The Five Best Denver-Area Art Shows in 2014

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With scores of galleries, art centers, museums, artist-cooperatives and even ad hoc spaces around town, you'd have to make exhibit viewing a full time job in order to see everything -- and even then, it might be impossible. But there were some shows from 2014 that no one should have missed. I always privilege local art in my reviews, so three of the five I talk about here highlighted the talents of artists who live and work here. The other two feature the work of acknowledged masters. And the focus of these shows ranged from Latino taggers to outdoor sculpture to a career or historical surveys.

Here are the five best Denver-area shows from 2014.

See also: Five Game Changers From the Denver Art and Gallery Scene in 2014

5) Outside in 303 at the Museo de las Americas

This impressive show, presented last summer, filled several of the Museo's galleries. Ably put together by Museo director Maruca Salazar with help from the Denver Art Museum's Gwen Chanzit, it focused on the work of a generation of young Latinos, all of whom started out as graffiti-taggers before developing into fine artists. And, as indicated by the title, all of them came up on the streets of Denver. Salazar and Chanzit looked at dozens of artists before finalizing a roster consisting of Jack Avila -- the mentor of the movement here -- Mario Zoots, Josiah Lopez, Victoriano Rivera, Josh Rogers, Javier Fidelis Flores and Gabriel Salazar. The artists were represented by murals, paintings and works on paper. Arguably, the best thing that the Museo can do is to encourage and stimulate the local scene the way it did with this wonderful show.

Review: Outside in 303 tells a real west side story

4) Open Press: Celebrating 25 Years of Printmaking at the McNichols Building

The McNichols Building is not an ideal place for an art show, despite the generous proportions of the spaces; it has too many windows that eat up the wall space and flood the rooms with too much light. Despite this serious limitation, however, Mark Lunning was able to mount a show that worked well anyway. It was carried by the compelling topic and by Lunning's admirable skill as an exhibition designer. By looking back at his career as a master printer at Open Press, Lunning selected examples by fifty artists who he had worked with over the period. And the revelation of his picks was that apparently nearly every important Denver painter lined up at his door to have him make their prints. This made the show not only an accounting of Open Press, but by extension of the art scene at large in the city over the last quarter century. The show, which ran last spring, was the perfect inaugural event for the Month of Printmaking, or Mo' Prints, which is a biennial event that alternates with the Month of Photography.

Review: Mark Lunning celebrates 25 years of printmaking

3) Unbound: Sculpture in the Field at the Arvada Center

Over the last few years, Collin Parson has been doing a bang-up job of coming up with interesting shows to fill the super-capacious Arvada Center, but his brightest idea so far has been to "build" an addition. This past summer, he smoothly transformed a field south of the building into a full-fledged outdoor sculpture garden. Teaming up with assistant curator Kristen Bueb, and tapping the expertise of Cynthia Madden Leitner, director of Englewood's Museum of Outdoor Art, Parson invited fifteen Colorado sculptors to exhibit works. The result was Unbound: Sculpture in the Field, which is still open. All the selected artists are interested in either abstraction or conceptual art, with Parson bringing in some of the biggest names in the state's sculpture scene. The show includes major works by Vanessa Clarke, Emmett Culligan, John Ferguson, Erick Johnson, Andy Libertone, Nancy Lovendahl, Robert Mangold, Patrick Marold, David Mazza, Andy Miller, Charles Parson, Carl Reed, Joe Riché, Kevin Robb and Bill Vielehr. And not only is the show still up, but the field in the show's title is now a permanent if ad hoc "gallery" at the Arvada Center.

Review: The Arvada Center takes a leap outside with Unbound: Sculpture in the Field

2) 1959: The Albright-Knox Art Gallery Exhibition Recreated at the Clyfford Still Museum

You've really got to hand it to Dean Sobel, director of the Clyfford Still Museum, despite the limitation of having to deal with just a single artist, he has relentlessly mined the archives to come up with a number of interesting takes on this master of abstract expressionism whose work is housed in a museum here in Denver. For 1959: The Albright-Knox Art Gallery Exhibition Recreated, Sobel brought out of storage most of the Still paintings that were included in that important show which Still had curated himself. Back in 1951, at the peak of the abstract expressionist movement, Still famously withdrew from the art world, based on his contempt for galleries and especially museums. He made a return in 1959 with a career survey at the Albright-Knox that was the only in-period exhibit Still participated in personally. Since Still himself selected the pieces, and considering that he was midway through his stylistic development at the time, Sobel realized that valuable insights into how Still thought about his work during this crucial era could be gained by recreating the exhibit. And he had the tools to do it. The show was well-documented by Albright-Knox so Sobel was able to see photos of the original, and with the vast holdings of the Still Museum, he could find most of what was in those photos right in the building. It was an amazing success.

Review: Dean Sobel re-creates 1959 at the Clyfford Still Museum

1) Modern Masters at the Denver Art Museum

I've been looking at art shows in Denver for more than twenty years, and in that time I can't recall any exhibit so chock full of major works by major artists as was Modern Masters: 20th Century Icons from the Albright-Knox Gallery at the Denver Art Museum. With that Albright-Knox connection, you won't be surprised to learn that it was the companion feature to the 1959 show at the Clyfford Still Museum next door and, as with that show, Dean Sobel acted as curator. Through a series of visionary curators -- and the donors who believed in them -- the Albright-Knox in Buffalo built a world-class collection of modernism. The show began with post-impressionism from the late 19th century, and included examples of various subsequent styles from the early 20th, but the crescendo came with the mid-century modern. The abstract-expressionism section, with pieces from the 1940s and '50s, is where some of the greatest and most famous masterpieces of that movement were on view. These included signature paintings by the likes of Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. If there was one art show you should have seen this past year this was it.

Review: Modern Masters at the DAM shines with star power

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