Best Alternative Take on the Western Tradition 2014 | Cross Currents | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Best Alternative Take on the Western Tradition

Cross Currents

Native American art has been dominated by traditional forms such as weaving, jewelry, pottery and baskets. But for the past few decades, American Indian artists have also plunged into the international contemporary-art dialogue while still maintaining their heritage. For Cross Currents, at the MSU Center for Visual Art, creative director Cecily Cullen invited a group of these Native American artists from across the country. Two of them, photographer Will Wilson and installation artist Marie Watt, are fairly well known, but it was emerging artist Merritt Johnson, a creator of paintings and costumes, who was the show's great revelation.

Cabaret Otaku is in a theater class all its own, a troupe that brings traditional opera to the stage through the heart and vision of the local anime and cosplay communities. Led by classically trained opera singer Christina Marzano Haystead, this dedicated group of professionals takes conventional stories made for the stage and gives them a modern twist, adding elements like gamer music and contemporary humor. While they may initially attract the anime-savvy crowd, Cabaret Otaku's productions are for anyone who enjoys beautiful voices and a laid-back approach to opera.

Pin a blue ribbon on fair directors Dana Cain and Tracy Weil: The Denver County Fair is our winner — and still champion! If the goal of the fair, now in its third year, is to represent every stratum of our city's culture, it's no surprise that at this year's edition, August 1-3, there will be a paean to pot: the first county-fair Pot Pavilion in the nation and probably the world, where blue ribbons will be handed out in such categories as "Most Potent Bud," "Best Brown Infused Recipe" and — ta-da! — "Best Homemade Bong." Though there will be no actual weed in the building, its legal presence will still be felt, and the adults-only pavilion will also house live music, tie-dye and paraphernalia vendors, light shows and comedy. And right next door: The Beer Pavilion, also new, with tastings and a slate of blue-ribbon contests of its own.

Patrick Dupays of Z Cuisine is as much an aficionado of local artists as he is a great chef, which is why it's not surprising that he turned the hole-in-the-wall spot between Z and its sister brasserie, À Côté, into a gallery space where artist friends — many of them also his restaurant patrons — could show their work. Entre Nous — which means "between us," in the coziest, most private sense of the words — opened last fall, giving the block a new element of high-street society as well as a place to hang out before or after eating. The wait for an open table has never been so pleasant.

Adam Milner: Wave so I know you're real was a conceptual exploration of the world as seen through the quirky filter of the artist's everyday life. The initial impression of the exhibit was of a quiet, contemplative world, something like a library or an archive. But as you looked closer, it got pretty wild — as with the video of people, mostly men, masturbating online, or the one in which Milner's open mouth catches the light reflected off the chrome on a public urinal. Both pieces were charged with sexual content but had been abstracted to such an extent that they came off as smart rather than vulgar, which was quite a feat.

When money was being raised for the Daniel Libeskind-designed addition to the Denver Art Museum, oil zillionaire Frederic C. Hamilton, then chairman of the board of trustees, met the challenge by throwing $26 million into the pot. That's why the addition is called the Frederic C. Hamilton Building. But Hamilton wasn't done. A couple of months ago, he announced that he was turning over his collection of impressionist paintings to the DAM, including pieces by Cézanne, Monet, Manet and all the other big names. The Hamilton paintings were on display in Nature as Muse when the announcement was made, allowing everyone to understand how the bequest beefs up the museum's impressionist holdings and makes the DAM a major repository of the style in the American West.

The project of artist Donald Fodness, Showpen provides low-cost housing and studio space where select young artist-residents can build and exhibit bodies of work for a given amount of time. Showpen's success rate is its best advertisement: The majority of its "graduates" move on from the incubator to grad schools, teaching jobs or other art-related work. But the real beauty of Showpen is that it's something Fodness does not because it's his job, but just because he wants to. His reward lies in the work that results: Showpen makes champions.

Courtesy RedLine Contemporary Art Center

Back in 1974, a group of women in Boulder who also happened to be artists noticed that they were routinely rejected from exhibits because of their gender. Motivated by feminism, and as part of a national movement, they formed the advocacy group Front Range Women in the Visual Arts. Times have changed a lot, something that was demonstrated well by the decision of two members — Margaretta Gilboy and Sally Elliot — to approach William Biety and ask him to put together a fortieth-anniversary show for the group, which includes artists who embrace a wide variety of styles. That's right: These old-line feminists asked a man to curate, which is a pretty post-feminist thing to do. The poetically dubbed Transit of Venus kicked off a series of shows on women and art at RedLine.

Northwest Denver is changing fast — in fact, most of the southern end of the 3600 block of Navajo Street has been scraped flat. But the other end remains home to one of Denver's first art districts. Pirate: Contemporary Art got its start as an artist co-op for rebellious types more than three decades ago, and when it moved here, it quickly established this block as the best place in the city to catch up-and-coming painters, sculptors and multimedia artists. And so it remains today, with Pirate joined by the well-established Edge, Next and Zip 37 galleries, plus the Bug Theatre, Clear Creek Jewelry Academy and Patsy's, the family-owned Italian joint that's been slinging red sauce since the '20s. First Fridays are always off the hook on Navajo, but our favorite event is the district's annual Día de los Muertos celebration. Long live the Navajo Street Art District.

Just as Month of Photography overtook Denver galleries across town last March, Mo'Print 2014 — aka Month of Printmaking — did the same this year, sharpening its focus on the art-world's most underappreciated skill set. The centerpiece, the Open Press 25th Anniversary Exhibit, at the McNichols Building, is as much a 25-year retrospective of the local art community as it is a tribute to the longevity of Mark Lunning's fine-art printmaking studio (see it through April 12). Though its reach is more subtle than MoP's, Mo'Print is bringing a cascade of amazing work by artists around the region before the public. Keep the presses rolling.

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