Best Live Hip-Hop Painter 2012 | Xencs L. Wing | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Xencs L. Wing brings new life to an old tradition: painting sugar skulls. She posts up at hip-hop shows with her crafts — she makes earrings and other items — and offers live demonstrations, mixing colors to the beat of whatever head-nodding hip-hop music is being played at the time and creating a masterpiece in front of the crowds. Not surprisingly, she's in great demand during Día de Los Muertos festivities and for other hip-hop-themed shows. And Wing doesn't limit her artistic expression to life-after-death depictions; she's also an MC.

Pete Bell started going to Rhinoceropolis in 2010 to see non-mainstream music acts. As one of the few all-ages venues that didn't cater to relatively well-known music, Rhino was a place that Bell could attend whenever his high-school schedule didn't get in the way. Inspired by the anarchic spirit of the place and its focus on mostly experimental music, Bell embarked on making a documentary about Rhinoceropolis for his video class. The result was a snapshot of Rhino as it was mostly in the second half of 2011, with archival footage and photos from those who were there. Bell also interviewed many of the people who have lived at Rhino, in addition to those who have been active participants. In doing so, he pieced together an accurate and intimate portrait of an important living cultural landmark.

On the eve of the Oscars, the line for The Artist at Landmark Chez Artiste reached well into the parking lot. The film would go on to win Best Picture the next night, and one of the only places to enjoy it in Denver was at this theater tucked into a strip mall off South Colorado Boulevard. Chez Artiste offers exceptional programming throughout the year, and its patrons know it. But even if you only visit in order to win the Oscar pool, don't worry: The staff at the three-screen Chez Artiste won't judge you.

Readers' Choice: Mayan/Esquire theaters (tie)

Free refills on fountain drinks. Beer. Fancy chocolate. And popcorn. Oh, the popcorn. It's the type of popcorn that makes people stop in to buy it, then leave without even seeing a movie. The food and drink at the Denver FilmCenter on Colfax is hands-down the best in Denver, not just for the quality selection, or for the comfort in which you'll consume your snacks. There's also the price factor, which can be pretty important after you plunk down $10 or so for a movie ticket. So let's say it again: free refills.

Readers' Choice: Mayan Theatre

You know you go to movies too much when you notice the new seats. But that's just what happened at Colorado 9, home of blockbusters-and-popcorn fare, where chairs worthy of Jean-Luc Picard's ass await. There's spring in the cushion and push-back in these seats, so much so that even after sitting through a two-hour-plus film like 2011's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, you won't get restless. If you're going to a stadium-seating theater like Colorado 9, comfort and luxury is what you expect. And starting with the seats, this place delivers.

For Bradley Borthwick: Not All Borthwicks Were Noblemen, artist Bradley Borthwick constructed an elaborate installation, staged a performance with deadly weapons, and acted nude in a film with an alternately pounding and haunting soundtrack meant to document a ritual he'd created. As it turned out, many of Borthwick's Scottish ancestors, all noblemen, had been slaughtered by the English using longbows, so as a kind of revenge, the artist has taken up the longbow himself. He shot arrows not only in the film, but live at Ironton during the show's opening. Taken together, the archery performance and the sculptural installation with its film projection forced viewers to completely immerse themselves in Borthwick's family legend; it was a multimedia machismo spectacle that shot directly to the heart.

These two fabulous murals might never have come to life were it not for artist Carlos Fresquez's Community Paint: The Mural class at Metropolitan State College of Denver, a beautiful nod to Auraria's former life as a vibrant Hispanic community. The class's two-fold project last fall was to create murals for the facades of Su Teatro, in the Denver Civic Theater, as well as Metro's Center for Visual Art gallery, both located along the burgeoning Santa Fe strip. The resulting pieces honored Su Teatro for its forty years of keeping Chicano heritage alive on stage with a traditional depiction of the feathered serpent of myth, Quetzalcoatl, that snakes across the building's east wall; in the coming year, subsequent classes will complete a wrap-around continuation of the mural. And for the CVA, Fresquez worked with director Jennifer Garner to create an abstract, vivid swash of colored shapes that fits with the gallery's modern bent while beautifying the street. What Fresquez and his students have accomplished not only gives a visual nod to the barrio past of Auraria while acknowledging the current life of Denver's Art District on Santa Fe, but also offers a look at the future of the area. Thanks for the history lesson — and the local color!

MCA Denver

In the spring of 2011, Jill Desmond, then a young curatorial assistant at the Denver Art Museum, looked at the contents of the permanent collection in the Modern and Contemporary department and realized there were a lot of high-tech pieces. Enough, it turns out, to pull off the blockbuster Blink! Light, Sound and the Moving Image, a show that rambled over two levels of the Hamilton Building. Desmond included works by the greats who started it all, including Nam June Paik and Dan Flavin, as well as contemporary local practitioners such as Donald Fodness and Gary Emrich. By cramming in so many pieces, she captured the feel of a carnival funhouse filled with emphatic sights and sounds, each meant to attract our attention. Unfortunately, Desmond has been bumped upstairs to the DAM's administration, which means her curator days are over for the time being. Too bad.

Readers' Choice: Yves Saint Laurent at the Denver Art Museum

Tucked into a corner of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver's first floor, this gift shop serves two distinct camps: curious tourists and curious residents. There are more than 150 books on artists, art genres and just plain weird stuff; I Feel Relatively Neutral About New York vies for attention next to How to Be a Man. Staffed by four rotating employees, the shop caters to both the silly and the serious, with shelves housing limited-edition art pieces as well as gnome-themed cookie jars, pillows in the shape of logs and light-up key rings that look like mustaches. (MCA shoppers are not satisfied with keeping their facial hair to their faces.) But the best time to shop at the museum is during the Memorial Day sale, when the MCA offers bargain prices on pieces used in displays throughout the year.

Readers' Choice: Denver Art Museum

Now in its third year, Matt Sebastian's Slicing Up Eyeballs has established itself as one of the best sources around, maybe in the world, for news about '80s college, modern and indie rock. The blog's name borrows from the Pixies song "Debaser" (which was inspired by Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel's film Un Chien Andalou), and there's a good chance that if there's any new Pixies news, or anything involving the likes of the Smiths, the Cure, Peter Murphy or New Order, it will be covered — and sometimes even broken — on Slicing Up Eyeballs.

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