From massive arts institutions to high-end commercial galleries and DIY spaces, Denver boasts an array of venues showcasing first-rate art. Some are worth visiting for the openings alone, some are particularly kid-friendly, and still others are simply must-see spots for visitors to the Mile High City. Before the summer ends, be sure to stop by these fourteen favorite places to see art in town, as highlighted in the Best of Denver 2017.
Best Art Gallery Openings
3004 Larimer Street
The tiny, artist-run Dateline has built a big reputation among both underground- and commercial-art lovers for putting on risky exhibitions that showcase works by a diverse array of Denver artists. The shows themselves provide plenty of food for thought, but gallerist Jeromie Lawrence Dorrance ups the ante with openings stocked with actual food and drink, often thematically tied to the art on display. The party atmosphere and the gallery’s location in the heart of RiNo make those openings a big draw for artists and fans alike, an ideal place to shmooze about booms and busts in Denver’s art world. Don’t forget to look at the exhibit while you’re there!
Best Place to Party While Taking in Art Shows
1485 Delgany Street
The people behind MCA Denver know that to survive as an arts institution, you have to attract a broad array of patrons — and keep them coming back again and again. And so at regular intervals, MCA Denver turns into one of the city’s hottest clubs, luring people in with karaoke nights, House of Style cocktail parties, performances by musical acts and much, much more. The price of admission includes entry into the galleries, and some of the youthful partiers actually wander back to see what’s on display. Right now a trio of shows lets Denver’s twenty-somethings travel back in time to see what twenty-somethings from past generations were up to: New York in the ’60s and ’70s is highlighted in Wall Writers, in the ’70s and ’80s by Basquiat Before Basquiat, and in the ’90s by Ryan McGinley. MCA Denver has made its mark on the city not just with smart exhibits, but with smart marketing...and great parties.
Best Gallery for Established Artists
1740 Wazee Street
Robischon Gallery, a LoDo landmark for decades, is the city’s flagship contemporary gallery — not just because the place approximates the size of a small museum, but also because so many of the artists whose work is shown there also exhibit in actual museums. Figures from art-history books like John Buck, Ann Hamilton, Manuel Neri, Judy Pfaff, Kiki Smith, Bernar Venet and others are represented by the gallery, and if you want a Christo or an Ellsworth Kelly, for example, Robischon can get that for you, too. The gallery has also assembled a roster of some top local talent — Kim Dickey, Ana Maria Hernando, Trine Bumiller, Gary Emrich, Terry Maker, David Sharpe and many, many others — and their works often wind up in museums as well. Another thing that sets Robischon apart is how elegantly and intelligently every exhibition, regardless of the theme or topic, is installed; credit for that goes to Jennifer Doran, who along with husband Jim Robischon selects the first-rate work by first-rate artists that the gallery displays.
Best Gallery for New Artists
530 Santa Fe Drive
Just about everybody in the art world is interested in the next big thing to emerge on the contemporary scene, which is why a number of galleries offer the work of newer — read: younger — artists. A lot of young artists have come through Rule over the years, often freshly minted BFAs, and twenty- and thirty-somethings are still over-represented in the gallery’s stable. Co-directors Valerie Santerli and Rachel Beitz are always scouting local talent: If someone’s about to get hot, Rule will be among the first to get there.
Best Museum for Out-of-Towners
Clyfford Still Museum
1250 Bannock Street
Abstract-expressionist giant Clyfford Still had only the most casual association with Colorado, having briefly acted as a visiting artist at the University of Colorado Boulder. But a huge hunk of his life’s work is right here in Denver, at the Clyfford Still Museum. So how did it wind up here? When he died, Still left a stipulation in his will that any American city that would build a museum to house his pieces exclusively could get his enormously valuable collection of work. In 2004, then-mayor John Hickenlooper worked out an agreement with Still’s widow, Patricia Still, pledging to build such a museum; the next year, she threw her own hoard of her husband’s work into the deal. As a result, the CSM contains 95 percent of the artist’s output. If you want to see Clyfford Still’s work, you need to come to this museum — and people from around the world do. If you have friends from out of town already visiting, take them to see something they won’t find anywhere else on earth.
Best Place to Buy Affordable Art
Spark and CORE Galleries
900 Santa Fe Drive
Since artist cooperatives don’t charge commission on sales, they’re good spots for finding affordable art, because you’re starting with what amounts to a 50 percent break over commercial galleries. But times have gotten tough for this city’s alternative spaces, so the cash-conscious collector has fewer options. That makes Spark and CORE, two co-ops that have long shared an address, real standouts. The artists at Spark, the city’s oldest arts co-op, are more established than those at CORE, so the prices are usually a little higher. But you can still find bargains at both spots, with small- to mid-sized paintings, prints and photos sometimes for sale for as little as $100 each — and rarely is anything over a couple thousand dollars. As you contemplate the price tag, remember: Not only will you be buying a bargain to hang over the sofa, but you’ll be helping out Denver’s beleaguered DIY culture. Now go buy another piece or two.
Best Gallery for Contemporary Art of the Region
William Havu Gallery
1040 Cherokee Street
Bill Havu, whose namesake William Havu Gallery is one of the top art venues in town, focuses on work by artists living in this part of the country — not just Colorado, but also New Mexico, Arizona, California, Texas, Wyoming and even such unexpected places as Nebraska and Kansas. While all of the artists are from the West, the work Havu selects reflects international trends in contemporary art, though often with a distinct cultural tweak reflecting the region. Artists represented by Havu are typically mid-career, with substantial talents, including Amy Metier, Emilio Lobato, Virgil Ortiz, Nancy Lovendahl and Tony Ortega. A lot of people have the idea that art made by people living in this part of the country will be filled with kitsch depictions of cowboys, Indians, horses, buffaloes and coyotes; one visit to William Havu Gallery will dispel that false impression once and for all.
Best Place to See Art From Around the World
Center for Visual Art / MSU Denver
965 Santa Fe Drive
The Center for Visual Art, the mid-sized museum that’s an off-campus division of Metropolitan State University of Denver, often shows work by contemporary artists who live in different parts of the world. There have been exhibits devoted to Chinese artists, to African artists, to artists from the Middle East — as is the case with the spectacular Presence, a spring show that includes the work of three immigrants from that region who now live in Denver: Laleh Mehran, Sami Al Karim and Halim Al Karim. The international focus is key to the exhibition program put together by Cecily Cullen, the CVA’s managing director and curator, but as shown by the local artists in Presence, she’s interested in staying on top of the art of our region, too.
Best Place to See Cutting-Edge Art
David B. Smith Gallery
1543A Wazee Street
To maintain the lively exhibition schedule at his eponymous gallery, David B. Smith travels the country, checking out cutting-edge artists in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, even Boulder. He’s always looking for new talent for his aesthetically tight exhibitions, and his current offering, Range, is proof of that. New Yorker Penelope Umbrico uses iPhone apps to riff on the history of landscape photography as inspired by the work of the masters of that medium. The resulting digital photos infuse the original black-and-white views of the mountains made with film with colors from computer codes, in the form of shooting stripes or bars in toned-up shades, running right through the scenery. This show is part of the Month of Photography; at other times on the exhibition calendar, you might encounter interactive installations, or paintings that rise a foot off their surfaces, or sculptures that light up, or any number of imaginative takes on contemporary conceptual art.
Best Place to Catch a Blockbuster
Denver Art Museum
100 West 14th Avenue Parkway
The Denver Art Museum has mastered the art of hosting a blockbuster. The secret to the DAM’s success is the wide variety of offerings it presents, as well as the relentless frequency with which it presents them. Some of these major efforts are dead serious, like the groundbreaking Mi Tierra, which looks at the Mexican-American experience in the age of Trump via conceptual art; others are mostly fun, such as Star Wars and the Power of Costume, a major attendance hit. The addition of the DAM’s Hamilton Building just over a decade ago was designed to allow the possibility of regularly presenting temporary exhibitions with several running at the same time — and the building has beautifully fulfilled that aim. These blockbuster shows really bring in the crowds and kick up the receipts — a goal for any cultural institution these days.
Best Incubator for Emerging Artists
2350 Arapahoe Street
With an unusual setup that combines exhibition spaces with fully subsidized artist studios, RedLine has upended the local art world during its brief existence, discovering scores of noteworthy emerging artists through its residency program. The nonprofit space launched by artist and mega-wealthy donor Laura Merage selects fifteen to eighteen artists to work alone in a series of modern studios, and also to work together as a community. The studio doors are always left open, allowing visitors to RedLine’s always compelling exhibits to catch sight of the artist-residents at work on their pieces; if the artist isn’t there, viewers can still see what they’re working on. In addition to the upstarts, RedLine selects three mid-career artists to provide guidance, and they receive free studios, too. With so many local artists, especially young ones, priced out of the studio market by Denver’s soaring rents, having free space to work downtown is a real gift. Too bad there aren’t more RedLines around town; Denver could use a couple dozen immediately.
Best Place to See Photographs (and Learn How to Take Them)
Colorado Photographic Arts Center
1070 Bannock Street
Denver’s exhibition venues are currently swamped with photo shows inspired by the biennial Month of Photography. Otherwise, art shows devoted to photography can be hard to find in Denver. That’s why the Colorado Photographic Arts Center is something to celebrate: It focuses on fine-art photography all year long. Founded in 1963 by Denver photographers who felt that their medium didn’t get enough respect as an art form, CPAC has always fought that perception. Although the group had its ups and downs over the years and moved around a lot, this past year it landed in an ideal location on Bannock Street, only a couple of blocks from where it all began more than fifty years ago. At the new space, executive director Samantha Johnston puts together a crowded schedule of shows, along with classes, workshops and lectures.
Best Art Gallery Where Kids Are Treated Like People
Michael Warren Contemporary
760 Santa Fe Drive
Take a tour through Denver’s art galleries with a little one and you’ll realize just how not-child-friendly the commercial art world can be. And we’re not talking content, either. While most gallery staffers will gingerly thank a parent for teaching the next generation how to be art consumers, they seem afraid (somewhat rightly) that the children will destroy the place. But at Michael Warren Contemporary, owner Michael Warren not only happily greets children, he lets them roam the gallery and occasionally offers age-appropriate instruction on how to look at a painting or understand an artist’s intentions. He appears genuinely excited that kids are in his space, and while many of his peers talk a good game about cultivating the next generation of art connoisseurs, he’s really doing it — and making the process thoroughly enjoyable for both parents and children.
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Best New Alternative Gallery
4345 West 41st Avenue
Serving as headquarters for the Birdseed Collective, Westword MasterMind Anthony Garcia Sr.’s nonprofit arts and community-building organization, Alto is a space with heart, bringing known and unknown artists to the forefront with imaginative and adventurous exhibits, much in the way more established yet under-the-radar galleries like Dateline and Leon do. Since opening Alto a little over a year ago in the Tennyson Street Cultural District, curators Garcia and Raymundo Muñoz of 1/1 Magazine have been bringing in national street artists (including Miami’s Luis Valle) as well as showcasing local talent; they’ve allowed Orchid Z3ro to envelop the space in video projections, along with other innovative shows. Alto means “high” in Spanish, which is appropriate for a gallery that’s clearly going places.
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