Denver sculptor Emmett Culligan made a splash when he first emerged on the scene a few years ago, and since then, he's gotten relentlessly better. His latest efforts were featured in Emmett Culligan, at Judish Fine Arts in February. The fabulous monumental sculptures on display had gravity-defying features, with big slabs of native Colorado stone soaring at preposterous angles. There is a whole new generation of young sculptors -- many of whom are very good -- that has emerged in the past few seasons, but Culligan stands out as the best of the current bunch.

If your ideas about Western art are limited to bronze statues of cowboys and Indians, Salient GROUND at Robischon would have quickly dispelled them. In this show, two great Colorado painters translated the familiar tradition into something new. Don Stinson romanticized the ruins of motels, gas stations and drive-ins by depicting them in magnificent natural settings, while Karen Kitchel created a conceptual installation out of 96 related plant paintings that led the viewer through the four seasons. Though distinct, the artists' individual styles both expressed a single coherent theme: the West right now.

It's hard to believe it's already been four years since William Havu opened his flashy gallery in the Golden Triangle, and even harder to remember that the neighborhood -- now an urban enclave - was simply a deserted mess. For his anniversary last fall, Havu dedicated an exhibit to some of his favorite artists, most from Colorado. The place was decked out with creations by the likes of Martha Daniels, Emilio Lobato, Amy Metier and Sushe Felix, among others. With some of the state's best artists on board, Anniversary Show was truly something to celebrate.

The growth of modern painting from 1900 to 1950 as it played itself out in Colorado was the topic of the impressive Colorado Collections II, which hung in the Denver Public Library's Vida Ellison Gallery. All of the big names from that time were featured, including Birger Sandzén, Vance Kirkland and Charles Bunnell. The show was put together by Kay Wisnia, a staff member of the DPL's Western History department, who used her relationships with major collectors such as Hugh Grant and Kathy Loo in order to borrow important pieces. With access to these private troves, Wisnia gave viewers a rare opportunity to see things that have almost never been exhibited publicly before.
The quirky and elegant paintings in the Bob Koons exhibit Nearness of Distance at Carson-Masuoka Gallery were fresh off the easel -- and they looked it. Koons, who showed related work earlier at Edge Gallery, transforms old master paintings into contemporary ones. After choosing a landscape from art history, he paints the scene, but he does it out of focus and then fills in the details with a rainbow of non-naturalistic colors. Though they have the look of computer-generated prints, the works are actually hand-done acrylics on canvas. The resulting works presented at this Sante Fe Drive arts district gallery were stunning; judging by this promising show, we think the best from the young Koons is yet to come.
While kids right out of art school can often score a co-op gig if they're lucky, they almost never wind up at a top gallery -- especially one like Judish Fine Arts, a stunning space in a Victorian stone church in northwest Denver. But that's precisely what happened to John Morrison, who made his debut at Ron Judish's gallery last year. A smart combo of sloppy abstract expressionism and anal minimalism, Morrison's paintings represented a reconciliation of opposites. The colors were luscious and impeccably chosen, put together in perfectly conceived juxtapositions. Morrison has kept a low profile lately, and his work has not been seen since the show closed, which is too bad, because it was definitely one of last year's best efforts.

Young Boulder artist Joseph Shaeffer has some pretty wild and extreme concepts -- like using the attractive and repellent properties of magnetic fields to make sculptures. In Continuum, at the now closed and sorely missed Andenken Annex, Shaeffer employed magnets to keep his sculptures together or apart, depending on his changing mood. The most remarkable piece in the show commemorated the World Trade Center with a pair of 1/500-scale models of the Twin Towers that hovered above the floor, held aloft in mid-air by magnets mounted high above, in the ceiling.

The breathtaking Manuel Neri at Robischon Gallery was a stunning display of works by one of the greatest Bay Area artists ever. Neri has used the figure as a taking-off point for his sculpture for almost fifty years, ever since his first child was born to the first of his five wives. Although his pieces are highly conventionalized, the female form is always apparent. Neri hired various models to anchor his work until the 1970s, when he settled on a permanent muse, Mary Julia Klemenko. As an adjunct to Manuel Neri, the artist did a book filled with nude photos of Klemenko taken decades ago; as appealing as these were, however, Neri's magical sculptures were the real attraction of the show.

The informal space in the front of Artyard took on an elegant formality when Rokko Aoyama's solo, Visual Itch, was on display. Though Aoyama lives in Colorado, she was born and raised in Japan, and the island country's taste, materials and subject matter dominated this show. The Japanese snack Manju inspired the shapes, which were then painted in the pastel colors made for Japan's Lexus cars, rendering Aoyama's contemporary installations reminiscent of giant strings of pearls. Despite her influences, Aoyama's best asset is her skill in speaking the language of contemporary American art.
When the Colorado Photographic Arts Center was founded in 1963, the art crowd held photography in disrepute. But times change, and the medium now has an assured place in the visual arts. To celebrate its fortieth anniversary, CPAC did something special: It mounted the exhibit Betty Hahn, which spotlighted the grande dame of New Mexico photographers who, like CPAC itself,

was a pioneer. (It was her first solo show here.) During her career, she invented or rediscovered many experimental methods, but her best pieces, and the ones that made her famous, are those about the Lone Ranger and Tonto.

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