Film is an art form, one that Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art recognizes with Reel Love. Curated by Denver Art Museum film curator Tom Delapa, the current series traces the history of avant-garde filmmaking in this country.

Best Big Museum Exhibit (Since March 2001)

Alice Neel

The reputation of late New York artist Alice Neel has been on the rise for decades, and her work became especially important to expressionists and to women artists beginning in the 1970s. It was then that Dianne Vanderlip, living in Philadelphia, organized the first-ever retrospective of Neel's career. In so doing, Vanderlip found herself on the ground floor of the discovery -- actually the rediscovery -- of Neel. Now, almost thirty years later, it seems appropriate that Vanderlip, the Denver Art Museum's curator of modern and contemporary art, would snag Alice Neel, the latest retrospective on the artist. Like that first show, this one came out of Philadelphia, and it packed in the crowds when it came to Denver this past fall and winter. Much to her credit, Vanderlip presented Neel's triumphs in a coherent, chronological way, something that's rarely done anymore.
Letters of the alphabet -- painted ones, wooden ones, mirrored ones -- made up a total environment for Between the Lines: Word Works by Roland Bernier at the Denver Art Museum. They climbed the walls and were stacked on pedestals covering the floor. Some were arranged into short words, though the meanings of the words were irrelevant, since Bernier's point wasn't to tell stories, but to create something purely aesthetic. And although it's not easy to use words without bringing in their meanings, Bernier did it. This show -- dedicated to the seventy-year-old conceptualist -- was put together by the museum's Nancy Tieken, and it was one of those rare occasions when a Denver artist was given the royal treatment at the DAM.
When the well-known and highly regarded Cydney Payton took the helm of Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art last year, the art world held its breadth and waited for the unveiling of one of her signature shows. The wait ended with 5 Abstract, a look at five of the state's most significant abstract artists: Al Wynne, Bev Rosen, Bob Mangold, Clark Richert and Dale Chisman. It was the latest in a series of exhibits exploring the history of Colorado's modern and contemporary art that Payton has done since long before she was hired by the MCA. And she promises it won't be the last. Each artist in this exhibit has his or her own strong style, which is not necessary compatible with the others. But Payton gave all five separate space -- a tough job in the cramped quarters of the MCA. Sorry you missed it? Don't be. Responding to popular demand, the MCA has extended it through May.
The smart-looking Clark Richert: Recent Paintings, at Rule Gallery on Broadway, showcased a small but significant group of the latest geometric pieces by Clark Richert, a former hippie and current art guru. Richert first came to fame in this area in the 1960s, when he designed and helped start Drop City, an art commune just outside of Trinidad in southern Colorado. And though decades

have gone by, Drop City is still on his mind. A number of paintings based on some of the buildings he designed there -- riffs on Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes -- were featured at Rule. It was Richert's recent work, which indicated a new and innovative shift for the artist, that was the truly captivating part of this show, however. Instead of being dense and complicated, like many of his earlier pieces, those displayed here are quite spare. It looks like Richert has dropped back in. Kudos to the artist and gallery owner Robin Rule for giving Denver the best solo-artist exhibit of the season.

The three well-known artists in Martha Daniels, Amy Metier, Betty Woodman represent three distinct generations of Colorado artists, even if the show's title listed them out of order. Woodman is the elder stateswoman, having lived in Boulder from the 1950s until a few years ago, when she retired to New York. Daniels came next, having moved to Colorado in the 1960s when she began exhibiting her work. Metier would be last, since she came along about a decade later. But the disparate work of these three artists fit together perfectly -- not because they're all women, though that's not irrelevant -- because all are master colorists. This compatibility, so hard to achieve in a group show, is a big reason this exhibit was one of the year's finest.
Combining materials traditionally associated with sculpture, including steel and wood, with some untraditional ones, in particular a Texas Instruments Speak & Spell, upstart artist Zach Smith was the subject of the magical Internal Automata this past winter. The wonder-filled show marked Smith's formal introduction to Denver's art world. It makes sense that this new kid on the block would make his appearance at Cordell Taylor since the gallery is also new to the scene, having opened in August. Gallery director Ivar Zeile took a risk by scheduling an untried talent in the winter, high season in the art world. But the gambit paid off, and both newcomers can be proud of their accomplishment.
The inner workings of the art world are hard to explain. Consider last winter's 32/26, at the Andenken Gallery, which paired 32-year-old painter Karen McClanahan with 26-year-old sculptor Jonathan Stiles. Though neither artist had a familiar name, the show somehow generated a tremendous buzz. In fact, the word on the street was out before anyone had even seen the work. Even stranger is that 32/26 lived up to the hype. McClanahan's chaste, neo-minimalist paintings were fabulous -- and although they had nothing in common with Stiles's various types of modernist sculpture, the pairing was inspired nonetheless. During the course of the show, a who's who from Denver's art scene, including curators and gallery directors, came through, and McClanahan and Stiles suddenly found themselves being talked about by everyone. Certainly nothing better could have happened to a couple of former unknowns.
A couple of years ago, Mark Masuoka resigned as director of the Museum of Contemporary Art just as his first major show, Colorado Biennial, was set to open. The exhibit was his view of contemporary art in Colorado, and because he quit, he was never able to follow up there. Luckily, he's been able to do it as the exhibition director of the Carson-Masuoka Gallery, where a number of his productions have come out of Colorado Biennial, most notably FABstraction, which opened in the innocent days of Labor Day weekend. Highlights included atmospheric paintings by Amy Sloan Kirchoff and nature-based ones by Chad Colby, two young painters who recently moved to Denver. And by displaying John McEnroe's conceptual installations, Masuoka pushed the definition of abstraction. The thought-provoking show provided some badly needed beauty in the dark days following September 11.
In John Hull, Ron Judish Fine Arts presented a series of ten riveting paintings that laid out a tension-ridden and sorry tale in a downright cinematic way. The saga begins at a picnic from which an underage girl runs off with a roughneck biker. She's eventually found, but not before a gun is drawn and the police are called. The emotional series is loosely based on a real-life story Hull recalls from his teenage years in small-town Oregon. Because there are so many characters in the paintings, it's hard to follow every detail, but the gist of it is clear enough. The many players lend the parable the power of an epic, and Hull says the series was partly inspired by James Joyce's Ulysses. This literary bent is remarkable, as is the artist's masterful and painterly technique. It's no wonder Hull's work is seen at top galleries around the country.

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