Best Gallery Show — Group 2015 | Natural Surroundings | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

The swanky new neo-modernist building that houses Michael Burnett's Space Gallery provides the ideal setting for the kind of neo-modernist abstraction that is the venue's mainstay. For the ambitious Natural Surroundings, Burnett invited ten artists from Colorado and elsewhere, most of whom did paintings that employed encaustic, a paint made by mixing pigments with wax, resulting in a viscous substance that may be applied in extremely thick layers. When dried, the encaustic is translucent, and that quality, combined with the material's thickness, lent these paintings a rich and intriguing three-dimensionality.

Readers' choice: Momentum, Space Gallery

Conceptual art is usually more about thought than beauty. Not so for Dmitri Obergfell, who creates credible idea-pieces that are also gorgeous. On an intellectual plane, all of the offerings in Yinfinity: New Works by Dmitri Obergfell at Gildar Gallery were based on ancient or familiar symbols like the yin-yang circle, or the double profile of a bust of Janus. What made them beautiful was the artist's use of a custom-car finish called interference paint which, once applied in a mirror-smooth layer, caused the pieces to actually change color as viewers passed by them. It was a tremendously cool effect.

Wes Magyar

When longtime Denver art dealer Robin Rule died last year, a trio of faithful assistants — Valerie Santerli, Rachel Beitz and Hillary Morris — decided to resurrect her namesake gallery and carry on her legacy. The new Rule Gallery, inside Hinterland, is small and informal, but it meets the minimal requirements for an exhibition space for first-rate art. One of the earliest shows there was Joseph Coniff (in parenthesis), an elegant affair made up of the artist's chic-looking post-minimal paintings. Though his color choices were unnatural, the paintings conceptually evoked landscapes, as each was divided into three broad horizontal bars that easily stood in for foregrounds, mid-grounds and backgrounds. This was in spite of the fact that the Coniffs were utterly flat, with no illusion of depth whatsoever. Because of the high quality of its presentations, the new Rule is a worthy successor to the old one.

Courtesy Michael Warren Contemporary

The art of New Mexico and Colorado has been intimately intertwined for a century — an affair that continued with Layered Perspectives at Michael Warren Contemporary. The show focused on three abstract artists: Angela Berkson of New Mexico and Teresa Booth Brown and Stanley Bell, both from Colorado. Curator Mike McClung presented each artist in depth. Berkson employed arrow shapes mounted on the wall that were potentially kinetic, since they could be spun. The Browns — updated versions of classic abstract expressionism done in exaggerated horizontal formats — were sublime. Bell embraced a more-is-more approach, covering the surfaces of his paintings with as many visual flourishes as possible and then inserting little toy figurines here and there. Each artist staked out a different abstract territory, and the resulting combination economically expressed how persistent an interest in abstraction is here in the West.

Best Show That Was Both Retro and Contemporary

Angela Beloian

For Angela Beloian: In Technicolor, the Boulder-based artist created a body of sharp-looking paintings and screen prints that riffed on minimalism, abstract surrealism, psychedelic art and op art simultaneously. Using flowing hard-edged lines, Beloian created interlocking shapes that are filled in by shifting shades of color that overlap. And what marvelous colors she used. The relationship between them suggested the illusion of light and shadow, lending these utterly simple compositions an unexpected three-dimensionality. The Beloians looked very 1960s-'70s retro, like they had come right off the set of a Star Trek episode. But if the artist's aesthetic sensibility recalls the past, her methods are thoroughly up to date: Her preliminary studies were done on her iPhone.

Tobias Fike is best known for performance-based videos and photos done with collaborator Matthew Harris, but for the elegant meta-modernist Tobias Fike: Then and now and then, Fike focused on himself and his place in the universe. In the sculpture "My Own Night," for instance, a cube covered in sheets of black fiberboard was pierced with tiny holes through which points of light shone in an arrangement that corresponded to the position of the stars in the sky over his birthplace on the night he was born. The showstopper was "Accumulation," a pyramid of internally lit open cardboard boxes which were also pierced, reflecting stars that are 38 light-years away — Fike's age. The conflation of the personal and the universal made this show very smart, but it was Fike's eye for formal elegance that made it great.

Paper provides the base for watercolors, drawings and pastels, and it's a key component of collages. For Cecily Cullen, the creative director at Metropolitan State University's Center for Visual Art, it also works for sculptures and bas-reliefs. In the ambitious Paper Work, Cullen welcomed many artists who work with paper, including Melissa Jay Craig, Jennifer Ghormley, Anne Hallam, Bovey Lee, Diane Martonis, Dawn McFadden, Mia Pearlman, Susan Porteous and Liz Miller. Though everything was breathtaking, especially given the meticulous craft skills necessary to manipulate the fragile material, it was Miller who created the exhibit's tour de force, a room-sized installation called "Splendiferous Jungle Warfare" that was made especially for the show.

Brandon Marshall

Trees, shrubs, bushes, flowers and cacti have always been the true stars of the Denver Botanic Gardens, but the institution added sculpture shows a few years ago — and the idea has allowed for one triumph after another. This past year it was Chihuly, featuring monumental art-glass installations by Dale Chihuly, the internationally famous glass artist. Each work was made up of hundreds of separate blown-glass elements; the resulting compositions found the perfect foils in the DBG's 24 acres of foliage and water features. The show attracted more than a million visitors, setting an attendance record for the DBG. The cherry on top was the announcement before the show closed that Robert and Judi Newman and the Kemper family had come up with about $1 million to purchase "Icicle Tower — 'Colorado,'" an eleven-foot-tall tower rising from the pond behind the historic Waring House. The piece comprises some 700 glass spikes in red, orange and yellow — inspired, Chihuly says, by Colorado's famous sunsets.

Courtesy Denver Art Museum

Royalty, movie stars and the fabulously wealthy are good for something: jewelry. That fact was highlighted in Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century, which featured exquisitely beautiful things like ruby-encrusted clocks and diamond-encrusted tiaras among a raft of other luxurious bibelots made by Cartier. The remarkable show was organized under the direction of the DAM's Margaret Young-Sanchez, who relied on her lifelong love of jewelry, her familiarity with the exhibition of artifacts, and a special relationship with the Cartier Foundation. Made up of 200 objects, Brilliant was something of a visual marathon. The key revelation of the show was not that people of means love jewelry — we knew that — but rather that Cartier was often on the cutting edge of vanguard design, something Young-Sanchez underscored in her picks.

Photographer Suzanne Heintz and her too-perfect mannequin family, including husband Chauncey and daughter Mary Margaret, have been the subjects of an ongoing project called Life Once Removed for fifteen years. Somehow, Heintz's ideal family has a way of always falling to pieces, as it did last summer at a failed wedding ceremony caught on camera; more recently, things got hinky during an awkward holiday shopping spree, which Heintz both videotaped and shot for a one-of-a-kind Christmas card, wherein the family walks by a shop window decorated for the holidays with mannequins that look disturbingly like themselves.

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