Conversations in Clay. The ceramics exhibit at the Lakewood Cultural Center has been causing a lot of commotion ever since Lakewood City Manager Mike Rock ordered that part of a piece be removed for being "anti-American." The piece that Rock and members of the Lakewood City Council had a problem with is by Gayla Lemke, one of three artists in Conversations in Clay; the others are Caroline Douglas and Marie E.v.B. Gibbons. The objectionable piece was part of Lemke's "Hope Stones," which is made up of ceramic forms in the shape of stones that are impressed with quotations about the futility of war. Among the quotes Air Force veteran Lemke chose was one by political commentator Bill Maher, which some found offensive. In Lakewood, that meant it had to go. The controversy has overshadowed the show, which is pretty nice and includes figures by Douglas and a nature-based installation by Gibbons. Nonetheless, with the removal of the difficult element, the City of Lakewood diminished its center's credibility. Through March 25 at the Lakewood Cultural Center, 470 South Allison Parkway, 303-987-7876. Reviewed March 3.
Every Place and Bound. A group of distinctive-looking post-minimalist paintings make up + Gallery's Every Place, a solo dedicated to Houston artist McKay Otto. He is just the latest Texan to be recruited for a Denver show by gallery director Gilbert Barrera, himself a Houstonite. Otto, a friend of the late minimalist master Agnes Martin, creates simple compositions -- either spatters or stripes -- painted in pale colors that seem to float beneath the active surfaces of his light-colored grounds. He achieves this effect by laying mesh over his already painted surfaces and then putting more paint on top. In the darker back part of +, there's a hot-looking solo focusing on the recent work of Ethan Jantzer, a definite up-and-comer among local experimental photographers. The show has the provocative title Bound, which refers to the tangled twine depicted in Jantzer's enlarged Cibachrome prints, which are based on photograms. In each, the piece of twine -- which looks like a scribbled line -- is set against a brightly colored ground in one of several rich shades. The enlargements are behind Plexiglas sheets, the perfect finishing touch. Both through April 1 at + Gallery, 2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296-0927.
Folds and Odes. The membership of Denver's oldest artist cooperative, Spark Gallery, has had a hard time figuring out how to use its new space, but, happily, the venue has been reformulated for the current duo and looks better than usual. In the west gallery is Folds, a show of ceramic sculptures by Judith Cohn; in the east gallery is Odes, an exhibit of drawings and boxes by Jean Schiff. Cohn made her local reputation in the realm of installation art, and though the pieces in Folds appear to be abstract elements from her installations, they are actually individual sculptures. The pieces are beautifully glazed and arranged in groups according to type: The "Folds" look like rolled up newspapers, and the "Tangles" resemble fettuccine. The elegant expressionism of Cohn's ceramics makes for quite a contrast with Schiff's meticulous if funky drawings and related boxes. Schiff's style is reminiscent of children's-book illustrations -- only partly because characters such as Pinocchio and Dudley Do-Right make guest appearances in them. Both through March 19 at Spark Gallery, 900 Santa Fe Drive, 720-889-2200. Reviewed March 10.
Leaving Aztln. The Center for Visual Art in LoDo is presenting a provocative show, Leaving Aztlán: Rethinking Contemporary Latino and Chicano Art. Kaytie Johnson from the Peeler Art Center at DePauw University put it together with input from, among others, CVA director Kathy Andrews. The show examines new trends being embraced by Latino and Chicano artists -- and by Latinas and Chicanas -- and in the process explores the convoluted relationships between art and ethnicity. Ten years ago this would have been an overtly political show, but now, though politics are still in the mix, there are also many pieces that express cutting-edge aesthetic theories. Artists from across the country were selected -- including Jesse Amado, Connie Arismendi, Javier Carmona, Alex Donis, Diana Guerrero-Mácia, John Hernandez, Benito Huerta, Chuck Ramirez, Juan Ramos and Rubén Ortiz Torres -- but Johnson also chose two local talents, Carlos Frésquez and Maria Michelle Gonzalez. Through April 23 at the Center for Visual Art, 1734 Wazee Street, 303-294-5207.
Siqueiros. The exhibition Sigueiros: Spirit of a Revolutionary at the Museo de las Américas is evidence that the beleaguered institution -- which all but collapsed last year -- is still alive and kicking. The gorgeous exhibit, put together by Alfonso Miranda Marquez of the Museo Soumaya in Mexico City, includes more than a score of works by one of the greatest Mexican artists of all time: David Alfaro Siqueiros. Using paintings, drawings and watercolors, Marquez economically surveys the artist's career from the 1910s to the 1970s. Sigueiros was one of "Los Tres Grandes" of the Mexican mural movement, and like the other two -- Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco -- he created work with one eye on vanguard styles developing in Europe, and the other on left-wing political action at home in Mexico. An interesting aspect of Sigueiros's style is that it had an influence on artists in the United States, and not just the social realists, but the abstract expressionists, as well. Through April 23 at the Museo de las Américas, 861 Santa Fe Drive, 303-571-4401.
Upstarts and Matriarchs. Feminism transformed American society in the '70s, allowing female artists to turn the art world upside-down. Surveying this trend is the topic of Upstarts and Matriarchs: Jewish Women Artists and the Transformation of American Art: 1970-Now. The exhibit was curated by Simon Zalkind, the director of the Singer Gallery of the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture, who has presented a formidable roster of first-rate shows over the years. It's hard to say that he's out-done himself this time, but he has. The scholarly show is installed both in the main multi-part space and in the nearby atrium gallery. The extra room was needed because Zalkind has included pieces by more than a dozen artists, among them major historical figures such as Judy Chicago, Audrey Flack, Nancy Grossman, Joyce Kozloff, Martha Rosler, Miriam Shapiro, Joan Semmel, Nancy Spero, Joan Snyder and Mierle Laderman Ukeles. Through March 27 at the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture, 350 South Dahlia, 303-399-2660. Reviewed February 17.
Will Boys Be Boys? In her recent programming at Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art, director Cydney Payton has really tried to push some buttons. Last fall the topic at hand was drug use; now, for the second half of the current season, it's the life of teenage boys, in Will Boys Be Boys? Questioning Adolescent Masculinity in Contemporary Art. Looking at art about teenage boys could make viewers uncomfortable, especially in the case of those pieces in which kids are acting like grownups by drinking, doing drugs and becoming sexual. That last part is particularly edgy, since it brings in the dark specter of the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. The provocative exhibit, which fills both the main floor and the mezzanine at the MCA, is a traveling show put together by Shamim Momin, an associate curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Momin selected pieces in an array of mediums, including painting, sculpture, installation and video, by such artists as Larry Clark, Collier Schorr, Chloe Piene and many others. Through April 17 at the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, 1275 19th Street, 303-298-7554.