Best Present for Theater-Loving Friends 2014 | Curious Theatre Company season pass | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

You can't go wrong with season tickets for Curious Theatre Company: Give them to friends, and they'll be thinking about you with gratitude several times over the course of the year. Curious brings the best and most-talked-about contemporary work to Denver — plays you've read about with interest but assumed you'd never get to see — and stages them with skill, artistry and integrity. The price for a five-play season ranges from $115 (for seniors) to $210, and there are added perks, like getting a discount on the second ticket if you bring a friend and — if you buy the expensive package — opening-night parties where you can mingle with the actors.

The extensive art collection at Denver International Airport has paid for itself in publicity alone. There's "Mustang," the all-but-fire-breathing stallion by Luis Jiménez that still inspires fear in the timid, and the enigmatic Leo Tanguma murals that have spawned a thousand conspiracy theories. But there are also works with a quieter presence, like Betty Woodman's sumptuous "Balustrade," which many travelers miss because it's on level six of Jeppesen Terminal. Woodman has taken the baluster shape and put her own signature spin on it, creating rows of them out of expressively worked ceramics.

Best Reason for the Biennial of the Americas to Return

Denver Night

The Biennial of the Americas returned this past summer, an odd three years after its debut, and Denver Night alone was reason to welcome it back. Masterminded by the MCA's Adam Lerner and sound artist Chris Kallmyer in the spirit of blurring the edges between art and fun, the climactic gathering, which qualified as a "happening" of major dimensions, included an opera for dogs, an interactive light installation by Boulder artist Jen Lewin, Viviane Le Courtois's welcoming Human Grazing Experiment and, most notably, a fine finale to Nick Cave's stay in Denver — HEARD•DAM, which let loose an army of Cave's flowing horse Soundsuits into the park, to the delight of all. It was a world-class evening for a world-class town.

Pablo Kjolseth of the International Film Series is more than a curator: He's a man with a mission who juggles a mixture of new and old art-film and pop-culture oddities, current sleepers and cult favorites on IFS screens every fall and spring semester at CU-Boulder. And the series has only gotten better over time: With new digital equipment, Kjolseth can present the contemporary films everyone's talking about while still offering the celluloid classics and archival prints that have always been the backbone of the series. Kjolseth loves film, and it shows in every knowledgeably sculpted schedule. Long love the IFS!

Jeff Davis

After singer Shawn Strub left 40th Day in 1993, the band struggled on for another couple of years before splitting. And while its influence could be heard in bands like Space Team Electra, 40th Day faded into almost complete obscurity. Then, in 2012, bassist James Nasi and guitarist Neil Satterfield played a show with a set list that included a handful of 40th Day songs, and from there, the plucky Nasi contacted the remaining members from the band's heyday, finding all but original drummer Sid Davis available to relive the Denver classics found on albums like Lovely Like a Snake. With Davis's blessing, the group got together with Sympathy F's Tony Morales on drums and made 40th Day's hard-edged yet ethereal music feel anything but dated.

There's no better place for a sculpture show than at the Denver Botanic Gardens, what with all those curving walkways, clearings and water features. And exhibitions director Lisa Eldred has used the grounds to her advantage, mounting one great exhibit after another. The most recent one was Catalyst, devoted to pieces by some of the top contemporary sculptors in Colorado, including James Surls, Linda Fleming and Robert Mangold, along with mid-career masters Emmett Culligan, Kim Dickey, Nancy Lovendahl, Terry Maker, Andy Miller, Patrick Marold, Pard Morrison, Carl Reed and Yoshitomo Saito. All were working in abstract and/or conceptual modes, with nary a bronze cowboy or marble ballerina in sight.

Conceptual artist Patrick Marold hit the big leagues last year when he was awarded a $1.5 million commission to create a work that will occupy the under-construction "valley" where the rail line will meet the new station and hotel at DIA. But even though Marold is adept at orchestrating massive works like these, he's also good on a more intimate scale, as he proved in Patrick Marold: Strata. Marold likes to use simple repeated shapes, like the cluster of metal rods that were used to create a standing sculpture, its shiny surfaces reflecting the room around it; or the rusted rods that were stacked precariously into a leaning pyramid. But he also uses ideas, which explains why his pieces are so smart.

Over the past seventy years, Colorado has built a strong tradition in hard-edged abstraction and pattern painting that flourishes even today in the work of some of the most advanced artists in the state. That's doubtless why Collin Parson, the Arvada Center's visual-art director, decided to put together Perception: Color/Line/Pattern. The expansive exhibit included some mid-twentieth-century works by the likes of Charles Bunnell, Vance Kirkland, Bev Rosen and others, moved on to those from the late twentieth century, including Clark Richert and David Yust, and finished up with younger artists working now with patterns, shapes and lines, among them Jaime Correjo, Adam Holloway, Wendi Harford, Emilio Lobato and Lewis McInnis.

Ever since Marcel Duchamp inverted a urinal a century ago and called it a fountain, artists have been exploring conceptualism — art about ideas. This has been especially true in the past thirty years or so. But, truth be told, most conceptual art puts the idea front and center, so that the art becomes an afterthought. That didn't happen in Joel Swanson: Left to Right, Top to Bottom. The show's title refers to how we read in English, and the works were all about the written language, including the spaces between words. Everything was employed to illustrate Swanson's thoughts on language, but despite all these intellectual referents, the show was chaste, minimal and elegant.

One Denver art trend from last year was the less-is-more aesthetic. Many venues took on this topic, but Space Gallery's Lines and Grids stood out. That's because everything in it was reduced to its most basic expression, with the works all but invisible aside from the paper or canvas on which they were done. The exhibit was organized by Marks Aardsma — a master of the light touch herself — who invited like-minded artists to join her for the fourth rendition of a series on the subject. Among the Colorado artists on board were David Sawyer, Tonia Bonnell, Sophia Dixon Dillo and Scott Holdeman, whose work was shown alongside that of artists from across the country. The show really proved how little it takes for some artists to convey a fully formed visual message.

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