Best Little Big Show -- Group 2004 | Full Frontal: Contemporary Asian Art From the Logan Collection, Denver Art Museum | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
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.
Denver has spent a fortune on public art, but it hasn't always gotten its money's worth -- with the latest sorry example being Jonathan Borofsky's "The Dancers," which cost more than $1.5 million. Once in a while, though, the city picks up a bargain such as "Fire House," which internationally renowned New York conceptual artist Dennis Oppenheim created for just over $40,000. The aluminum-and-acrylic sculpture depicts a house held aloft by ladders; a lighting system conveys the idea that it's on fire. The conflagration of imagery is unusual, but perfect for such a site-specific piece.
Local municipalities have been promoting drought-friendly grasses that stay green with less water, but last year, Englewood went further by planting "turf" in a South Broadway median that requires no water. The "grass" in question is a colored-aluminum sculpture called "Virere," by Lawrence Argent, the first of four works the Denver artist is doing for the town. Though "Virere" has blades that tower several stories over the street, it will never need mowing, either.
This past fall, one of the state's most influential sculptors showed off his recent creations in the magical Scott Chamberlin. The Robischon Gallery exhibit featured wall-mounted pieces that looked like traditional European wall fountains -- not surprising, since Chamberlin, a University of Colorado ceramics professor, had earlier taken a busman's holiday to Portugal and was surely inspired by the wonderful ceramics there. Despite the foreign influence, however, these latest pieces were signature Chamberlin and not so different from the kind of thing he's been doing all along.
Art has been doing a double take on pop art lately, with a lot of new creations looking forward to the 1960s. A variety of pieces of this type were put together in This Year's Model, a great group effort mounted last summer at the now-closed Cordell Taylor Gallery. This pop-y show included some of those smart-looking paintings of slogans by hot young artist Colin Livingston; bas-relief wall sculptures of animal forms on armatures by John McEnroe, one of the state's premier conceptualists; and provocative, gilt-framed beefcake shots of homeless guys by nationally known photographer Cinthea Fiss.
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.

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