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.
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.
Mel Strawn. Salida-based artist Mel Strawn has a long exhibition track record in Colorado, but in recent years he's kept a low profile. That makes Mel Strawn: Retrospective: 1957-2004 a rare chance to catch up on what he's done over his long career. Strawn was educated in California in the 1950s and taught at a variety of colleges before becoming the director of what was then called the School of Art at the University of Denver in 1969; he remained at DU until 1985. Although the Sandra Phillips Gallery is hardly large enough for a real retrospective -- so it might be a stretch to call this one -- there's room enough to briefly sketch out Strawn's development over nearly a half a century. In a variety of paintings, works on paper and digital images, Strawn reveals his interest in bold compositions with emphatic divisions between the forms and colors. The players in the art world change so often that it's hard to keep up, but someone like Strawn is too interesting to be forgotten, and this show is a good way to remember his contributions to the scene. Through March 30 at the Sandra Phillips Gallery, 744 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573-5969.
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.
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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.