Amish women from the turn of the last century didn't intend for their quilts to be works of modern art, but that's exactly what happened, as evidenced by last year's Amish Quilts exhibit at the Denver Art Museum. The quilts look much like the minimalist paintings done much later, but the Amish were guided not by aesthetics -- as the minimalists were -- but by a religious philosophy that called for plainness. They preferred solid colors in dark shades and fine dressmaking wool and fancy polished cotton, which turned the quilts into bold geometric compositions. DAM textile curator Alice Zrebiec put the show together using quilts loaned by Faith and Stephen Brown. Zrebiec's best decision was displaying the quilts as paintings.
Denver painter Bruce Price created a batch of fabulous pieces for FULL: New Paintings by Bruce Price, his solo at + Gallery last fall. Though the work was clearly a continuation of past efforts, the paintings were also completely new-looking. Even though Price is a protege of the great Clark Richert, he's interested in theories of decoration and ornamentation, which Richert dismisses. Price lays patterns next to one another so that they seem to collide or overlap, creating an almost 3-D appearance even though the surfaces are flat.
Big-name modernist Jules Olitski got famous in the '60s with color-field paintings. A refinement of abstract expressionism and the softer side of minimalism, color-field pieces are covered in big, unbroken swaths of color. Though many painters still do this kind of thing, Olitski left the style decades ago. Since then, he's experimented wildly. His most radical turn was the crude yet luxuriously finished landscapes shown at Sandy Carson Gallery in Jules Olitski. They were primitive, elegant and maybe even sophisticated. Gallery director William Biety is a friend of Olitski's, so some of the best work in the show was taken directly from the master's studio.
For the color channel, Steven Read lined up old television sets at even intervals on the floor of Capsule gallery. High up on the walls, Read mounted tabletop antennae, which gathered UHF waves and transmitted them to the television sets. Read wrote a software program to comprehend the signals and then convert them from television programs to ever-changing geometric compositions. The resulting images were made up of squares, rectangles and lines -- though sometimes Cops and other shows were visible underneath. Read's cleverness made the color channel the best debut by an emerging artist in Denver in memory.
The fifth-anniversary show at Space Gallery was aptly titled Untold Riches, considering the marvelous paintings contributed by the inexplicably unknown artist Ryan Anderson. Anderson originally trained as a ceramics artist and was serious enough to snag a stint at Montana's prestigious Archie Bray Foundation. He's moved on to painting, but his current pieces reference those earlier efforts. The surfaces have a glaze-like quality that looks as if it came straight from the kiln, though Anderson actually creates the effect by pouring flamboyantly colored automotive lacquers onto wooden panels. The results are some of the best paintings most have never seen.

BEST RUNNING START TO A SUCCESSFUL ART CAREER

Jenny Morgan

Though not long out of art school, Jenny Morgan already has distinctions piling up. In the past year, the twenty-something painter has had two solos: First Person at + and Mine Not Yours at Pirate: A Contemporary Art Oasis. In addition, the Fine Arts Museum of Key West acquired one of her pieces, and the juried catalogue New American Paintings included her work alongside some of the hottest talents in the country. And just a couple of weeks ago, one of Morgan's enigmatic self-portraits was selected for inclusion in an important Smithsonian-sponsored portrait show. Not a bad start to her career.
When Hugh Grant, director of the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, realized that William Sanderson's 100th birthday was going to come and go without an exhibit, he stepped in and presented a retrospective of the artist. It was the first-ever temporary show in the Kirkland's history, and Sanderson was a fitting subject for the honor. Co-curated by Grant and Michael Sanderson, the artist's son, the show examined the career of one of Denver's greatest artists of the '40s and '50s. His style had a cartoonish quality that referred to cubism, and when the art tides changed in the '60s, Sanderson was forgotten. His career was reborn in the '80s -- not because he changed with the trends, but because certain art styles had finally come back around. Sanderson may be dead, but his legacy lives on, thanks to The Centennial of William Sanderson.
The subject of Shooting Star at the Vida Ellison Gallery in the Denver Central Library was painter Frank Mechau, who was born in Colorado in 1904. He left for Paris in the 1920s, and when he returned in the 1930s, modernism was among the many souvenirs he brought back with him. Shooting Star -- organized by Kay Wisnia, the DPL's gifted special-collections librarian for art -- revealed how Mechau carried out regionalist subjects in an abstract manner, thus successfully combining modernism with the down-home American scene. Mechau got a lot of mileage out of the formula during his short career. He died at age 44, but that was long enough for him to establish himself as one of the best Colorado artists ever.
LoDo's David Cook Fine Art has cornered the market on Western landscapes, whether done in the impressionist style of the early twentieth century or the early-modernist style of the mid-century. Both types were displayed last summer in Colorado and the West, a show that included more than 100 prints, watercolors and paintings by some of the region's most respected artists. Cook is particularly good at unearthing pieces associated with art institutions, including Denver's Chappell House and Colorado Springs' Broadmoor Academy, both of which are long closed. This was easily one of the year's best shows.
Typically when a gallery presents different shows at the same time, there's nothing that connects them. That's not the case with Don Stinson, Kevin O'Connell and David Sharpe, a trio of exhibits at Robischon Gallery that are supplemented with pieces by Eric Paddock and Chuck Forsman. Each artist is great in his own right, but they are even better together, unified by the Western landscape.

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