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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,

Halim Alkarim. A drop-dead beautiful show, Halim Alkarim: The Witness Archive fills Robischon with hauntingly beautiful portraits with subtle political content. Alkarim has faced his share of political adversity related to his life in Iraq; his father was a critic of the Saddam Hussein regime and his family suffered for it. Despite this, he's had a lifelong interest in art and now lives permanently in Colorado. Even on close examination, it's not clear that the lambda prints on aluminum the exhibit comprises are even photographs; in many ways, they look more like animation drawings. There are a few reasons for this: Alkarim puts the models in elaborate special-effects makeup, including latex masks; he shoots the models through a fabric scrim, which further alters their appearance; and he retouches the images using computer programs. One of the first things viewers notice is how Alkarim directs the toward the eyes of the models, which relates to the use of the veil in Islamic culture and makes the eyes more important. Through September 12 at Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788, Reviewed August 27.

John Davenport. This solo is dedicated to a photographer and Edge co-op member whose signature is the diptych, in which two separate images are printed together to create a single work. The subtitle of the show — Nothing More Than Something Beautiful — reveals that the included works don't really have anything in common. They survey a range of subjects and display a variety of different looks; most are black and white, though some are brown and white, and others are in vivid color. Some are still-life pairings, some pair figures with still-life scenes, some are put together with nearly twin shots, while others have two disparate images. The most heterogeneous are those that combine newly photographed images with found old ones. One of the most interesting aspects of Davenport's oeuvre is his technique. While photography has been almost completely taken over by digital technology, he uses cameras that take film, and then prints the photos traditionally, with silver and Van Dyke brown. Through September 9 at Edge Gallery, 3658 Navajo Street, 303-477-7173, Reviewed August 27.

Rex Ray. The Promenade Space on the second floor of MCA Denver is both a passageway and an exhibition hall. Given its limited size and unconventional plan — the main wall runs diagonally to the windows opposite it — the Promenade has been used exclusively for single installations. The latest example is an untitled mural by San Francisco artist Rex Ray, who used to live in Colorado. Ray has a national reputation based not just on his fine art, but as a designer of everything from books to coffee mugs. Ray created the mural specifically for this show and specially designed the fabulous wallpaper that surrounds it. The mural is signature Ray, with shapes that rise from the base in the manner of a still-life or landscape. The shapes have been made from cut-outs of painted papers that have been laid against a stunning blue ground, and were inspired by organic forms, or at least abstractions of them, as seen in mid-century modern design. The wallpaper has a spare, all-over pattern on a white ground, complementing the mural without competing with it. Through January 31 at MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554,

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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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