically. In the Cooper Gallery is another solo by a Denver artist, Judy Anderson: Going Home, filled with collages and paper constructions inspired by a walk through the Denver Botanic Gardens. Both through December 31 at the Singer Gallery, Mizel Center for Arts and Culture, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-316-6360. Reviewed December 14.
Under the Radar. Among the treasure trove of shows in the area, UNDER THE RADAR: Chinese Contemporary Art at Robischon is clearly one of the best. It was put together by gallery co-director Jennifer Doran; the title is a play on Radar: Selections from the Collection of Vicki & Kent Logan, currently in the Anschutz Gallery at the DAM's Hamilton building. The Logans also loaned Robischon a pair of monumental works -- a sculpture of a pig by Chen Wenling and a triptych devoted to Buddha by Yen Lei -- that add pizzazz to the offering. Catching your eye while you're still outside is "Tang Lady," a fiberglass sculpture of a woman in traditional dress by Yu Fan. Another Fan, "Liu Hulan," is a genuine showstopper: Lying on the ground on a pool of plastic blood is a supine woman whose throat has been cut. (Hulan was a martyr for the Communist revolution.) Other artists include Suo Tan, Liu Hong, Chen Liangjie and Zhang Dhali. Through December 30 at Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788. Reviewed November 16.