Better Times, et al. Contemporary painter Evan Colbert has been successfully riffing on minimalism, pop art and conceptualism for the last several years -- and he's not about to stop now. Among his most interesting pieces are those in which Colbert creates a color field based on paint chips and then labels it with an evocative word. For this recent body of paintings, displayed in Better Times at the + Gallery, Colbert uses colors and words to evoke political themes, such as the one referencing the Department of Homeland Security's color coding of terrorist threat levels. It's great. Also at + Gallery is Nocturnal Suburbia, in which Patti Hallock takes shots of the suburbs at night. There's an implicit indictment in these views of cheap materials used mundanely, but this socio-cultural narrative is offset by the poetics of the darkness that envelops the scenes. Finally, there's Cremasteric Reflex Corset, a signature piece by Ira Sherman, one of the region's most respected vanguard sculptors. The contraption is a high-tech torture device with the fine detailing of a piece of jewelry. Implicitly, it's intended to be worn by an unlucky man. Through January 7 at + Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296-0927.
Filters of the Twentieth Century. Over the last couple of decades, there's increasingly been a problem with making neat and tidy distinctions between photojournalism and fine-art photography. Art is exactly what's in store for viewers of Filters of the Twentieth Century: Margaret Bourke-White, Carl Mydans on display at Cherry Creek's Gallery M. True, Bourke-White and Mydans were photojournalists, but their works are examples of fine-art photography anyway. Bourke-White did Life magazine's first cover, "Fort Peck Dam," in 1936; an estate print of it is included at Gallery M. The exhibit also has photos Bourke-White took for Erskine Caldwell's 1939 book, You Have Seen Their Faces, which was her personal response to photos of the rural poor taken for the Farm Service Administration. Like Bourke-White, Mydans was one of the first generation of Life photographers, and before that he worked for the FSA. The show could be criticized for being way too crowded, but considering what it's crowded with -- stunning images by Bourke-White and Mydans -- who cares? Through January 31 at Gallery M, 2830 East Third Avenue, 303-331-8400. Reviewed October 14.
Jeff Starr: A Way of Life. For the past twenty years Denver artist Jeff Starr has managed to be relevant to the contemporary art scene, which is no mean feat. Back in the '80s, he established himself as a top contemporary painter with his body of idiosyncratic, surrealist-style paintings. In fact, just last year he was one of the anointed in the Museum of Contemporary Art's biennial, where he was represented by his retro-abstract ceramics. How he went from being a painter to a sculptor is the topic of this exhibit at the Rule Gallery, where Starr's efforts have been seen over the years. The show lays out his development over the last decade, with the oldest pieces in the show dating from the early '90s and the newest having been done within the last few months. The message is that Starr's sculptures come out of his paintings -- sort of. Starr's pieces in any medium are created in a range of styles, but there are always references in them to the art of the past. As an added bonus, conceputal artist David Brady's recent work is on display in the Viewing Room. Through January 8 at the Rule Gallery, 111 Broadway, 303-777-9473.
NOT YOUR TYPE. The Singer Gallery at the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture is presenting NOT YOUR TYPE: Works in Words by Roland Bernier, Rick Griffith and Martin Mendelsberg, an art show about words. Simon Zalkind, Singer's director, organized the exhibit as the visual-art component of the center's annual Leah Cohen Festival of Books and Authors. Zalkind cleverly put graphics -- a widely seen but rarely exhibited art form -- with that old exhibition workhorse: painting. The lone painter in the show, Roland Bernier, has been using words as an aesthetic device for nearly forty years. Bernier's work looks great next to the graphics of Rick Griffith and Martin Mendelsberg, because they also use words to make their art -- but for different reasons. Bernier is one of the modern masters of the area, and Griffith and Mendelsberg are both extremely well known. It's a diverse group of pieces, but the show is somewhat unified because there are all those words everywhere. Through December 30 at the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-399-2660.
PILLish, et al. Cydney Payton, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, has been busy lately. She oversaw the architectural competition to select a designer for the museum's soon-to-be-constructed new building (the winner: David Adjaye), and she's been lining up money to pay for it, which is a full-time job in itself. But somehow she was also able to put together the three shows currently at the MCA. On the main floor is PILLish: Harsh Realities and Gorgeous Destinations, which takes aim at the drug culture, both of the illicit and prescription kind. The exhibit includes a roster of international artists -- among them, Larry Clark, Damien Hirst, Nan Goldin, Takashi Murakami and Fred Tomaselli -- as well as Colorado's own Albert Chong. Closely related in content to PILLish (because it has a medicine chest in it) is Paola Ochoa's True Love, a video installation nestled in a space under the mezzanine. Ochoa was the first artist selected for the MCA's NEW PIC program, which highlights emerging talent. On the mezzanine is Shadows and Fog, a solo by Margaret Neumann, an early exponent of neo-expressionism. All through January 2 at the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, 1275 19th Street, 303-298-7554. Reviewed November 11.
The Quest for Immortality. With the rise of archaeology in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, scientists began excavating Egyptian tombs and discovering a wide array of gorgeous artifacts. This tomb art is what makes the blockbuster currently on display at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science absolutely fabulous. A traveling exhibit about midway through its coast-to-coast tour, The Quest for Immortality was organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in collaboration with Copenhagen's United Exhibits Group and Cairo's Supreme Council of Antiquities. An army of scientists, curators and scholars worked on it, headed up by Betsy M. Bryan, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The heart of the exhibit includes objects found in the tomb of Thutmose III, as well as an astounding digital re-creation of the tomb itself. The show is jammed with visitors, but don't let all the people -- or the steep ticket prices -- dissuade you: This is one show that you've really got to see to believe. Through January 23 at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, 2001 Colorado Boulevard, 303-322-7009. Reviewed October 7.
TIWANAKU. In the Helen Bonfils Stanton Galleries on the first floor of the Denver Art Museum is the unusual show TIWANAKU: Ancestors of the Inca. Tiwanaku was a large city on the shores of Lake Titicaca, in the mountains of Bolivia, that existed from 200 to 1100 A.D. The people who lived there, also called Tiwanaku, were not really ethnically related to the Inca, though the Inca adopted them as their cultural forebears and believed they were gods. Margaret Young-Sánchez, the DAM's pre-Columbian curator, put together the show, which is groundbreaking as a scholarly endeavor. There are nearly a hundred objects, including ritual pieces, ceramics, gold jewelry, pottery and a selection of remarkable textiles. Interestingly, much of the material is not from Tiwanaku, coming instead from surrounding towns. After all, the Inca -- and then the Spanish -- had looted the place centuries earlier, so there's little left. Through January 23 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed November 25.