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Colorado Art Survey. Over the years, Kirkland Museum director Hugh Grant has relentlessly sought out and acquired new things for the institution's permanent collection. In the current exhibit, Colorado Art Survey, he shows off some of these conquests and brings other things out of storage. There are some rarely seen paintings by the museum's namesake, Vance Kirkland, including unusual images such as the one capturing the nudist colony that was once near Red Rocks; another shows an owl. There are also historic and contemporary pieces by fellow Colorado artists Elisabeth Spalding, James Duard Marshall, Charles Bunnell, Barbara Locketz, Dale Chisman, Ania Gola-Kumor, Amy Metier and Robert Delaney. Finally, there are some remarkable pieces of decorative art, notably an out-of-this-world "Arabesque" chair in outrageous original fabric by Folke Jansson. Grant has also taken some objects in as loans from collectors, the most significant of which is a 1903 Van Briggle lamp, complete with its pierced-metal shade. Through August 22 at the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, 1311 Pearl Street, 303-832-8576,

Exposure. Eric Paddock is the Denver Art Museum's first full-fledged photo curator to head up his own new department. To unveil the permanent gallery for photography in the Ponti tower, he's put together Exposure: Photos From the Vault, highlighting a range of gems from the DAM's collection. Collected in fits and spurts, the museum's photo holdings are very uneven, but as Paddock proves with this show, there are a lot of masterworks in it anyway. As could be expected, considering the impressive Wolf Collection of early Western landscapes, there are quite a few pieces by the pioneers of that field, notably Carleton Watkins. And there are a number of well-known photos by famous modern photographers like Diane Arbus, Ansel Adams and Garry Winogrand. Another important feature of the exhibit is the inclusion of many Colorado photographers, including Kevin O'Connell and Wes Kennedy. This aspect is not unexpected coming from a curator who spent most of his career at the Colorado Historical Society. Through October 31, at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed May 20.

Merge. The large exhibit Merge: 2010 Metro State Alumni Exhibition is a juried effort that acts as a survey of graduates of Metro's art department. The jurors were former chair Barbara Houghton and current chair Greg Watts; the exhibit was laid out by Center for Visual Art director Jennifer Garner and assistant director Cecily Cullen. One of its greatest strengths is photography, with a number of first-rate pieces on view. This has something to do with the fact that both Houghton and Watts are themselves photographers, but it's also because Metro has such a finely developed photo program. Standout pieces include those by Gabriel Christus, J. John Priola, Sean Rozales, Merlin Madrid, Jeffrey Ball and Kathryn Gregonis. Video is photo-related, and there's an impressive example in the work of Luzia Ornelas. Other great works include a grid of paintings by Evan Colbert and the singular painting by Josiah Lopez. Also strong are three-dimensional works by Mary Cay, Mark Friday, Dave Seiler and Jennifer Jeannelle. Through August 28 at the Center for Visual Art, 965 Santa Fe Drive, 303-294-5207, Reviewed July 29.

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 September 19 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-866-5000,

Energy Effects. MCA Denver director Adam Lerner and architect Paul Andersen have put together one of the most important of the many Biennial shows on display now. The exhibit, with the epic title of Energy Effects: Art and Artifacts from the Landscape of Glorious Excess, begins outside the building where Gonzalo Lebrija's sculpture from his "Between Life and Death" series has been installed. The sculpture depicts a car set vertically over a reflecting puddle and the artist has used an actual car and puddle to do it. This is one of the coolest sculptures in town and it's an index to the show because as suggested by its title, the exhibit explores how energy is expended, and not how it's conserved. Once inside you'll notice two interventions in the atrium, one of which, Ciro Najle's "cumulus" hangs from the ceiling, and the other, Orly Genger's "Reg", inappropriately blocks our path. Both pair nature with science, the two poles of the show, with pieces by Viviane Le Courtois, Martha Russo and Janine Gordon referring to nature, while Don Stinson, Willard Wigan and Jim Sanborn, salute science. Through September 13 at MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany Street, 303-298-7554, Reviewed July 15.

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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