The thing that immediately set Stephen Batura: Stream apart from its peers was the fact that once viewers were inside the gallery, they were completely surrounded by landscape paintings, mostly set along the Platte River. Interestingly, the exaggerated horizontal views depicted in the show's seventeen works didn't have continuous compositions, so the images didn't flow from one to the other. To further the point that each panel was a separate work, Batura gave each a distinct palette. The paintings are based on amateur photos by Charles Lillybridge that Batura found at History Colorado; he used the Lillybridge snapshots as preliminary "sketches" for the paintings but only loosely responded to the photos, changing their details at will. Using historic images as a source for these landscapes pushed Batura's work into the realm of conceptual realism — and created a truly extraordinary visual experience.

It turns out that landscapes depicting Alaska's Denali and the surface of Mars look a lot like those of the scenery in the West. That was confirmed by the marvelous Far North & Outer Space, which featured the work of Beau Carey and Lanny DeVuono. Carey, a former Coloradan who now lives in his native New Mexico, was represented by paintings of the frozen north that he conceived of during an Alaskan residency for the National Park Service. DeVuono, who moved to Denver from Washington State, has based her paintings on satellite photos of the Red Planet's surface. Though both artists captured the recognizable details of their chosen landscapes, they also conflated representation with abstraction, each in an individual way. It was these differences as much as the similarities that made Far North & Outer Space jell.

Robischon Gallery

The large exhibition rooms at Robischon Gallery allow co-directors Jim Robischon and Jennifer Doran to mount large solos that are linked thematically. That was the case with these four shows, each of which examined the politics of the landscape. Chuck Forsman: Markers featured the famous Boulder artist's iconic paintings of the environment under siege. Next were the digital photo-based images of Elena Dorfman: Empire Falling. These montages depicted scenes that the California-based photographer encountered in a tour of abandoned quarries. Beyond was David Sharpe: Waterthread, which comprised a breathtaking array of large-format pinhole photos in color by local photographer Sharpe. And finally, there was Isabelle Hayeur: Flow, a video projection by a Canadian artist that depicts a landscape morphing from bucolic to industrial. One of Robischon's strong points is presenting programming that functions separately but works well together.

Robischon Gallery

Natural resources are a major concern in the West. Water in particular can be scarce, and its actual and implied absence was the theme of Kevin O'Connell: Memories of Water. One of the region's most notable contemporary photographers, O'Connell is best known for his moody and often tiny photos of the plains, but in this show, he displayed monumental color photos pointing out that the plains were once a sea bottom. Thus, as dry as they are now, they still carry with them the memory of the water in the evenness of their topography. O'Connell's lens goes spontaneously to the horizon, just as it would if he were at sea. Despite the implicit political content of O'Connell's photos, they are mostly striking for their elegant minimalism.

Best Solo by an International Art Star

1959

Clyfford Still Museum
Courtesy Clyfford Still Museum Facebook page

The late abstract expressionist Clyfford Still was an irascible character — even going so far as to formally announce in 1951 that he was withdrawing from the art world. And he mostly did just that, refusing to exhibit his paintings for the rest of his life. A rare exception was the solo he put together himself for the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, in 1959. Interestingly, Still included both his full-blown abstracts and his earlier surrealist compositions in that show. Since the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver owns nearly everything that was in that initial show, it made sense for museum director Dean Sobel to re-create it, and that's what he did with 1959: The Albright-Knox Art Gallery Exhibition Recreated. It was spectacular, conveying what Still was thinking when he was at the height of his powers.

Z Art Dept.

Taos and Santa Fe were very cosmopolitan places from an art standpoint in the 1920s and '30s, and many of the artists who lived there or visited were well aware of recent developments in vanguard art overseas — developments such as abstraction. One of these artists, Raymond Jonson, went on to become one of the most significant abstractionists in the West. This fact was showcased in Raymond Jonson at Z Art Department, a densely installed show that focused on his later work; it was chock-full of colorful treasures, most of them revealing Jonson's commitment to hard-edged forms assembled into constructivist compositions. Z has highlighted a number of early modernists in the West, including Colorado's Herbert Bayer. The Jonson paintings have a definite relationship to Bayer's, which is no surprise, as they were working at the same time in adjacent states.

If the twentieth century was a time for celebrity artists (Picasso, Dalí and Warhol), then the 21st century is turning out to be a time for celebrities as artists (think Bowie, Björk and Franco). Myopia, still on view at MCA Denver, showcases forty years of work by Mark Mothersbaugh, a founder of the legendary new-wave group DEVO. But this is a different proposition altogether: Unlike other celebs who would be artists, Mothersbaugh was an artist before, during and after his rock-star years. Organized by MCA director Adam Lerner and laid out by Ben Griswold, Myopia is breathtaking in the incredible volume of works on view and their invariably high quality. Maybe that's why Lerner believes Mothersbaugh is one of the greatest creative forces of our time.

Denver Art Museum
Courtesy Denver Art Museum

In 1973, budding curator Ron Otsuka took the helm of the Denver Art Museum's Asian Art department and immediately began working, through the solicitation of gifts, to bolster those parts of the collection that were strong and to shore up the weaker parts. Otsuka retired at the end of last year, but during his tenure, he brought the level of the collection way up. For his swan song, Otsuka organized At the Mirror: Reflections of Japan in 20th Century Prints, and nearly every one of the seventy prints included in the show was one that had come in during Otsuka's time at the museum. Japanese art was an important influence on modernism in the West, but in At the Mirror, Otsuka presented the opposite view, which was how Western modernism impacted Japan. It was a worthy farewell, as it revealed both his first-rate scholarship and his interest in plowing fresh curatorial ground.

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In many ways, Matt O'Neill is Denver's original pop surrealist (not to mention perennial art bad boy), having played with the now-hip sensibility since way before it was cool. In honor of his notable place in that scene, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center director Blake Milteer, along with curator Joy Armstrong, mounted Matt O'Neill: Thrift Store Sublime. The show sampled O'Neill's well-known works, including his creepy hybrids of yearbook photos and Picasso portraits. There was also a wall covered in small, complex sendups of cocktail-napkin doodles done in India ink masquerading as ballpoint. Particularly compelling were O'Neill's parodies of abstractions done in dusty retro shades, one of which, "Town Without Pity," was subsequently donated by the artist to the CSFAC's permanent collection. It's currently on display on the center's main level.

Museo de las Americas
Courtesy Museo de las Americas Facebook page

Driving or walking around Denver, it's hard not to notice that the Latino graffiti scene is strong — as it has been for decades. Less well known is that some street kids with spray cans turn into artists. This was the inspiration for Outside in 303 at the Museo de las Americas. To mount the mini-blockbuster, museum director Maruca Salazar enlisted the help of Denver Art Museum curator Gwen Chanzit, and together they chose seven artists, highlighted by the mentor of the group, Jack Avila, who came up with a spectacular mural. Avila was joined by Josiah Lopez, Victoriano Rivera, Javier Fidelis Flores, Gabriel Salazar, Josh Rogers (aka Kans 89) and Mario Zoots, who is one of Denver's hottest emerging artists.

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