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Big-Lots.This show comprises some very big abstract paintings by Wendi Harford that are strong and artistically ambitious. Harford earned a BFA at the University of Denver in the 1970s, where she studied with the late Beverly Rosen, and there are subtle references to her mentor's influences throughout the show, but they are hard to notice. The group of seven monumental paintings by Harford are not, strictly speaking, a body of work or a series, because they display a range of approaches. On the one pole is the stripped painting, "Endless Summer"; and on the other is "Astoria," which looks like graffiti and recalls Harford's birthplace in Queens, New York. In between are several different styles with two -- "'Sup" and "Bellis Perennis" -- that look like they're an homage to the late Dale Chisman in the way the forms stand out against a smeary and indefinite ground. Through September 5 at Ironton Studios and Gallery, 3636 Chestnut Street, 303-297-8626, Reviewed August 13.

Childsplay. For this show, the floor of Walker Fine Art has been covered with rough-hewn playground equipment made of wood and bronze. And despite the show's title, all of it has been made for, and scaled to, adults, who are meant to interact with the individual pieces. The mostly kinetic sculptures (some are static) are by Colorado artist Kim Ferrer, who's melded schoolyards with Buddhist philosophy: These pieces take up the topic of balance, from physical and psychological perspectives. Standing or sitting on the pieces, viewers aren't supposed to go up and down (though they could), but rather are asked to work with them so that they achieve a kind of equilibrium. In addition to the Ferrer solo, the show includes pieces by Walker's corps of artists, and the walls are covered with paintings, photos and collages that all focus on children, at least broadly. Standouts among these include works by Frank O'Neil, Ben Strawn, Sabin Aell, Bonny Lhotka, Roland Bernier, Jonathan Hils and Eric Corrigan. Through September 4 at Walker Fine Art, 300 West 11th Avenue, #A, 303-355-8955, Reviewed August 13.

Confluence 2: Realism. The William Havu Gallery in the Golden Triangle is featuring realism in its second summer group show, including a range of aesthetic manners from traditional representational imagery to surrealism. The show opens with the work of Jeanette Pasin Sloan, a hyper realist who delights in accurately recording constructed still life scenes. Her signature, which shows off her incredible skill, is capturing patterns reflected in silver vessels. Beyond are fanatically rendered industrial landscapes by Rick Dula that are unexpectedly delicate in both size and detail. The odd works out are Robert Ecker's surrealist compositions that could have actually been in an abstract show even if their compositional elements are representational. More expected in an exhibit with the subtitle "realism" are the lyrical landscapes recalling the art of a century ago by Jeff Aeling and Michael Burrows, and the Laurel Swab paintings of fruit and vegetables that are ensconced as a small solo on the mezzanine. Through September 5 at the William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360,

Damien Hirst. You'd have to be living under a rock not to know that Damien Hirst is a superstar, and that everything he makes is worth millions of dollars. The tight solo at MCA Denver is not the first time that local art audiences have had a chance to see Hirst's creations in person, but it is his first single-artist show anywhere in the American West. Hirst's "Natural History" series of dead animals in cases is surely his most famous type of work. There's an incredible one in the MCA show called "Saint Sebastian: Exquisite Pain," made up of a bullock that's been pierced with arrows. It's simultaneously compelling and repellent. "Saint Sebastian" dominates the Large Works Gallery, but there are three other Hirst pieces, including two very different paintings from his "Butterfly" series, in which actual butterflies are affixed to the paintings, and one of his post-minimal "Medicine Cabinets." It's apparent that Hirst is brilliant, with an eye for beauty, though his mind goes in for ugliness. Through August 30 at MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554, Reviewed October 16.

Denver Artists Guild Founders. The history of the Denver Artists Guild — an early-twentieth-century group —- is little known, but it's been documented in this show. The exhibit was organized by collectors Deborah Wadsworth and Cynthia Jennings, with a design by Steve Savageau. Wadsworth and Jennings identified 52 artists who founded the Denver Artists Guild in the 1920s and then went looking for examples by each of them. They did a good job sleuthing, though they were unable to find pieces by a dozen of them. There was apparently no quality control for members of the guild, as there is with today's co-ops, so it goes without saying that the work varies in accomplishment, but most of it is pretty good. As could be expected, given Denver's setting, many of the artists chose mountain landscapes as their subjects, with some real knockout pieces, notably those by David Spivak, Albert Bancroft, Charles Des Moineaux and Allen Tupper True. Another category that's well represented is regionalism, and there are even a handful of modernist pieces. Through August 29 at the Denver Central Library, 10 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-1111, Reviewed July 2.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia

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