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Joseph Coniff (in parenthesis). This is only the second presentation to open at the Rule Gallery since the untimely death of Robin Rule late last year. It was important to Rule that the gallery continue, so three longtime associates — Valerie Santerli, Rachel Beitz and Hilary Morris — are carrying on her vision. Rule might roll her eyes at the tumble-down character of the entry to the gallery, but she'd surely approve of the exhibition space where the Coniff show is installed. The work is from Coniff's recent "Delineation" series, made up of sublimely elegant post-minimal paintings. Coniff creates hard-edged works in which he stacks three horizontal bars. The bottom is broad and painted; the one in the center is covered in vellum adorned with a delicate graph pattern; and the one on top is a thinner bar of color. Despite the unnatural shades, it's clear that the works refer to landscapes. Also included is an irreverent sculpture made from an upended lamppost stuck in a bucket of concrete, done last year. It provides the perfect counterpoint to the cerebral paintings and works on paper. Through September 6 at Rule Gallery, 3254 Walnut Street, 303-800-6776, Extended through October 5.

Natural Surroundings. Michael Burnett, director of Space Gallery, has a taste for neo-modernism — that post-postmodern style that's been coming on strong for the last decade. You can see it in his neo-modernist building, which opened this past summer (and which, by the way, has become the place to have your cannabis-friendly same-sex wedding). And you can see it in the artists in his stable -- like the group of ten that make up Natural Surroundings, all of whom are creating contemporary versions of modernist abstraction. Some are riffing on abstract expressionism, others on minimalism; still others are doing work that lies somewhere in between. Each artist is given his or her own section, and their work is shown in some depth. Most of them use encaustic, a medium in which pigments are blended with wax, resulting in translucent colors often applied in extremely thick layers. Many of the artists work in Colorado, but others come from across the country. Participants include Patricia Aaron, Haze Diedrich, Jane Guthridge, Howard Hersh, Jeff Juhlin, Stephen Shachtman, Bill Snider, Betsy Stewart, Laura Wait and John Wood. Through September 20 at Space Gallery, 400 Santa Fe Drive, 720-904-1088,

Outside in 303. This summer feature at the Museo de las Amesricas is absolutely spectacular, with each of the included artists being given lots of space to stretch out. Conceived and organized by Museo director Maruca Salazar with help from the Denver Art Museum's Gwen Chanzit, the show looks at a generation of young Latino artists who began their careers as graffiti taggers. The group's mentor is Jack Avila, who is represented by an incredible wrap-around mural and installation in the large back gallery. Also doing standout work is Mario Zoots; known best for his collages, Zoots is also a painter, as evidenced here in his mural. Josiah Lopez has rendered full-figure studies of the people in the neighborhood, done in a traditional realist style on separate sheets of paper spread across the wall. Then there are some funny — and great — neo-pop portraits by Victoriano Rivera that relate well to the abstracted pop paintings by "Kans 89" (Josh Rogers). All of the works reflect the shared heritage of the artists, but none are more clearly Mexican than those by Javier Fidelis Flores and Gabriel Salazar. Through September 24 at the Museo de las Americas, 861 Santa Fe Drive, 303-571-4401, Reviewed July 24.

Tom Wesselmann. Beyond Pop: A Tom Wesselmann Retrospective is the Denver Art Museum's summer blockbuster. Although Wesselmann was part of the initial group of artists who launched pop art in the '60s, his accomplishments are not as well remembered as those of his contemporaries. Maybe it's because his chosen topics — naked women in pinup poses and smokers — are more outré now than they were when he made them. This exhibit begins with his 1950s collages, but by 1961 he had arrived at his first mature phase: his "Great American Nude" series. The influence of Matisse is clear, and though Wesselmann referenced other artists over the years, Matisse was clearly his principal source. This was the beginning of an extremely fertile period for the artist, but he seems to have run out of steam by 1980. He got a second wind in the late '80s, however, creating cut-metal bas-relief sculptures until his death in 2004. Wesselmann's work has not been exhibited much in the past twenty years, making this over-the-top show a rare treat. Through September 14 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000,

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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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