Best Highbrow/Lowbrow Art Mix 2012 | Toy Stories | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

William Havu, the director of his namesake gallery, came up with a frothy confection last summer that celebrated serious artists taking a lighthearted approach to subject matter. Many of these artists were riffing off toys or the idea of play, as indicated by the show's title, Toy Stories. The exhibit featured many amazing things, including works by Michael Brennan, Michael Stevens, Frances Lerner, Laurel Swab and Esteban Blanco, but as good as they all were, nothing could compare with the sculptures by Phillip Maberry and Scott Walker. Working as a team, the two created pieces that at first glance looked like cheap inflatable beach toys but were actually meticulously made polychromed ceramics. They were unforgettable — and so was this highbrow/lowbrow show.

A resident at almost any hip-hop nightclub you can name, DJ Top Shelf boasts an in-depth knowledge of good Southern rap. But he doesn't just break new records with wall-thumping bass; his selection is diverse enough to reach even the most underground of hip-hop heads. As a result, he's quickly risen through the ranks of the city's finest party rockers. Even when not behind the decks himself, he can be found alongside his DJ comrades on the mike, toasting up the crowd and keeping the energy moving. Recently inducted into the prestigious ranks of the Core DJ family, Top Shelf is one who's definitely on his grind.

That Thursday-night flier for Vinyl? He designed that one. And that special-event flier taking place at almost any urban nightclub you can imagine? Yep, he designed that one, too. Graffiti Black's stamp of graphic approval appears on everything from business cards and album covers to T-shirts and fliers. A brand ambassador of sorts, Graffiti lends his unique, dope touch to every image he creates. Widely respected in the scene as one who can turn quality product into a gold mine, the young hustler has creative stamina and marketing appeal that puts him heads above the rest.

Turner's world is turning on an axis of science that he's using to completely change up his rhyme schemes, themes and patterns. Like a supernova getting ready to self-destruct, the rapper delivers the kind of heady content that you'd need a science glossary to figure out. The raps heard on Star Destroyer, his latest album, a collaboration with Big J. Beats, are a rap nerd's wet dream. Turner's elaborate descriptions are just outlandish enough to be believable.

Best Hip-Hop Producers You Might Not Know About

Marky Bias and Big J. Beats have been doing incredible things with the MPC machine at basement and garage parties for a while now. Widely respected by local hip-hoppers like Whygee and Brikabrak, who've been lauding their talents the longest, the two consistently bring the heat out of their backpacks, both as producers and rappers over their own beats. The pair's sample selection is unmatched among the producing and beat-making souls of the underground. Pretty much, 1984 kills shit, and you should know about it.

Seeing DJ Premier live with every hip-hop head in the city who knows what a legend he is was spine-tingling. A humble giant, Preemo not only gave a show for the ages, but he got intimate with the crowd and gave props to all of the artists who had submitted material for the seventh installment of Shoe Shine. The crowd was adoring and Premier did not disappoint, playing all of the classics while showing love and paying homage to Guru. The smoldering energy he generated among fans was unmistakable.

Ask for the "Konsequence special" and you're likely to get a video with the best story line, cinematography and charisma out there. Konsequence has shot videos for rappers all over the scene, employing his personal tricks to bring to life some of hip-hop's greatest joints. Whether capturing a melancholy instrumental video for a beatmaker like Kid Hum, or documenting the roughest, toughest life of a junkie, like FOE's like-named project, Pape is on the case. His demeanor is calm, assertive and flexible, and, quite frankly, he brings out the best in rap's moving pictures.

At Brown Sugar, you're likely to hear anything from deep soul house to Jill Scott, mixed over a hip-hop beat. Party-rocking DJs SD and KDJ Above flex their neo-soul muscles every week for a laid-back crowd while Funky Buddha provides the sexy atmosphere. As the drinks flow and couples huddle together in dark corners, enticed by the sounds, party-goers get down on the dance floor to their favorite soul cuts or live performances. Consistent and diverse, Brown Sugar has become a mid-week destination.

The late Vance Kirkland is unquestionably the most famous abstract painter in the history of Colorado art, making the Kirkland Museum the perfect place to mount a show about abstraction in this state. The four-part show, which is still on view, was conceived by museum director Hugh Grant, using his usual more-is-more style. With this loosely organized exhibit, Grant provides a look at Kirkland's illustrious career, at the work of his contemporaries, at abstract sculpture and at later abstraction — all made here in the Centennial State. Despite the title, much more than abstract expressionism is on display. In fact, there are so many great things included by Kirkland and the likes of Al Wynne, Ken Goehring, Charles Bunnell and Mary Chenoweth, among a host of others, that this show deserves more than just one visit.

For decades during the first half of the twentieth century, Birger Sandzén, a Swedish painter based in Kansas, spent his summers in Colorado recording the celebrity scenery in photos, drawings and, most famously, paintings. His signature style — characterized by wild flourishes of brushwork carried out in cotton-candy shades of thick paint — created a bridge linking post-impressionism to abstract expressionism, and in the process brought that heroic moment in the development of modernism right to our front door. Taking advantage of the fact that the Sandzén Memorial Gallery in Kansas was closed for remodeling, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center museum director Blake Milteer organized Sandzén in Colorado, using pieces from the Kansas facility, along with loans from important Colorado-based collections, to put together the largest show ever devoted to Sandzén.

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