Vance Kirkland: A Colorado Painter's Life -- Early Works and Beyond is more than a solo devoted to Colorado's most famous modernist. It's a big-picture look at the mid-twentieth-century art world in this state. In addition to Kirkland's paintings from the '30s to the '70s, the show features pieces by most of the other major artists working here during those decades, as well as fine examples of modern furniture and decorative art. Hugh Grant, the director of the Kirkland Museum, and Judy Steiner, a curator at the CHM, organized the exhibit, which is open through April 4. It was designed by David Newell, who did an admirable job, considering that he had to deal with way too much stuff for the size of the space.
When George Caulkins wanted to surprise his wife, Eleanor Newman Caulkins, he asked his five children -- George, Max, Mary, David and John -- and their spouses to pool their money to help with the grand gesture: an opera house named after her. Their combined $7 million is helping to build the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, which is being fitted into the shell of the historic 1908 Quigg Newton Auditorium Theater at the Denver Performing Arts Complex. Eleanor will have to wait until 2005 to see her namesake completed.
Jan and Fred Mayer outdid themselves in 2003. With a gift of $11 million, their foundation established an endowment for the Denver Art Museum's New World department, which features pre-Columbian and Spanish colonial art. Over the past few decades, the Mayers have made many contributions to Denver's cultural life and have been particularly instrumental in the success of the New World department. Not only have they given substantial financial support, but they have also donated many of the collection's most magnificent objects.
Frederic C. Hamilton has long been a supporter of the Denver Art Museum. For the past 25 years, he's served on the board of trustees, sitting as chairman since 1994. Last summer, when funds to maintain and program the under-construction, Daniel Libeskind-designed expansion were needed, he got the trustees to ante up $60 million, throwing in the biggest chunk himself : $20 million, to be precise. The gift led the DAM to name the new structure after Hamilton, who came by the distinction the old-fashioned way: He earned it.
Cydney Payton, director of Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art, has her hands so full that she could be a professional juggler. She administers the institution, raises funds, does programming and even, at times, curates and installs the museum's exhibits. And as if all of that weren't enough, she also recently oversaw a series of six enormously popular presentations by renowned architects vying to design the museum's new facility. But she's not done yet: As soon as the choice is made next month, she must launch a multimillion-dollar capital campaign to pay for the building. Experience shows that if anyone can keep so many balls in the air at once, it's definitely the amazing Payton.
Viewers stampeded the Denver Art Museum this past fall and winter to take in the traveling blockbuster El Greco to Picasso From the Phillips Collection. The show was such a big hit that tickets for the last couple weeks sold out in advance. It's no mystery why: The artists are so famous that virtually everyone's heard of them. Along with stunning pictures by El Greco and Picasso, there were gorgeous works by Ingres, Cézanne, Renoir, Braque and Kandinsky, among others. The DAM has apparently figured out that bringing in the big names is what's sure to bring in the big crowds.
In a cramped old row house near the Denver Art Museum, Hugo Anderson has opened the quirky Emil Nelson Gallery. The inventory ranges from historic pieces, including things from Anderson's family's collections, to new works, some of it by his friends. The late Herbert Bayer, Colorado's most famous artist, was both an artist collected by the family and a friend of theirs, which is how this modest place was able to put on the spectacular herbert bayer remembered. The retrospective of the modern master's accomplishments began with pieces Bayer did in Germany and ended with those created after he fled the Nazis and wound up in Aspen.
The stock-in-trade of Ron Otsuka, the respected curator of Asian art at the Denver Art Museum, is traditional works. However, he was drafted into doing contemporary-art duty when Vail collectors Vicki and Kent Logan made a gift to the museum. Otsuka's compelling, extremely bold Full Frontal: Contemporary Asian Art From the Logan Collection looks at recent cutting-edge art done in China and Japan. Though there are only about a score of pieces in the fifth-floor show, the exhibit, which is open through May 23, covers a lot of previously unexplored aesthetic ground.
Fall is high season for art exhibitions, so it was surprising when Robischon Gallery presented JUDY PFAFF: New Work in the late spring of last year. The exhibit was an in-depth look at the famous New York artist's most recent pieces. These mixed-media paintings concerned Pfaff's Victorian house, which was once owned by Father Divine, an African-American minister who founded his own religion. Inspired by the house and by Father Divine's life, Pfaff came up with one fabulous work after another. Only nominally flat, the paintings incorporated three-dimensional objects -- just like the installations that made Pfaff famous.
It was impossible to fully understand Komar and Melamid's Symbols of the Big Bang at the Mizel Center's Singer Gallery last fall, but the show was so good it didn't matter. The former Soviet artists did paintings and drawings in which different symbols were put together to create new ones, such as a combination of the Star of David with a swastika. In order to mount the exhibit, gallery director Simon Zalkind got a lot of help from Mina Litinsky, owner of Denver's Sloane Gallery and Komar and Melamid's local representative. It was wild stuff for a Jewish institution like the Mizel, but not for these politically motivated Jewish artists.

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