As a curator, Cydney Payton is at her best when dealing with art she really loves, which is why Dots, Blobs and Angels was so darned spectacular. Payton's a fan of John David Rigsby's work, and it's easy to see why. The quality of the paintings, sculptures and drawings that made up this stirring retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver was first-rate. The show followed Rigsby's career, which he began as a sharecropper's son scrounging for materials in Alabama in the '30s, through his impoverished existence in Houston at the end of his life, when he once again had no money for supplies. In between, he hit heights of fame and success. But whether in good times or bad, he always created something wonderful. Dots, Blobs and Angels demonstrated that Rigsby was a groundbreaker -- not just once, but over and over again.

Emerson Woelffer: Life in the Abstract, at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, wasn't large, but it was definitely grand. Woelffer, one of the best of a generation of abstract expressionists working in southern Colorado in the '50s, is mostly remembered instead as a Los Angeles artist. When he lived here, he was director of the now-defunct-but-then-famous Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center's art school. Hunter Frost, a friend and former student of Woelffer's, curated this gorgeous show and also wrote its catalogue. Frost's selections reveal that Woelffer did some of the finest paintings of his lifetime not in L.A., but during his years in Colorado.

A traveling show out of New York, True Grit addressed the work of a group of women artists who rose to prominence before the feminist revolution of the '70s. Organized by Katherine Crum of the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, the exhibit included pieces by Lee Bontecou, Jay DeFeo, Nancy Spero, Louise Nevelson, Claire Falkenstein, Nancy Grossman and Louise Bourgeois -- seven of the most famous women artists of the modern period. A few were feminists, others weren't, but all had their reputations enhanced by the interest in women's art brought on by feminism. CVA director Kathy Andrews simultaneously mounted a Louise Bourgeois solo exhibition that seamlessly hooked up with the wonderful main course.

Studio Aiello typically hosts big, unwieldy group shows in its big, unwieldy building, and only rarely presents solos. That's surely because few artists have enough work to fill it. But Boulder painter Virginia Maitland came up with enough to cram the gallery -- and its storage room -- to capacity. Opened Windows charted Maitland's career of more than thirty years, revealing how she went into, then out of, her signature color-field style. Though there's usually a grungy quality to Studio Aiello, Maitland's work made it look like a little museum.

The title of Repeat Offenders indicated that each artist in this group show did work in a series. That was a fairly open-ended qualifier, since nearly all artists create their pieces that way. But the handle gave Singer Gallery director Simon Zalkind an excuse to feature artists whom he felt were among the best around -- more than two dozen contemporary artists working in metro Denver. Most were well-established locals, including Stephen Batura, Roland Bernier and Sushe Felix, but the work of a few accomplished emerging talents -- including Brandon Borchert, Katie Taft and Jason Patz -- stood up to the best their elders had to offer.

San Francisco artist Rex Ray is perhaps best known for his graphic designs for Apple Computer, Bill Graham Productions and David Bowie. But he's a fine artist first, as demonstrated by the knockout show Rex Ray: Recent Work at Rule Gallery. Ray, whose real name is Michael Patterson, lived for a time in Colorado, and he has occasionally exhibited here since settling in the Bay Area back in the '80s. For this show, he created an installation of nearly 500 drawings on one wall and surrounded it by scores of mixed-media collages on wood. There was a retro-'50s feel to these pieces, but they also looked newer than new.

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.

Best Of Denver®

Best Of