It was a brilliant stroke last spring when the Robischon Gallery, the city's flagship, presented two sculpture shows, John Buck and Manuel Neri, and installed them back to back. The show illustrated how the two artists compare and contrast with each other. Both are masters of contemporary sculpture who work in the West -- Buck lives in Montana, Neri in California -- and both do pieces that incorporate the human figure. But each is unique: Buck likes a lot of extraneous details, whereas Neri is into simplification. The thoughtful placement of the works at Robischon enhanced the whole experience.

In a recent episode, Extreme Makeover -- Home Edition came to Arvada to build a duplex for two low-income families and, next door, a community park. Young hotshot David Mazza was tapped to create a sculpted entry for the public space. Inside a week, Mazza turned around "Renaissance Park Archway," a work in welded steel. The form of the piece is a pair of abstract linear sculptures that mirror one another exactly; each composition pivots visually off a central mast that comes out of the ground, the sculptor's signature approach. Looks like Mazza's ready for prime time.

Put together during the few short months when Ivar Zeile was teamed up with Ron Judish, Bruce Price: Fill was a major success -- unlike the partnership. Price is a local pioneer of post-minimalism, known for pattern paintings based on his theories of decoration. For Fill, which debuted in New York before moving to Denver, he put on one layer of paint after another with transparent layers in between, creating a weave of patterns. The paintings didn't just give the illusion of being three-dimensional; they actually were.

Nationally known Colorado artist John Hull likes to mix Hollywood-style shoot-'em-up imagery with traditional painting techniques; taken together, his cyclical narrative pieces could be called visual novels. In Pictures From Sonny's Place, Hull told the story of an imaginary rural junkyard -- based on an actual place in Wyoming -- where meth is used and dealt. The story is filled out with tough guys and their wild girlfriends, a bunch of hot cars (some of them wrecked) and even a gun or two. It's an ordinary story in the impoverished countryside nowadays, but in Hull's able hands, the tale was epic.

The Lakewood Cultural Center has made ceramics a specialty, with regular group shows devoted to the medium. The center hosted a rare solo show last fall, when Michael Coffee's smart-looking Place of Mind was installed in the north gallery. Coffee, a retired architect who turned to ceramics ten years ago, has mastered the art of clay, as evidenced by his totem sculptures made of glazed clay cylinders stacked on top of one another. Best of all, the exhibit came and went without anyone from the City of Lakewood seeking to censor it, as happened out there more recently with another ceramics show.

One of the state's biggest and most important annuals, Colorado Clay, has been held at Foothills Art Center in Golden since the '70s. This year's guest juror, Peter Held, from the Arizona State University Art Museum, took a new approach: Instead of choosing objects, Held chose artists -- and fewer of them than usual. Each of the sixteen ceramicists was shown in depth, with the works taking over Foothills' entire main area. Among the standouts in a field crowded with first-rate artists were Marie E.v.B. Gibbons, Katie Martineau-Caron, Dan Fogelberg, Janey Skeer, Carol Juddiece Cooper and Carla Kappa.

The Powerball lottery seems an unlikely source for paintings and prints. But in Random Art Two, his smashing solo at Capsule@Pod, Brandon Borchert assigned a specific image to each of the Powerball numbers, one through 53. The images illustrated one of four subjects: sex, death, food and art history, and included everything from canned meat to hand grenades. The show comprised prints of the individual images, along with a series of accompanying paintings in which Borchert assembled the pictures in groups based on the winning Powerball sequences. Referencing dada, surrealism and Spam, Random Art Two was definitely a winner.

Andy Miller: A Deconstruction of Life knocked everyone out when it was shown at Pirate last spring. The show featured four monumental steel and neon sculptures that depicted simplified images of men committing suicide. One was hanging by a noose from the ceiling, another aimed a gun at his head, a third was taking a vial of poison, and the last was jumping to his death. The subject matter was disturbing, but suicide is only one of the topics Miller hopes to take up in the future; these pieces are the first in a series of sculptures addressing crime and violence.

The William Havu Gallery pays as much attention to sculpture as any place in town. There's always a piece on the sidewalk, and there's a proper sculpture garden in back. For Three Dimensions, a great indoor show, owner Bill Havu gathered work by three established sculptors from the region: Denver's Lawrence Argent; Mary Bates Neubauer, from Tempe, Arizona; and Stephen Daly from Austin, Texas, whose pieces filled a couple of rooms. The combination of styles made for a sensational trio.

Best Sculptor in a Group Show -- Emerging Artist

Morgan Barnes

The rambunctious Group Show 2 was the latest version of Studio Aiello's biennial. This time around, Kathy Andrews, director of Metro State's Center for Visual Art, served as a single juror, selecting all of the pieces herself. Among the dozens of objects that Andrews chose was "Evolution of Form & Concept, #2," a sculpture by emerging art star Morgan Barnes. The piece, which took charge of the front gallery, was downright zany for a modernist work: a stile that rocked and chimed, with a rusted patina accented by polka dots. Studio Aiello has since signed Barnes on as a regular, and if this piece is any indication of things to come, that was surely the right move.

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