Wouldn't it be neat to be rich? You could put together a first-rate art collection overnight -- ten years or so in the art world. That's what Connecticut collector Virginia Vogel Mattern did. In 1988 she became enraptured with pottery from the pueblos of New Mexico, and over the next decade sought out the best pieces available. Then, needing to downsize in 2003, she donated it all to the Denver Art Museum. Nancy Blomberg, the DAM's Native Arts curator, selected over 100 of the best pieces from the gift to make up Breaking the Mold: The Virginia Vogel Mattern Collection of Contemporary Native American Art. The show, which is still open, is a marvelous way to get a thorough introduction to the field.
Van Straaten Gallery
Despite having an essentially meaningless title -- Something to Consider -- this show did have some of the freshest-looking abstracts seen last summer. The paintings were edgy examples of post-abstract expressionism, as done by Quintn Gonzlez, a Denver artist who just keeps getting better and better. The small acrylic-on-canvas paintings resembled carnival spin art, though they hadn't actually been spun. Gonzlez builds up layers, starting with a flat monochrome and then pouring on different colors that combine into various hues. It's amazing how he keeps the different shades separate and unblended -- that's something to consider.
The Lab at Belmar
After years of gurgling in a temporary space, the Laboratory for Art and Ideas at Belmar -- the Lab, for short -- finally started an exhibition program in its finished home last fall. The place aims to bring high culture to Lakewood, an idea out of the mind of founding director Adam Lerner. Lerner loves what's called "new media" -- film, video and installation -- and that's what's on tap in the still-open Weekend in So Show. With this multi-room piece -- which comprises wooden boxes, LCD monitors displaying an old film, and lots of wall text -- British artist Liam Gillick addresses the topic of human labor. It's hard to follow, but it's even harder to deny how good it looks.
Last spring, the University of Denver's Victoria H. Myhren Gallery hosted an unusual multi-media installation called Chimera, named after the female demon of myth. Minnette Vri, the artist who created it, put herself in the title role. A South African, Vri has long been interested in racial politics, and for Chimera she zeroed in on the "Voortrekker Monument" in Pretoria that honors the white Afrikaner pioneers who subjugated the native blacks. In multiple projections, Vri digitally changes the white-marble monument to black and inserts herself as the she-devil that appears like a phantom in the images. If her political content was vague, her aesthetic intent was clear, and it made Chimera an all-enveloping, hypnotic experience.
Like most artists, Justin Beard needs to have a day job, and for a while he was a construction worker. It is this grueling experience that inspired the interrelated pieces in his smart solo, Undergo, on view last summer. The exhibit was dominated by a full-sized replica of a pickup truck made of cardboard, but it also included a mechanical sculpture made from a paint roller covered in little mirrors, along with a bunch of drawings and a couple of videos. Beard is a postmodernist, so his pieces were laden with irony, but here's the ultimate irony: Stay, the gallery that hosted his work, didn't. A few months after Beard's show closed, gallery owners John and Amy Bodin split in the middle of the night.
Paul and Pifuka Hardt opened P Design Gallery last year, and since then, they've presented a regular show schedule devoted to furniture and decorative arts. What set DoubleButter Boontje apart was that two of the three featured designers live right here in Denver. David Larabee and Dexter Thornton were the "DoubleButter" part of the show, and their elegant, sturdy furniture relates well to several international trends. The "Boontje" part highlighted the work of European hotshot Tord Boontje, someone who sets the trends. Boontje's high status as a high stylist was confirmed when the Denver Art Museum acquired several of his works during the P Design show.
Art-O-Mart, the quarterly art smorgasbord at Capsule Event Center, is the perfect place to find quality pieces that won't cost an arm and a leg. Taking place on First Fridays in June, September and December, Art-O-Mart showcases unjuried work in all mediums. You never know what you might find.
The Clocktower Cabaret
Eric Gruneisen
Life-drawing aficionados usually sketch any body they can find. Few people, after all, have the right personality to disrobe so that a crowd can scrutinize every shadow and wrinkle. For more interesting models, try Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School. The invention of Brooklyn burlesquer Molly Crabapple, it's shown up in Denver under the auspices of local burlesque belle Vivienne VaVoom. Every third Monday of the month, VaVoom dishes up a heady mix of exotic-dancer mannequins, roller-derby girls, fetish models, drag queens and cocktails. All you need to bring is $8 and a sketch pad.
EvB Studio Collection
Denver ceramic artist Marie E.v.B. Gibbons is well known for her spooky and evocative clay and mixed-media sculptures, but she's also a great teacher. Since moving to her sunny new studio in the shadow of northwest Denver's Oriental Theater, Gibbons has been hosting monthly clay mini-shops during every First Friday event on Tennyson Street. For ten bucks, visitors can drop in between 6 and 10 p.m. and create and color-wash a tiny clay work. Each month's workshop, which takes about fifteen to thirty minutes, has a different theme: hearts in February, spring bulbs in March, etc. Why not take a roll in the clay?
Denver Central Library
A benchmark of Beat-era lore, Jack Kerouac's famous On the Road manuscript was typed in just twenty days on a 120-foot-long scroll. Kerouac embodied the movement's spontaneous and obsessive nature in one burning semi-autobiographical swoop. And because the alleys and byways of Denver lurk all over the ragged-edged tome, it was only appropriate that it should lie in state all winter at the Denver Central Library, honoring the novel's fiftieth anniversary. "I counted minutes and subtracted miles. Just ahead, over the rolling wheat fields all golden beneath the distant snows of Estes, I'd be seeing old Denver at last."

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