Currents. Traditional American Indian art is a well-established genre, and many Native American artists still practice the old forms of weaving, pottery-making, metalwork and basket-making. But there are also contemporary artists among the tribes, and this latter group is the focus of Currents: Native American Forces in Contemporary Art. The groundbreaking exhibit was organized by Cecily Cullen, the Center for Visual Art's assistant director, who chose seven artists – Norman Akers, Nicholas Galanin, Jeffrey Gibson, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, Marie Watt, Will Wilson and Melanie Yazzie — working in a range of mediums and styles. Some, such as Watt, comment on traditional Indian art, while others, notably Wilson, are more clearly socio-political in their aesthetic aims. Most, though, only vaguely and subtly reference their ethnic heritage. This exhibit defies stereotypes and at the same time reinforces the idea that it's possible to have both a Native American identity and be part of the international context of contemporary art. Through November 7 at the Metro State Center for Visual Art, 1734 Wazee Street, 303-294-5207, www.metrostatecva.org.
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 19 at Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788, www.robischongallery.com. Reviewed August 27.
James Dormer & Paul Flippen. It's really amazing how little known most of the artists working in northern Colorado are in Denver. And the two being featured at Translations Gallery in LoDo are excellent cases in point. James Dormer is nationally recognized as a printmaker, with one of his prints having been recently acquired by Connecticut's Center for Contemporary Printmaking; he's also been on the faculty of Colorado State University for nearly forty years. Yet his work is rarely seen here in Denver. Though Dormer's prints are based on natural subjects, they appear to be completely abstract and are examples of classic modernism. The other half of the duet, Paul Flippen, also works with printmaking techniques but combines these methods with painting and drawing. He, too, is on the CSU art faculty. Unlike Dormer, his work is clearly postmodern in style, combining wallpaper-like patterns with images of recognizable objects, including binoculars and flowers. Through September 15 at Translations Gallery, 1743 Wazee Street, 303-629-0713, www.translationsgallery.com. Reviewed September 3.
Jimmy Sellars. These narrative photos from Jimmy Sellars's "Enigmas and Ambiguities" series, done in pigmented inkjet prints on canvas, have a peculiar quality because the artist employs some very strange models to make them: G. I. Joe action figures. The G. I. Joes are posed to illustrate various situations; in the past, they've been called into service not only to make war, but to make love. The idea is simple and it really works, forcing viewers to do double takes. At first glance, the photos seem like real portraits of real people instead of still-life compositions of dolls. For these latest photos, Sellars has chosen to take close-up portraits of the G.I. Joes dominated by their handsome faces. It could be said that they are staring straight into the camera — that is, if they weren't inanimate objects. The photos are closely associated with one another, providing a marvelous consistency within the entire presentation, a circumstance enhanced by Sellars's decision to put everything in white-painted frames. Through September 30 at Sellars Project Space, 4383 Tennyson Street, 1D, 720-475-1182, http://sellarsprojectspace.squarespace.com.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, www.mcadenver.org.