David B. Smith Gallery

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.

Center for Visual Art/MSU

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.

Denver Botanic Gardens

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.

Denver Art Museum
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.

Although he pens comics for Westword every week, that's just a fraction of Noah van Sciver's creative life; he's also published tiny zines, a full-fledged Blammo comic book and a well-received Fantagraphics graphic novel, The Hypo. He's now moved on to Saint Cole, which tells the ordinary story of an ordinary man — the kind of guy who supports his family by working as a pizza-delivery boy and blots out his misery with drugs and alcohol. Van Sciver has a drawing style that evokes everything from old-time classic comic strips to the skilled sketches of Robert Crumb, but his storytelling is all his own.

Jill Hadley Hooper's sensitive illustrations appear on book covers and in national magazines and newspapers, and her paintings get show time at Goodwin Fine Art. But they were also tailor-made for the pages of Patricia MacLachlan's The Iridescence of Birds, a picture book released last fall about the young Henri Matisse and early influences on his career as a painter. Hooper skillfully meshes the sights and experiences of the artist's boyhood in northern France with the spirit and exuberant color of his later works in her block-print illustrations.

While war in the Middle East seems unwinnable, a book that profiles three women who've served in the National Guard won a major victory for a Colorado author. Last year Helen Thorpe, whose Just Like Us took the Colorado Book Award for Creative Nonfiction in 2009, published Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War — and not only did Thorpe's efforts earn her good reviews and a segment on Jon Stewart's Daily Show, but Time named it the magazine's top non-fiction pick for 2014. "The mobilization of the U.S. National Guard to Afghanistan and Iraq is one of the most remarkable chapters in the war on terror, and Thorpe's reporting draws on the experiences of three female soldiers to illustrate it," Time said. Illustrate it, and remind us all that no matter how distant the battlefield, war can hit very close to home.

Jeff Miller's grandfather never talked much about how he happened to meet Jeff's grandmother while he was assisting civilian relief efforts in German-occupied Belgium during the Great War. That reticence stirred Miller's writerly curiosity about the little-known exploits of the American-led Commission for Relief in Belgium, which went to ingenious and extraordinary lengths to prevent the starvation of millions trapped behind enemy lines during the long, bloody conflict. Thirty years ago, Miller inherited many of his grandfather's CRB papers and his grandmother's diary, which offered fresh insights into that grim struggle. That led to a sprawling historical novel, a project that Miller eventually shelved, and now to something even more ambitious: a three-volume nonfiction account detailing the biggest relief effort the world had ever seen, self-published through Millbrown Press. The first volume, Behind the Lines, showed up in bookstores just in time to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the CRB on October 22, 1914. Hungry for a good read? Miller delivers.

Aurora isn't messing around when it comes to the arts, something it proved a year ago by naming Slam Nuba veteran (and a member of the group's 2011 National Poetry Slam champion team) Jovan Mays as its first civic poet laureate. Mays grew up in Aurora with a mind for the power of community; as a performer, he's electric, and his enthusiasm for spoken word is easily shared with others on a human level that cuts through the barriers of poetic hogwash. He'll hold the post through December 2016, and one thing's for sure: He'll be hard to replace when his time is up.

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