Becoming van Gogh. Timothy Standring, the Denver Art Museum's curator of painting and sculpture, is the brains behind the very compelling, very interesting and, most of all, very successful Becoming van Gogh, on display now. When we think of van Gogh, we are actually only thinking of the work of the last few years of his life — the late 1880s — but the revelation here is his other work. Especially intriguing are the paintings from his early years in Holland, with more of them on view in this show than you could even find on the Internet. Surely the most famous — and among the most valuable — are the two portraits of the Roulin family from 1888. "Postman Joseph Roulin" and "Portrait of Madame Augustine Roulin and Baby Marcelle" are stunning and worth the price of admission all by themselves. This homegrown blockbuster will only appear in Denver and shouldn't be missed. Advance tickets are required; see website for extended holiday hours. Through January 20 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000, www.denverartmuseum.org. Reviewed November 14.
Colorado Art Survey VIII. Every year, Kirkland Museum director Hugh Grant organizes a show in which new acquisitions are combined with pieces already in the collection to illustrate the art history of the state. Grant lays out the somewhat sequential stylistic categories in roughly chronological order. The date range for this year's version is 1875 (a landscape by Hamilton Hamilton) to 2011 (a combine-painting by Emilio Lobato and a ceramic piece by Jeff Wenzel). In between are some remarkable things, notably a newly acquired 1920s Robert Reid painting of the Broadmoor Hotel as seen from the mountains. Reid, a nationally known impressionist, taught at the Broadmoor Academy at the time. Also notable is a '30s view of the Garden of the Gods by Ward Lockwood, another Broadmoor Academy teacher. This being the Kirkland, a good deal of the show is dedicated to modernism, including surrealism and various types of abstraction, with examples by Al Wynne, Ken Goehring, Mary Chenoweth, Charles Bunnell and others. Through April 21 at the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, 1311 Pearl Street, 303-832-8576, www.kirklandmuseum.org.
Pirate Juried Show. The members of Pirate scored a coup by getting Adam Lerner, director of MCA Denver, as their celebrity juror for an open show. And Lerner really came through by putting together an elegantly presented exhibit in which every piece is interesting and well done — something that is rare among juried outings. In the main space are several standouts, most obviously Nicole Banowetz's untitled inflatable horse made of sewn fabric that's suspended from the ceiling. More subtle but equally strong is the mailbox-cum-installation by Joseph Coniff. A revelation of this show is painter Rebecca Cuming, whose very Anselm Kiefer-y piece, "Bloom," is out of this world. Also incredibly good are Dmitri Obergfell's installations, which mash classicism with conceptualism. Rounding out the show are works by Libby Barbee, Peter Illig, Nathan Japel, Suchitra Mattai, Timothy David Orme, Kelton Osborn, S. Fisher Williams and Jacquelynn Woodley. Through January 13 at Pirate Contemporary Art, 3655 Navajo Street, 303-458-6058, pirateonline.org.
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Spark Gallery Members' Show. As could be expected, an exhibit given over to the many members of the Spark co-op is wide-ranging — if not a free-for-all. And considering how small the spaces there are, it's also really crowded, exacerbating the lack of cohesion. The Spark membership includes a number of well-established artists on the Denver scene, and there are several nice things included. In this spirit, there's Andy Libertone's powder-coated metal sculpture, which represents his signature style and is related to the work he's been doing for many years with great aesthetic success. Also following their individual directions are pieces by other well-known artists including Rob Watt's embroidery, Sue Simon's work on paper, Annalee Schorr's pattern painting, Madeleine Dodge's painting on metal, and Barbara Carpenter's altered photo on aluminum. Other pieces worth checking out include Susan Rubin's photo-based work, Leo Franco's plastic assemblages, the print by Michaele Keyes, the large abstract painting by Kellie Cannon, and Keith Howard's abstract Sandy Hook drawing. Through January 27 at Spark Gallery, 900 Santa Fe Drive, 720-889-2200, sparkgallery.com.