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.
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.

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