Best Museum Exhibit 2014 | Passport to Paris | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Courtesy Denver Art Museum

Last fall, the Denver Art Museum bundled three related shows — Court to Cafe, Drawing Room and Nature as Muse — as a unified blockbuster called Passport to Paris. Like previous blockbusters at the DAM, Passport to Paris attracted huge crowds who drove up ticket sales, membership rolls and gift-shop receipts. This kind of successful audience-building is the culmination of a dream of former director Lewis Sharp. But it was his successor, Christoph Heinrich, who carried it out. Using his wits and sensibilities rather than stats and charts, Heinrich figured out the formula for getting attention by mounting blockbusters — or beacons, as he calls them. The next point of light: Modern Masters, which just opened.

Brandon Marshall

Former Nordstrom exec Chuck McGothlin has an impeccable eye honed during a career buying for the department store's Fifth Avenue boutique in New York, and his experience there clearly translates well at the beautifully upscale Denver Botanic Gardens gift shop. What makes this a must-see stop before or after any visit to the gardens (or even when you're just gift-shopping)? Brilliant merchandising — and a well-selected mixture of art, jewelry, repurposed materials, books, cards, pottery, plants and elegant home accents, along with many nature- and garden-oriented items. And with a much-awaited outdoor exhibit by glass artist Dale Chihuly coming to the DBG in June, the shop should be even more spectacular.

When the DIY Brass Tree House collective came to an end in 2012, the excellent Brass Tree Sessions series of live concert videos ended as well. But with their background in video and television production, the heads behind Brass Tree were able to team up with former Teletunes host and Pindowns member Heather Dalton, a producer on the arts program Out of Order, to produce Sounds on 29th. The program, which airs late on Saturday nights on Channel 12.2, features comedy sets alongside a handful of songs performed by local bands. Hosted by Sid Pink, Sounds on 29th is the less surreal — but no less entertaining — cousin of Dalton's other show, Late Night Denver.

Colorado has had a nice share of video cyphers from different hip-hop crews in the past couple of years. But most stay confined to their own group — or they add so many people that they lose the attention of their fans. Rarely does one video capture a careful cross-section of the hot artists of a given moment. But "Culture Over Currency Vol. 1" does just that, delivering some of the best talent the town has ever seen in one video: Squizzy Gang is well represented, with Trev Rich and AP, and Welcome to the Dope Game has Hustle Man and Turner Jackson. You'll also see appearances by Mr. Midas, F.L. of the Foodchain, and Koo Qua.

A lot of elements make up a great musical: a tuneful, clever libretto; fabulous singing and dancing; expensive tech. But The Full Monty, directed by Scott Beyette, wins hands down for pure heart, daring and soul — as well as talent and skill, of course. Set in Buffalo, the musical follows a group of desperate, out-of-work guys who decide to make some money and win back the respect of their wives by staging a strip show. They may not have impressive biceps, gorgeously defined abs or sinuous dance moves, they figure, but they do have the essential equipment. The terrific cast at Boulder's Dinner Theatre let it all hang out emotionally as well as physically, which took a lot of guts in a venue so small that audience members could reach out and touch flesh at any moment. It was a perfect choice of material when so many are facing hard times, executed with passion, intelligence and style.

Forget the dusty sonatas, stuffy tuxes and holier-than-thou cultural attitude. In the past year, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra has blown those tired classical-music clichés right out of the water. Instead, the organization has shown itself to be a dynamic and vital cultural force in the local arts scene, with a fresh group of collaborations and a renewed push to reach untapped audiences. That includes a string of impressive partnerships with pop, rock and folk musicians, including local indie-rock heroes like Nathaniel Rateliff, DeVotchKa and Gregory Alan Isakov. The CSO has also worked with different community organizations, ranging from the Jewish Community Center to the Denver Art Museum. The group's success in redefining the civic role of an orchestra is all the more impressive considering its stormy recent history. Three years ago, the CSO was cutting musicians' salaries and wrestling with its board of trustees as it faced a million-dollar budget shortfall. It took the innovation of new CEO Jerry Kern and his wife, Mary Rossick Kern, to turn the orchestra around, and the city is richer for it.

ZIP Gallery members Valerie Savarie and Karrie York lucked into a wonderful space when the Colorado Photographic Art Center vacated its Belmar digs for a more urban location; together they forged something new — an artist-run and -owned gallery and studio space that, while it partly adheres to the co-op model by having member artists, is something else entirely. Valkarie also offers wall space to guest artists — with an emphasis on local ones — while asking only a minimal percentage of their sales in return, so prices can remain reasonable and artwork more salable. For artists clamoring for more community and grassroots collaboration and less divisive wheeling and dealing, Valkarie has solutions. Ditto for collectors, who can only reap the benefits of more affordable work.

There are restaurants that hang art, and then there is La Cour: Run by a family of staunch Francophiles, the new blue-brick cafe brings a little bit of Paris to South Broadway for folks longing for charcuterie and cheeses, a tasty tartine or quiche, affordable French wine and/or pastries from Trompeau Bakery, all served with a view of artwork. But La Cour deliberately bills itself as an "art bar," so in addition to the food and relaxed atmosphere, there's a gallery that offers changing shows ten times a year. C'est si bon!

Museums and art centers are typically in purpose-built structures, often with dramatic architecture to set off their aesthetic cred. On the other hand, galleries are almost always in rehabbed spaces. This is certainly true in Denver, where until recently there were only two galleries in specifically designed buildings: the William Havu Gallery and Plus Gallery. Now there's a third: the soon-to-be-completed new Space Gallery. The structural elements of the building came from a kit, but instead of erecting a barn or hangar with it, Space owners Michael Burnett and Melissa Snow commissioned architect Owen Beard to create neo-modernist interior and exterior skins. Beard's beautiful handling of the details, like the horizontal ribs cladding the second floor, which is also pierced by a seemingly random pattern of windows, makes it look like a miniature contemporary-art museum.

Nine artists, some of them graduating RedLine residents, joined together early in 2013 to realize a dream by building out TANK, a revolutionary new studio space in Overland. The flowing circular blueprint worked so well that they've since added a second buildout of interconnected, doorless studios, including an area reserved for residents selected through Adam Gildar's nonprofit Art-Plant. Imagined in the working spirit of other precedent-setting spaces like RedLine and Ironton (which also got a new building this year), but with an added layer of grit, TANK proves that Denver's art community is ready for its close-up.

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