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.

RedLine Contemporary Art Center
Courtesy RedLine Contemporary Art Center

In the early years of feminist art, abstraction was seen as being part of the patriarchy and was therefore rejected by many women. The trouble with that idea was that in reality, many women were creating abstracts, including the lesbian feminist activist and artist who was the subject of Harmony Hammond: Becoming/Unbecoming Monochrome. This magisterial show was clearly the high point of a year's worth of exhibits on the theme of women in the arts at RedLine. Put together by guest curator and queer theorist Tirza True Latimer, the show focused on work Hammond had done in the '70s based on American Indian baskets, as well as related — and stunning — recent paintings, many of them the size of billboards. In the language of the movement, Hammond liberated abstraction from its domination by men.

Edge Gallery

Mark Brasuell was a member of Edge for more than two decades before defecting last year to rival co-op Spark. Before he decamped, however, he gave over his Edge solo slot to a group show that he curated. It included four of Colorado's most noteworthy abstract artists, all of whom happen to be women: Sue Simon, known for her science-based abstractions, which often include formulas and equations; Terry Maker, who embraces the use of unusual materials, in this case sawed stacks of painted canvas; Ania Gola-Kumor, a painter working in an abstract-expressionist vocabulary; and Virginia Maitland, a master of color-field abstraction. It's interesting that Brasuell would select these particular artists, as their varied approaches are admittedly distinct — but he established the roster based solely on his admiration of and respect for each.

Edge Gallery

Mark Brasuell was a member of Edge for more than two decades before defecting last year to rival co-op Spark. Before he decamped, however, he gave over his Edge solo slot to a group show that he curated. It included four of Colorado's most noteworthy abstract artists, all of whom happen to be women: Sue Simon, known for her science-based abstractions, which often include formulas and equations; Terry Maker, who embraces the use of unusual materials, in this case sawed stacks of painted canvas; Ania Gola-Kumor, a painter working in an abstract-expressionist vocabulary; and Virginia Maitland, a master of color-field abstraction. It's interesting that Brasuell would select these particular artists, as their varied approaches are admittedly distinct — but he established the roster based solely on his admiration of and respect for each.

Frank Sampson: New Paintings highlighted recent efforts by the well-known eighty-something Boulder artist, who, despite the rise of abstraction and conceptualism, has devoted his entire output to figurative painting. But his approach to his depictions of people, animals and birds has been anything but traditional, instead falling into the magic-realist camp. Sampson has created an oddball body of work that's one part storybook and one part dream — with some of those dreams being nightmares. There are weird hybrids of animals with human qualities, and frequent appearances by scary-looking jesters and clowns. Set in Old Masterish surroundings, these characters are either whimsical and childlike or ominous and threatening. It might not be possible to teach an old painter new tricks, but it's also impossible to keep one like Sampson down.

The new Point Gallery, the brainchild of co-directors Frank Martinez and Michael Vacchiano, specializes in contemporary representational art. And that was the subject of David Menard: Urban Grotesque. To create his pieces, the artist began by scanning photos — both his and those of others — and then used Photoshop to combine different images into single ones. The resulting computer files, which were titanic in size, were printed, then attached to boards and sealed in resin. The results were prints that read like paintings, with Menard being particularly adept at capturing atmospheric effects. Most strikingly, he used photos to push representational imagery to its abstract breaking point.

Pirate: Contemporary Art

One of Denver's most outrageous sculptors was the author of a surprisingly somber show, Michael Brohman: Horizons. The standout, "Borders," was made of salvaged twelve-foot-long boards that Brohman stacked up in order to reveal the ghosts of lines from the lathe strips that were once attached to them, and from the joints between the boards, which also formed lines. These stripes represent prison uniforms and even bars to Brohman. On top of the stack, Brohman installed a monumental bronze element that comprised scores of simple armless human figures that face the viewer but seem to be held in place as though behind a fence. The piece is meant to refer to imprisonment and evoke the Holocaust, the deportation of immigrant children across the southern border, and other events in history. With this show, Brohman has taken a new, more contemplative tack.

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