Even in the crowded field of nearly one hundred ceramics shows presented this past spring in association with the National Council for Education in the Ceramic Arts conference, Scott Chamberlin Twelve Years stood out. The show was organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver's interim director Mark Sink and artist and museum boardmember Dale Chisman, with the pieces selected by Chamberlin himself. Along with a few drawings, Chamberlin's sculptures were presented on the main floor and on the mezzanine. The two-story spaces at the front of the museum featured Chamberlin's monumental multi-part floor sculptures from a decade ago -- a period that was clearly a watershed in his career. These large sculptures looked gorgeous in the then newly reconfigured MoCAD. In the galleries below and on the mezzanine were the anthropomorphic and organic bas-reliefs Chamberlin's been doing in the last ten years. They have a quality that shifts quickly from charming to unnerving and back again.

Susan Sagara, an assistant curator at the Arvada Center, crammed a couple of the lower-level galleries with more than a hundred pots for Time in Tandem: James and Nan McKinnell Retrospective. The McKinnells, now retired, were globe-trotting beatniks from the 1940s to the '60s. They landed in Boulder and Denver a few times before finally settling outside of Fort Collins three decades ago. The show included their student work and the work that later made them famous locally and nationally. A real revelation of the show was how distinct each one's work was from that of the other: James follows the Japanese-inspired tradition, the main current in contemporary ceramics, while Nan's pieces look like handmade versions of industrial design. Through the great volume of worthwhile pieces it presented, the Arvada show revealed that the McKinnells are among the best potters to have ever worked in Colorado.
Susan Sagara, an assistant curator at the Arvada Center, crammed a couple of the lower-level galleries with more than a hundred pots for Time in Tandem: James and Nan McKinnell Retrospective. The McKinnells, now retired, were globe-trotting beatniks from the 1940s to the '60s. They landed in Boulder and Denver a few times before finally settling outside of Fort Collins three decades ago. The show included their student work and the work that later made them famous locally and nationally. A real revelation of the show was how distinct each one's work was from that of the other: James follows the Japanese-inspired tradition, the main current in contemporary ceramics, while Nan's pieces look like handmade versions of industrial design. Through the great volume of worthwhile pieces it presented, the Arvada show revealed that the McKinnells are among the best potters to have ever worked in Colorado.

Best group ceramics show -- historical division

Colorado Kilns

Colorado Kilns was a rare historical look at the proud traditions in Colorado ceramics going back to the early 1900s. Though it was fairly small and inconspicuously sited in the back of the cavernous basement of the Colorado History Museum, the show covered a lot of historic and artistic ground. There was no shortage of masterpieces among the selections, which ranged from Art Nouveau vases to abstract sculptures; the best things were the figural vessels by Artus Van Briggle from the turn of the last century, the William Long vase, the pieces from the '40s and '50s by Irene Musick and Tabor Utley and an out-of-this world Paul Soldner sculpture done just last year. The show was put together by Moya Hansen, CHM curator of fine and decorative art, with considerable help from ceramicist, professor and arts advocate Rodger Lang. One of the best things about Colorado Kilns was the first-rate exhibition design, with theatrical flourishes, especially in the color choices; all of it was orchestrated by David Newell, the CHM's newish exhibition designer.

Best group ceramics show -- historical division

Colorado Kilns

Colorado Kilns was a rare historical look at the proud traditions in Colorado ceramics going back to the early 1900s. Though it was fairly small and inconspicuously sited in the back of the cavernous basement of the Colorado History Museum, the show covered a lot of historic and artistic ground. There was no shortage of masterpieces among the selections, which ranged from Art Nouveau vases to abstract sculptures; the best things were the figural vessels by Artus Van Briggle from the turn of the last century, the William Long vase, the pieces from the '40s and '50s by Irene Musick and Tabor Utley and an out-of-this world Paul Soldner sculpture done just last year. The show was put together by Moya Hansen, CHM curator of fine and decorative art, with considerable help from ceramicist, professor and arts advocate Rodger Lang. One of the best things about Colorado Kilns was the first-rate exhibition design, with theatrical flourishes, especially in the color choices; all of it was orchestrated by David Newell, the CHM's newish exhibition designer.

Best group ceramics show -- contemporary division

High Degrees

Sally Perisho, director of the Metro State Center for the Visual Arts, has presented group shows devoted to ceramics periodically over the last decade. This past spring, Perisho organized High Degrees, an exhibit featuring the work of many distinguished ceramics teachers at Colorado colleges and universities, including several world-famous ceramicists such as Maynard Tishler, Richard DeVore and the late Rodger Lang. It was no mean feat to get High Degrees to stand out among the nearly one hundred ceramic shows that were inspired by the NCECA conference, but the secret to Perisho's success was that she had the foresight to snag several of the best ceramic artists in the state before anyone else did.

Best group ceramics show -- contemporary division

High Degrees

Sally Perisho, director of the Metro State Center for the Visual Arts, has presented group shows devoted to ceramics periodically over the last decade. This past spring, Perisho organized High Degrees, an exhibit featuring the work of many distinguished ceramics teachers at Colorado colleges and universities, including several world-famous ceramicists such as Maynard Tishler, Richard DeVore and the late Rodger Lang. It was no mean feat to get High Degrees to stand out among the nearly one hundred ceramic shows that were inspired by the NCECA conference, but the secret to Perisho's success was that she had the foresight to snag several of the best ceramic artists in the state before anyone else did.

Best curatorial gesture linking Colorado with the outside world

Ron Otsuka's Takashi Nakazato

In recent years, the Denver Art Museum has been under the gun to present more Colorado art. Now, honestly, no one -- not even the DAM's shrillest critics -- would expect Ron Otsuka, the accomplished curator of Oriental art, to feel the need to respond. Oriental art is associated with the Far East, whereas Colorado is Out West. But Otsuka's something of a treasure, with crackerjack creativity tied to a seasoned connoisseur's eye, and he actually accomplished the seemingly impossible -- and made it look easy. He organized an Oriental show about Colorado. The gorgeous Takashi Nakazato exhibit, still open on the fifth floor of the DAM, features the ceramic art of that famous Japanese potter, all of it made in Snowmass Village's Anderson Ranch Arts Center, where Nakazato has been a visiting artist once a year for nearly a decade. Otsuka's deft exhibit was an East-meets-West stroke of genius.

Best curatorial gesture linking Colorado with the outside world

Ron Otsuka's Takashi Nakazato

In recent years, the Denver Art Museum has been under the gun to present more Colorado art. Now, honestly, no one -- not even the DAM's shrillest critics -- would expect Ron Otsuka, the accomplished curator of Oriental art, to feel the need to respond. Oriental art is associated with the Far East, whereas Colorado is Out West. But Otsuka's something of a treasure, with crackerjack creativity tied to a seasoned connoisseur's eye, and he actually accomplished the seemingly impossible -- and made it look easy. He organized an Oriental show about Colorado. The gorgeous Takashi Nakazato exhibit, still open on the fifth floor of the DAM, features the ceramic art of that famous Japanese potter, all of it made in Snowmass Village's Anderson Ranch Arts Center, where Nakazato has been a visiting artist once a year for nearly a decade. Otsuka's deft exhibit was an East-meets-West stroke of genius.
In her self-titled exhibit this past winter, Boulder artist Gail Wagner turned the front room at Edge Gallery into a world of her own. The mostly wall-hung installation pieces were made of woven fibers that had been stiffened with paint, suggesting undersea plants and animals -- but only vaguely. One of Wagner's real strengths is as a colorist, brilliantly orchestrating contrasting shades such as a mossy green used with a burnt orange. Also adding visual interest were the novelty plastic fruits and vegetables that she attached to some of her sculptures. Her work is carefully made, with interesting forms and enticing colors and handsome installation and lighting. Come to think of it, that's not so easy.

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