Best Representational Solo -- Contemporary 2004 | middle ground: Stephen Batura, Museum of Contemporary Art/Walnut Foundry | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
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.
The topic of water was on everyone's minds last summer, and artists were no exception, as demonstrated by Studio Aiello's over-the-top doris laughton: theSplatphenomenon2003. In it, Laughton used the shape a drop of water makes when it hits a hard surface to inspire scores of prints, photos, sculptures and a video. Her interest in hydrostatics was very fruitful aesthetically, so nearly everything in the show was successful visually -- particularly the monumental outdoor pieces.
For the group show Balance, young sculptor David Mazza installed his fabulous pieces throughout the building as well as in the sculpture garden outside, where he put a trio of major pieces. Mazza's abstract compositions, in which both straight and curved metal bars and tubes are precariously stacked on a pyramidal base, visually express the meaning of the exhibit's title. Even though he's still wet behind the ears and not long out of college, Mazza can already be regarded as one of the most talented sculptors working in Colorado.
Pursuits of Passion at Walker Fine Art was technically a group show, but it included what could have been a very large solo focusing on Boulder artist William Vielehr, whose sculptures were installed throughout. The most important Vielehrs were large abstracted figures made of fabricated aluminum sheets; one of Vielehr's greatest strengths is how he handles the surfaces, making them look like three-dimensional versions of abstract paintings. Vielehr's been around since the '60s, but he rarely exhibits in Denver, so this was an unusual opportunity to see his work.
Denver artist Annalee Schorr felt she was "embedded" in the Iraq war because she watched televised news coverage of it all the time. To create Shock/Awe, her politically charged solo at Spark Gallery, Schorr used enlarged photos of her TV screen. The juxtaposition of bomb-ravaged cities taken from cable news with images from shopping channels was positively chilling. Schorr is no neophyte when it comes to political art based on television; she first did it during the Gulf War, and one of her pieces at Spark paired images from that time with those from today. Then, as now, Schorr's sophisticated work was right to the point.
The spectacular exhibit now at Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art has the novella-length title OVER A BILLION SERVED: Conceptual Photography From the People's Republic of China. The work in this knockout show, which is mostly digitally produced and deals with such hot topics as the Tiananmen Square revolt, SARS and creeping Americanization, is aesthetically, philosophically and technically distinct from contemporary American art. Julie Segraves, director of Denver's Asian Art Coordinating Council, assembled BILLION. As a close follower of the art scene in China, she was the ideal choice: It was surely her familiarity with the material that makes this MCA outing so darned mind-blowing.

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