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 one of the special shows inaugurating the new Frederic C. Hamilton Building, Native Arts curator Nancy Blomberg has selected over a hundred 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 was also interested in innovation -- the "breaking the mold" of the show's title -- with 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 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed November 23.
(New) Disasters of War. The title of this exhibition organized by Simon Zalkind refers to etchings done in the early nineteenth century by Goya titled "Desastres de la Guerra," or "Disasters of War." Goya depicted the tragedies associated with the occupation of Spain by Napoleon's French troops; Zalkind invited artists to create work in response to these etchings and sent each a copy of Goya's "Disasters" to use as a reference for their own work -- and with a handful of exceptions, they did. The resulting pieces fall into various categories, though everything is essentially representational. Contemporary realism predominates, and some of the great painters working in that style here are featured, including John Hull, Jerry Kunkel and Margaretta Gilboy. Also intriguing are figural abstractions by Bill Stockman, Steve Altman and Margaret Neumann, while Enrique Chagoya and Eric Zimmer make pieces that look like comics. Some of the best things are the photos, notably those by Edie Winograde and Jimmy Sellars. Using Goya to inspire new anti-war pieces is a timely topic, given the ongoing events in Iraq and Afghanistan. Through April 6 at the Singer Gallery, Mizel Center, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-316-6360. Reviewed February 22.
Japanese Art. The spectacular exhibit Japanese Art From the Colorado Collection of Kimiko and John Powers is installed in the Gallagher Family Gallery of the Denver Art Museum's new Hamilton Building. It was put together by Ron Otsuka, the esteemed curator of Asian art who has built an important collection during his thirty-plus years at the institution. Decades ago, Otsuka established a friendship with the Powerses, which is why they put their collection of more than 300 Japanese masterworks on long-term loan with the DAM. It's from this hoard that Otsuka chose the more than 100 objects he included in Japanese Art. As collectors, the Powerses were old-fashioned connoisseurs who chose things based on their innate fineness. "They were certainly very selective," says Otsuka in something of an understatement, considering the high quality of these pieces. The Powerses, who are also known for their stunning modern-art collection, sought out Japanese works of art that anticipate modernism despite that fact that they are hundreds of years old. Through September 9 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed January 25.
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Fade, Denver. The MCA's only attraction in its Temporary Contemporary location is a single piece by a single artist. The work, which is extremely beautiful and visually luxurious, is Fade, Denver, by Austrian-born and New York-based artist Erwin Redl. As indicated by the title, the creation is part of Redl's "Fade" series, which he started in 2004 by creating computer-activated LED installations with the lights hanging in strips to define specific spaces. At the MCA, thousands of red lights enclose a circle like strings of beads from the ceiling. The lights dim and brighten according to a pre-set computer program. The red color in the dark room produces some unusual optical effects, such as making the lights appear to flash. Eventually we become accustomed to the darkness and can make out the room beyond the nearly continuous wall of lights. Whatever else can be said about this super-modest MCA, the Redl is a stunning visual experience. Through March 11 at the MCA Temporary Contemporary, 1840 15th Street, 303-298-7554. Reviewed February 15.
RADAR. With its outlandish appearance, the Denver Art Museum's new Frederic C. Hamilton Building has overshadowed what's on display inside. There are a few exceptions to this, and first among them is RADAR: Selections From the Collection of Vicki & Kent Logan, installed in the Anschutz Gallery on the second level. Put together by Dianne Vanderlip, the outgoing curator of the Modern and Contemporary Art department, RADAR includes sections on the cutting edge in Asia, Europe and America. Many of the works were donated by the Logans, who live in Vail and are among the most important collectors of contemporary art in the country -- and, in recent years, among the DAM's most significant donors, having given as gifts over 200 works of art and promised hundreds more. Some of the biggest names in international art are in the show, among them Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara, Zhang Huan, Damien Hirst, Jenny Saville, Michel Majerus, Neo Rauch, Carroll Dunham, Kiki Smith, George Condo and Fred Tomaselli, all represented by major works. An absolute must-see. Through July 15 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed December 28.
Weekend in So Show. Making a striking aesthetic statement is not of paramount importance to Liam Gillick in Weekend in So Show, now at the still-nascent Laboratory for Art and Ideas at Belmar (aka the Lab). Gillick is more interested in telling some kind of story about politics, society and culture, and he uses language along with visual elements to do it. Gillick emerged in the 1990s as part of a generation of artists showing in London dubbed the "YBAs," which stands for Young British Artists. Lab director Adam Lerner invited Gillick to come to Belmar as a visiting artist. While in residence there, he worked with around a dozen students from the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, which is also in Lakewood. Despite this seeming collaboration, the resulting piece is signature Gillick, right down to the miles of wall text and the elegantly simple three-dimensional elements that recall the work of Donald Judd. Gillick used a documentary made by agitprop collective the Medvedkine Group about a strike in France as the starting point for his intriguing installation about rising expectations. Through April 1 at the Lab at Belmar, 404 South Upham Street, 303-934-1777. Reviewed February 15.
108 Blue Cranes. This exhibit, which showcases the efforts of Yoshitomo Saito, a Japanese-American artist who lives in Colorado, is unbelievably ambitious, with even more pieces than are referred to in the title. Despite this quantity, every single piece has been exquisitely crafted. The expertly executed hanging adds to the show's appeal, and the entire gallery exudes an air of harmony, elegance and sophistication. The show could be read as a retrospective, as there are examples of Saito's work that cover the past twenty years. The earliest pieces are a group of sculptures from his "Box" series, followed by pieces from his "Pillow" series. In 2000, Saito made the first of his flat pieces, breaking away from his interest in three-dimensionality. The oldest of these are casts of corrugated cardboard done in bronze. The "Imagiro" series is the conceptual opposite of origami -- as is the title itself. For these sculptures, Saito took folded cardboard and flattened it before casting it in bronze. His most recent works, including the title piece, "108 Blue Cranes," are bronzes of canvases that actually look like paintings. Through March 17 at Rule Gallery, 227 Broadway, 303-777-9473. Reviewed March 1.