Five Game Changers From the Denver Art and Gallery Scene in 2014

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The Great Recession has lifted in Denver as developers appear to be building something on every square inch of the city. And what with legalized pot, the town's hipness quotient is off the charts, attracting seemingly half the twenty- and thirty-somethings in the country who are dutifully moving into all those new buildings.

The art scene has also begun to recover from the doldrums, and a number of new venues have come on line. In addition, the Mile High building boom has included one new art structure and another on the way. So without further ado, here are my picks for the biggest game changers -- in descending order -- over from the art and gallery scene in 2014. They show that Denver has solidified its position as the regional center for modern and contemporary art in the West.

See also: Review: Crammed Full of Cartier "Ice," the DAM's Brilliant Is the Perfect Winter Show

5. The opening of Point Gallery

Soon after Michael Burnett moved from his spot at 765 Santa Fe Drive to a new facility further down the street (See No. 2), his former gallery assistant, Frank Martinez, partnered with Michael Vacchiano to recast recast what had been called Space Gallery into a new entity dubbed Point Gallery. (To Martinez, a point is the opposite of a space, thus indicating in the gallery's name that the place was under new management.) Though the exhibition rooms that make up Point are exactly as they were at Space -- a handsome multi-part front room with an enormous double-height space behind and to the south of it -- the art is different. Whereas Space's mix relies heavily on abstraction, Point's tilts more toward contemporary realism. Among the artists in Point's stable are Michael J. Dowling, David Menard and Joe Friend, whose solo A Daisy in Winter is on view right now. There's room for improvement in tightening up the schedule but considering how great-looking the space is, that's something that will surely be happening before we know it.

4. The Resurrection of Rule Gallery

From the late 1980s to the first part of the 21st century, Robin Rule was a major art player, first as a partner with Cydney Payton in Payton-Rule Gallery, and then running solo as Rule Modern and Contemporary in a series of addresses downtown. In 2013, hit hard by the recession, she closed the last of her locations, and then succumbed to cancer and died in December. She never quit, though: There was a Clark Richert show she curated at Gildar Gallery that was still running when she passed away. So given that the force of her personality and the strength of her unerring eye were her chief qualifications, the big surprise of 2014 was the reopening of Rule Gallery without her. Now located in Hinterland, the reconstituted Rule is the product of the efforts of three former gallery assistants: Valerie Santerli, serving as director, along with Rachel Beitz and Hilary Morris. The three have presented one credible show after another since opening less than a year ago, with the current effort being Required Reading, an ambitious group show. And in the latest news, Rule will be opening a second location in the world famous art town of Marfa, Texas, tentatively set for this coming spring.

3. The opening of Michael Warren Contemporary With the aim of being a top-tier commercial gallery, Mike McClung and his spouse Warren Campbell took the lease on 760 Santa Fe Drive and opened Michael Warren Contemporary. That particular address has an illustrious history having for many years housed the Sandy Carson Gallery and afterward the likewise distinguished van Straaten Gallery. It sits directly across the street from Point. McClung is acting as gallery director and has sampled an eclectic mix of Colorado artists along with artists from around the country, especially those from California. Stylistically McClung reveals a taste for contemporary abstraction and conceptual art. Truth be told, McClung is still figuring out how to use the complex set of spaces that comprise the gallery, but with each subsequent presentation he dials it in a little further. The current show, closing on New Year's Eve, is Daisy Patton's solo Forgetting is so long. 2. Space erects a new building

If Michael Burnett and Melissa Snow wanted to be taken seriously in the art world, they sure picked the right path: building a custom-designed building for their Space Gallery that looks for all the world like a small museum. The two-story structure rises on the corner of 4th Avenue and Santa Fe Drive. Designed by architect Owen Beard's firm, Solid Design, it is an absolute show stopper. Beard took a prefabricated building kit and re-imagined it as a sleek neo-modernist structure assembling the parts in different ways than intended. The venue includes a large main exhibition space, with a fenced-in outdoor sculpture garden adjacent to it. There's a grand-staircase and at the top, a wrap-around mezzanine gallery that overlooks the main room. The interior has just the right amount of drama to attract events--in fact, you could say that it's just about the best place in town to hold a pot-friendly same-sex wedding -- or even a liquor-friendly regular one. The current exhibit, The 12 Inches of Christmas, features small works by artists in the gallery's stable.

1. The Kirkland Museum unveils plans for a new building

Last January, Hugh Grant announced that the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art had purchased a series of lots on the corner of West 12th Avenue and Bannock Street with the intention of building a new facility to house the museum's extensive collections. The Kirkland is a treasure trove of Colorado art -- the premier and unrivaled repository of our state's art history. And it also has vast holdings in international design and decorative art from the modern period. The new location is a superb one for a museum what with the Hamilton Building of the Denver Art Museum being just a few steps away in one direction, while the Clyfford Still Museum is almost as close in another. An ambitious part of the plan for the new museum is that Kirkland's original studio building will be moved from Capitol Hill and will be re-situated immediately adjacent to the new construction. The building's design is the work of the Seattle firm of Olson Kundig Architects which is known for its refined neo-modernist aesthetic. The latest designs show the building conceived as a series of cubic volumes with various set backs from the street to create spaces for sculpture. One winning feature of this design is the careful handling of the studio which is being allowed to keep its essential presence as an individual structure.

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