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First Fridays

Santa Fe Drive Over the past few years, dozens of galleries and art spots have opened on Santa Fe Drive between 5th and 9th avenues, making this four-block stretch the unofficial epicenter of the Denver art world. And public response to the burgeoning art district has been phenomenal, as evidenced by the tremendous success of First Fridays on Santa Fe, when the galleries stay open late on the first Friday of each month. On a typical night, more than a thousand aesthetes turn out, strolling in and out of art spaces that range from longtime resident CHAC to the Museo de Las Américas to Art 825 to the brand-new POD (with stops for sustenance at El Taco de México, El Noa Noa or one of the other neighborhood Mexican eateries). All in all, Friday nights on Santa Fe are a heck of a party, not to mention the best ongoing art event in town.

Rule Gallery typically presents the work of established artists, but once in a while an emerging talent gets through the door. That's what happened with Pard Morrison: Recent Sculpture and Paintings. Morrison's works fit the gallery perfectly, because they're neo-minimalist, the style of choice for director Robin Rule. The pieces were aluminum boxes patinated in a range of tones, which gave the surfaces an uneven, painterly quality at odds with the hard edges of the forms. Morrison is surely an artist worth keeping track of in the coming years.
Even though the paintings in David Yust: PAINTING IN CIRCLES and Other Abstract Works included pieces that dated from the mid-1960s to late last year, the display was not a retrospective of the local modern master's career. Instead, curator Erica France examined a handful of currents in Yust's oeuvre, most notably his use of the circle. In a series of small rooms, non-objective abstracts revealed how Yust, one of Colorado greatest artists, has variously employed circles over the decades. Long story short: France's idea worked, and the result was a dazzling show.
Abstract-expressionist painting has miraculously held on despite the onslaught in the last decade of "new media," a field that includes installation, performance, video and digital. These forms were supposed to make painting look out of date, but, as Wet Paint proves, that's not what happened. The exhibit, which is open through April 10, showcases three artists covering new ground by riffing on classic ideas. And that's a national trend, as the show also proves, because the three artists live in different big cities across the country: Jeffrey Keith is from Denver, John Himmelfarb comes from Chicago, and Michael Rubin hails from New York.
The Denver Art Museum pays a lot of attention to artists from the turn of the last century because they're a popular group guaranteed to bring in big crowds of viewers. The lineup of traveling solos that have stopped by the DAM in recent years includes Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse, Bonnard, Homer and, last summer, John Singer Sargent. The Andy Warhol of his time, Sargent was a gay dandy reveling in the chic world of the rich, but the paintings in Sargent and Italy concern only his love for Italy, where he often vacationed and, interestingly enough, was born.
Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art has been dealing with its space crunch in a couple of ways: planning a new building and sponsoring off-site exhibits. One of the latter was middle ground: Stephen Batura, a breathtaking display of the Denver artist's signature representational paintings. Done in casein and acrylic, the mostly monumental pieces are based on photos from the late nineteenth century that Batura found in the Denver Public Library. This show's only shortcoming was being installed in the hard-to-find Walnut Foundry.
The wonderful Andrea Modica: Photographs at Sandy Carson Gallery last winter provided an in-depth look at the work of the internationally known photographer, who lives in Manitou Springs. In her poetic photos, Modica explores the relationship between truth and fiction by using posed and documentary shots, which she takes with a large-format camera over a long period of time. The show included some classic images from her famous series of a farm family in upstate New York, as well as some of her newest ones, which were taken in southern Colorado last year. Modica's subjects may be mundane, but her takes on them are absolutely not.
Last summer, ILK@Pirate saw some difficult days during which the gallery was not only closed, but boarded up! So the first show after this hiatus, Jason Patz: Self Series, couldn't just be good; it had to be great. Happily, it was. The twenty-something Patz displayed his disarmingly simple self-portraits in gorgeous color enlargements, which he posed for by holding his camera at arm's length from his own face. Even though the photos were staged, they somehow looked candid, a conceptual juxtaposition that's very cutting-edge. This compelling Patz solo was just the shot in the arm ILK needed to make a welcome comeback.
The earliest examples of modern art done in our region are frontier photographs from the nineteenth century. Some of the finest examples of these images from local public and private collections were brought together at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center last winter for the stunning exhibit A Moment in Time: Photographs of the Early American West. The photos that former CSFAC director David Turner selected were wonderful, but what was really remarkable was that many of them could have been taken only yesterday except that the vistas shown were still pristine.
The magnificent Reflections in Black: Smithsonian African-American Photography featured major works by contemporary black photographers who have been active during the past 25 years. The impressive traveling exhibit, which alighted briefly at Metro State's Center for the Visual Arts this past winter, included images by many of the most-talked-about photographers around, such as Carrie Mae Weems, Renee Cox and the Harris brothers, Thomas and Lyle. Organized by Deborah Willis for the Anacostia Museum and Center for African-American History and Culture, the CVA show was one of the art world's best bets last year.

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