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Anna Kaye. The conceptual framework that underlies the drawings and watercolors that make up the handsome if small Apparition: works on paper by Anna Kaye is the effect of forest fires. Toward that end, Kaye captures the forest by employing a high level of drafting that make her drawings seem like photos. "Apparition," the title piece, in graphite and charcoal, shows a scorched bare tree in the foreground with another larger scorched tree appearing like a ghost (or apparition) in the background. It is stunning in terms of its perfectly balanced composition and its flawless execution. These same attributes can be ascribed to the other drawings included. The watercolors are equally striking and are also done with an astounding level of technical prowess. These watercolors, even more than the drawings, look like traditional pictures. And Kaye puts her money where her aesthetic is, since she's pledged 10 percent of her sales revenue to the Colorado State Forest Service. Through October 17 at Sandra Phillips Gallery, 744 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573-5969, Reviewed September 24.

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, Reviewed October 1.

Floyd Tunson and Andrea Modica. William Biety, director of the van Straaten Gallery, has come up with an interesting pairing — Floyd Tunson: Remix and Andrea Modica: Platinum/Palladium Prints. Though the work of each artist is distinct, both are associated with Manitou Springs; Tunson lives there, while Modica, who resides in Philadelphia, used to be a resident. Tunson is a painter and multimedia artist who often tackles the topic of race relations. For Remix, he's inserted racist cartoons into copies of paintings by the likes of Picasso and Matisse. The idea is that these French modernists looked to African art, so he's turning that concept on its head, or, as it turns out, on its side. Modica is a world-class photographer who does in-depth, years-long photo shoots with members of selected families, making her models true collaborators in her pieces. The van Straaten show includes images from her famous series based on people living in Fountain, a farm town in southern Colorado, as well as other works. Through October 17 at the van Straaten Gallery, 760 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573-8585, Reviewed October 1.

Industry. Made up of a series of related wall sculptures that function as a single coherent installation, Industry showcases the work of Jonathan Saiz, an up-and-comer among the city's cutting-edge artists. The show's title is an apt one considering the overall industrial look of the pieces, which resemble fragments of machines. This impression is created both by their elaborate forms and by the color Saiz uses, a shade known as safety yellow, which will be familiar to most because it's used in road signage and on school buses. The shapes, made of assembled boxes constructed from wood, are vaguely constructivist, but Saiz has accented them with found dials and gauges, further stressing the connection to machinery. Each also includes tiny reproductions of old romanticized portraits taken from paintings that date from the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, with the constructivist forms serving as elaborate and oversized frames. Saiz sees the portraits as feminine and the structures as masculine, but that narrative needs to be pointed out to be noticed. Through October 17 at Plus Gallery, 2501 Larimer Street, 303-296-0927, Reviewed October 8.

The Power of Then. Curated by Patty Ortiz, the former director of the Museo de las Américas who now runs the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio, this uneven group show explores the shared Latino experience, as in old-fashioned Chicano art — hence the reference to 'then' in the show's title. But Ortiz adds a wrinkle by zeroing in on post-Chicano works. She selected several Western artists, including two from Colorado: Francisco Zamora and Alex Hernandez. One of the others, Roland Briseño, is essentially given a show within in the show, being represented by many more pieces; unfortunately, as a result, the balance of the exhibit has been thrown off. On the opposite pole is Franco Mondini-Ruiz, who is represented by a handful of tiny sculptures made of found materials. Among the real standouts are David Almaguer, who does neo-pop art using stencils, and Linda Arreola, a conceptualist with a taste for installation. Through January 11 at the Museo de las Américas, 861 Santa Fe Drive, 303-571-4401, Reviewed October 1.

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,

Shape & Spirit. This wonderful selection of antique bamboo articles is the first show in the newly unveiled Walter and Mona Lutz Gallery on the fifth floor of the Denver Art Museum's Ponti building. Walter and Mona Lutz, for whom the gallery is named, began collecting bamboo from throughout Japan, where they lived; in the 1960s, they expanded their collecting to include bamboo pieces from the rest of Asia. The couple collected ahead of the curve, allowing them to find exquisite things in a wide range of categories. There are baskets, of course, which is what most people might think of when the idea of objects made of bamboo comes up, but there are also sculptures and lanterns, fans and brush-pots, trays and tea-ceremony utensils, among a wide range of both decorative and utilitarian objects. For Shape & Spirit, curator Ron Otsuka selected 200 items from the Lutz collection, which have been given to the DAM. And he has intelligently and beautifully installed them in minimalist-designed showcases made especially for the new gallery. Through March 31 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-866-5000,

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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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