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.
Denver Central Library
You knew the show at the Denver Central Library was serious simply by noting the word count of the title: From Nordenskiold to Nusbaum: Archaeology, Photography and Tourism in the Early Years of Mesa Verde National Park. Whew, seventeen! The Nordenskiold part refers to Gustaf Nordenskiold, who explored Mesa Verde in 1891, and the Nusbaum part addresses Jesse Logan Nusbaum, who became an early superintendent of Mesa Verde National Park. Their photos were supplemented with images by William Henry Jackson, George Beam, Laura Gilpin and others. The exhibit was curated by the Colorado Historical Society's Thomas Carr and the library's Trina Purcell, who together selected some of the best pieces from their respective institutions to pull off this knockout of a show.
Gallery Roach-Roach Photos
Pictorialism is a photographic style in which images are blurred to create the atmospheric quality normally associated with a painting. It was all the rage a hundred years ago -- and it is again right now. Believe it or not, Denver had its own first-generation pictorialist, R. Ewing Stiffler, who was the subject of Denver's Pictorial Photographer at Gallery Roach last spring. Stiffler moved to Colorado as a teenager, but he studied his craft across the country, including at the Art Institute of Chicago. To say that this exhibit was a rare viewing opportunity would be more than an understatement, since some of the pieces had not been displayed since the Denver Art Museum did a pictorialist show back in 1935.
Camera Obscura Gallery
When you talk about photogenic, you've got to talk about Marilyn Monroe. After all, more than a few photographers built their entire careers on their memorable images of her. Camera Obscura Gallery, granddaddy of the city's photo scene, hosted an interesting duet comparing and contrasting Andre de Dienes's earliest shots of the glamorous siren with George Barris's moody photos, taken a few weeks before the actress died, in 1962. Barris is believed to have snapped the last pictures of Marilyn, but like the gentleman that he was, he refused to publish them until long after she died.
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.

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