Yoshitomo Saito moved to Denver just last summer, and he's already had a solo at one of the city's top galleries. That's quite a feat, but 108 Blue Cranes was unbelievably ambitious and stunningly serene. The exhibition was something of a retrospective, covering the past twenty years that the Tokyo-born artist has spent in America. Saito's subjects -- wood, cardboard and canvas -- are so simple that they make his pieces look minimalist, but they're actually quite realistic. Saito is a great new addition to the scene and can be considered one of the city's best artists.
David Cook Galleries
Every summer, David Cook Fine Art presents a handsome historic survey of art from the region. It's always one of the finest exhibits of the year, and Colorado & the West was no exception. Then again, since Cook snags first-rate material from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it would be hard not to come up with something great. This year, many of the paintings and prints in the show were associated with the long-gone Broadmoor Academy in Colorado Springs, and they came from a variety of sources, including a large private collection the gallery acquired. This is how the West is won.
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Colorado artists began embracing abstraction in the 1930s, and by the late '40s and early '50s, it had become a full-blown regional movement. Unfortunately, much of the work has been mostly forgotten. Aiming to correct this oversight, painter and volunteer art historian Tracy Felix put together Colorado Modernism, a handsome and well-thought-out show. It was filled with gorgeous mid-century-modern paintings by the likes of Vance Kirkland, Charles Bunnell, Mary Chenoweth and Al Wynne, along with solos devoted to photographer Jim Milmoe and sculptor Bob Mangold. A trip to Golden to see this tremendous show was the best mini-vacation you could have taken last summer.
In 1966, Boulder was attracting some of the nation's first hippies, many of whom were enrolling in fine-art classes at the University of Colorado. Student studios were then in the Armory, and a group coalesced there, including members Dale Chisman, Clark Richert, John De Andrea, Margaret Neumann and George Woodman. Those hippie-artists went on to write many chapters in Colorado's aesthetic history, including founding Drop City, the artist commune near Trinidad; launching CrissCross, which published a magazine; and opening two co-ops, Boulder's Edge Gallery and Spark Gallery in Denver. The Armory Group was one of the season's best shows, and all Singer director Simon Zalkind had to do was to bring the old crowd back together.
By far the most ambitious undertaking of the Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver in its ten-year history, Decades of Influence was Cydney Payton's attempt at summing up Colorado art from the past two decades. With a topic this vast, she used not only the museum itself, but also the Center for Visual Art, the Carol Keller Project Space and the Gates Sculpture Triangle. And even then, she was forced to do a superb followup called Extended Remix to feature artists she missed in the first round. Though some of Payton's choices were controversial, there were at least seventy of the state's best artists in the Decades/Remix combination. A very good show, indeed.
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No one has done more to promote Colorado's historic artists than Hugh Grant, director of the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art. But Grant only rarely mounts shows at the museum, which is one of the reasons that Vavra Triptych was so special. Grant brought out work by husband and wife Frank and Kathleen Vavra along with that of their daughter, Diana. Frank studied in France before 1920, and his early work is pure impressionism, but he would later go to abstraction; Kathleen was a regionalist in the '30s and a modernist later, as was Diana, who started her career in the '50s. This Kirkland exhibit was one of the best family reunions imaginable.
The Emmanuel Gallery on the Auraria campus is such a hassle to get to, it often gets overlooked. But that all changed when Emmanuel presented an exhibit so important that Denver Art Museum director Lewis Sharp spoke at the opening -- even though it was right in the middle of his own opening of the Frederic C. Hamilton Building. The show was Treasures Revealed: The Art of Hungary, 1890-1955, which examined the rise of modernism in that country. Shanna Shelby put together the stunning selection of works, primarily drawing from the collection of Jill Wiltse and H. Kirk Brown, who are becoming the "it" couple among local collectors. Best of all, Treasures was just the first in a series of planned outings that will focus on different parts of their remarkable hoard.
Denver Art Museum
Courtesy Denver Art Museum
Aspen-based collector Kimiko Powers and her late husband, John, were connoisseurs of the old school. They were broad in their interests; as a result, they amassed some of the finest art works of art available. Ron Otsuka, the esteemed curator of Asian art at the Denver Art Museum, made friends with the couple over thirty years ago, and he convinced them to put their collection of more than 300 Japanese masterworks on long-term loan with the DAM. Some of these pieces make up Japanese Art From the Colorado Collection of Kimiko and John Powers, and while many may look modern, they are actually hundreds of years old. This show is the best of the trio that inaugurated the DAM's new wing -- and it's open for a few more months.
CU Art Museum
A study of contemporary artists from Tibet is a pretty off-the-wall topic, but Waves on the Turquoise Lake was a spectacular exhibit. Jointly conceived by CU Art Museum director Lisa Tamiris Becker and the Mechak Center's Victoria Scoggin, the show was definitely a situation where the East met West head-on and where the old crashed into the new -- just like in Tibet.

Best Contemporary Asian Art Lesson -- Gallery

Under the Radar

Robischon Gallery
China has long had a rich cultural tradition, but the country has been out of the art picture for a century or more. Times are changing, and now that Wal-Mart has turned the place into an economic powerhouse, its art is again coming to the fore. Robischon Gallery's Under the Radar: Chinese Contemporary Art -- curated by gallery co-director Jennifer Doran -- illustrated the importance of this hot new category. The show's title is a play on the Denver Art Museum exhibit RADAR: Selections From the Collection of Vicki & Kent Logan, which works well because the Logans even lent Robischon a couple of pieces. Asian art is certainly a hot topic in Denver.

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