The American Landscape and Carny. Rule Gallery has typically presented single solos since landing in its new space several months ago, but this time, there are two different shows in that long and narrow sales room. The two work well together, though, as both are made up of photographs about America. One exhibit, The American Landscape, highlights dramatic color photos of the natural scenery of the West by Michael Eastman, an internationally famous photographer who lives in St. Louis. Eastman is not exclusively known for his landscapes; he also does interiors and other subjects — including Rodin's sculptures, his photos of which were recently published in a book illustrating a new translation of poet Rainer Maria Rilke's writings about them. The other show, Carny: Americana on the Midway, which is accompanied by a book, is made up of C-prints by Virginia Lee Hunter, a Los Angeles artist. As could be surmised by the title, Hunter's subjects are the denizens of the midway, but she does not take the Diane Arbus-y freak-show approach to her models; instead, she exploits the surrounding beauty of the carnival itself. Through September 1 at Rule Gallery, 227 Broadway, 303-777-9473.
Co-Design. Colorado has an impressive art history filled with groundbreaking photos, stunning ceramics and compelling prints and paintings, but some art forms have long been missing in action, and the first one that comes to mind is design. Maybe it's because so few things were manufactured here, but whatever the case, there is little tradition for either industrial or domestic design here. But Paul Hardt, owner of P Design Gallery, a combination furniture and accessories boutique with an attached exhibition space, thinks that's started to change. Noticing all the cutting-edge design going on in the area, and wanting to highlight local talent after a series of shows that were mostly devoted to international designers, Hardt invited keyboard theorist Jaime Kopke of designklub.blogspot.com to curate a group exhibit of locally conceived chairs, tables and other everyday objects. Pieces by DoubleButter and by INV/ALT design, two Denver-based but internationally known firms, dominate. The work of these established outfits is supplemented with pieces by design students who are having their debut in this exhibit. Through August 25 at P Design Gallery, 2590 Walnut Street, 720-259-2516.
Doris Laughton et al. Some years ago, artist Doris Laughton stumbled onto a formal vocabulary that she labeled "splats" because they were inspired by the shape of water drops as they hit a surface. She has used a series of conventionalized versions of the shape in everything from works on paper to sculpture and video; her most recent examples are on view in Woosh...Kaleidosplats at + Gallery. Though the organic and complicated shape of the prototypical splats may be related to the drips of abstract expressionism, she uses them as a conceptualist would. Laughton is among Denver's noteworthy artists, and that's surely why + director Ivar Zeile is using her show to celebrate the gallery's sixth anniversary in Denver. There's another solo on view titled Andrew Long: Unearthed, featuring lyrical, colorful and pointedly clumsy abstract paintings by an emerging artist from Texas. In these newest pieces, Long explores the idea of digging. In the niche in back is a small sampling of works on paper by newcomer Naomi Cohn, who uses powdered pigments, acrylic and gouache to create all-over abstracts. Through August 18 at + Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296-0927.
Fang Lijun: Heads. China is definitely on the ascendancy internationally. Not only does the teeming economic powerhouse produce all the junk that can be found in a suburban Wal-Mart, but it's also turning out important artists who have taken the contemporary scene in the U.S. and Europe by storm. Adam Lerner, director of the Lab in Belmar, the infant museum and think tank in Lakewood, likes to follow every trend, and so he's chosen the work of Chinese contemporary artist Fang LiJun as this summer's featured attraction. Fang, who is best known as a painter, is represented by a monumental multi-panel painting, but the tour de force is an installation of tiny sculpted heads — 15,000 of them! The simplified heads have been cast in bronze and covered in gold leaf and mounted on thin steel rods. The relatively heavy bronze placed on top of the flexible steel causes the pieces to sway in the air currents produced when visitors walk through. There are also monumental sculptures about the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Through August 26, Laboratory of Art and Ideas in Belmar, 404 South Upham Street, Lakewood, 303-934-1777.
Porn Star Passion Play. True, the paintings in Porn Star Passion Play aren't nearly as lurid as the exhibition's title would imply; nonetheless, painter Peter Illig does put a psychosexual edge on these recent pieces. Illig's style is contemporary representational with a noir spin on the narratives, which is reinforced by both the staging and the internal lighting of his pictures. These recent pieces recall his older work, both in their ambition and their imagery. The artist has a taste for popular culture — the cheesier, the better — but this is hardly the only way his work relates to '60s pop art. Another is his compositions, which are sometimes overtly cut up and reassembled but remain otherwise realistic, thus keeping their subjects recognizable. Especially strong is the mammoth "Plato's Cave," a mural that is three feet high and 36 feet long! There are two levels of action here, but we can only glimpse the lower one through a screen in the upper level that comprises cut-outs in the shape of standing figures arrayed across it — like the pairing of reality and the shadows of it on the walls of Plato's Cave. Through July 29 at Pirate: A Contemporary Art Oasis, 3655 Navajo Street, 303-347-8252.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Denver art and theater scene.