Well-known digital photographer John Bonath had a hell of a year battling cancer. So it's amazing how well he kept his spirits up -- even naming his one-person show at sellarsprojectspace Blessings. Man, what a trouper! In his pieces, Bonath created fantasy worlds that are completely believable because they were made up of images of real things. Most of these digital photos included figures, both male and female, while others incorporated shots of carved wooden hands to stand in for the missing human subjects. Bonath's chemotherapy has been successful; best of luck to him with that.
This dynamite show, put together by Center for Visual Art director Jennifer Garner and assistant director Cecily Cullen, featured eight photographers who were pushing their medium to the absolute edge. Local talents Jon Rietfors, Gwen Laine and David Zimmer were joined by internationally famous artists Zeke Berman, Gregory Crewdson with Susan Harbage Page, Bruce Charlesworth and Meridel Rubenstein. With photography coming on so strong in recent years, this intelligent show gave viewers a good snapshot of some of the best work being done across the country.
The star attraction at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art last fall was James Surls: A Cut Above. The sculptor made his name in the 1980s from a studio in Texas, but he moved to Colorado in 1998 and has been here ever since. Surls's medium of choice is wood, which he carves into attenuated shapes based on organic forms. He assembles his sinuously cut sections into unlikely arrangements or clusters, typically leaving the material in a subtle array of natural tones. Some of the pieces stand on the floor while others hang from the ceiling. Coloradans don't usually cotton to Texans, but since Surls is among the region's best sculptors, we'll just have to make an exception.
Lauri Lynnxe Murphy is a one-woman art scene. In the past, she was involved with Edge Gallery, was one of the founders of the long-closed ILK co-op, which she ran, then opened Pod, a boutique that morphed into Capsule, an alternative gallery. Experimental shows were a specialty, with the over-the-top Spelling With Scissors being the last of them. For this outing, Matthew Rose, an American in Paris, covered the walls with nearly 900 funny and weird neo-dada collages cut from the pages of newspapers and magazines. In December, when the show closed, so did Capsule. Murphy found that selling art was harder than renting space to other people trying to do it, so she opened the Capsule Art and Events Center next door. We wish her the best.
William Havu Gallery
Martha Daniels's work riffs off the history of ceramics, combining Mediterranean and Asian influences in the same way as her mentor, Betty Woodman. The most remarkable creations in the show at William Havu Gallery were her delicate -- though gigantic -- towers that subtly referred to work by the great Brancusi. Among Daniels's strengths are her expressive handling of the forms and the way she uses glazes as though they were paints. Long one of the best ceramicists in the time zone, Daniels is a city treasure.
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.

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