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.


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.


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