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.


Even though Street Level was all about New York, it was organized right here in Denver by Simon Zalkind, who saluted his former home town by painting the gallery walls a yellow the exact shade of the mustard at Nathan's on Coney Island.


Roach Studios has been a fixture on Broadway since the 1970s, but the enterprise itself

dates back to 1936, when the late Otto Roach established it in Lakewood. The specialty of the house then -- as it is today -- was custom photo enlargement. In 1958, Roach sold the business to his young assistant, Dutch Walla, who still owns it along with his son, Jay, a legend in the darkroom. In December, the Wallas opened Gallery Roach in the front of the shop -- now located on Broadway -- with Two Men, One State of Mind...Colorado, a show focused on classic black-and-white landscapes by Roach and the elder Walla. The exhibit proved that fine work from the past stands up to the best the present has to offer.

The unforgettable An American Century of Photography was presented last summer at the Denver Art Museum, and the sprawling twentieth-century survey included some of the most important images ever produced. Curator and connoisseur Keith Davis made selections from the heavy-duty collection of Kansas City's Hallmark Corporation, which has acquired famous photos by all of the superstars in the finest, rarest and most-sought-after print versions imaginable. Of all the fine photography shows presented this past year, none held a flashbulb to An American Century of Photography.


The Rule Gallery's Universal Limited Art Editions, which opened in February and is still on display, showcases fine prints by a who's who of contemporary artists. The top-drawer New York printmaker of the exhibit's title provided its fine prints, including some by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Terry Winters. ULAE prints are a part of many important collections, such as those at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and it's great to see works of this caliber in Denver.


Ceramic artist Jun Kaneko has pushed the clay vessel to the limits, throwing pots that are much, much larger than he is -- many of them towering more than ten feet tall and weighing thousands of pounds. This fall, Carson-Masuoka partner and gallery director Mark Masuoka organized a major show of Kaneko's widely known work. Once a studio assistant to the great potter and now an old friend, Masuoka had an inside track in putting the exhibit together. The enormous size of Kaneko's pots is just one of their winning qualities; others include the artist's fine sense for color and patterns, all of which came together in this amazing exhibit.


Most of the exhibits at the Lakewood Cultural Center are organized by guest curators, and, oddly enough, the modestly supported place often lucks out. A prime example was last summer's Veterans of Clay, a brief survey of Colorado ceramics that was ably assembled by the studious Tom Turnquist, a nationally known ceramics authority who actually lives -- get this -- in Lakewood. Primarily a pothead, Turnquist included a lot of vessels by legendary old-timers such as Nan and Jim McKinnell, then went a step further, supplementing those works with very different creations by contemporary sculptors like Doug Fey and Jim Foster. Somehow, it all worked.
In 1901, Artus and Anne Van Briggle opened a pottery factory in Colorado Springs, and their work immediately gained worldwide fame. Van Briggle pottery is displayed in museums in New York, London and Paris. As might be expected, however, the biggest horde was kept in the potters' home town, at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Although the majority of the museum's Van Briggles are usually put away, last summer the finest of them were brought out for this over-the-top show. Van Briggle Pottery is still in business, but the best pieces, like the ones in One Hundred Years, go back to the days when the long-gone Artus and Anne were still at the wheels.


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