Best Installation Solo — Hard Materials 2016 | a folk tale by Bryan Andrews | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Although technically the pieces in a folk tale by Bryan Andrews were separate works, the artist orchestrated them in such a way that together they resolved into an installation. Andrews has long created pieces, mostly from carved wood, that come out of his own cooked-up set of myths, inspired by his study of the world's spiritual beliefs. For this show, the myth system was based on a metaphorical forest; the arrangement of the pieces was intentional, and began with one representing the courier who carried the tale. Next came three busts looking on from one side and a set of prints facing them, both types of works symbolizing the archetypal characters that played roles in the imaginary myth; it all culminated in a tall spire that marked the imaginary place where the tale had been planted. Andrews had previously taken a several-years hiatus from exhibiting his work in town, and a folk tale by Bryan Andrews marked his return to the scene — but he's now moving away, so in retrospect, it was also his fond farewell.

Every other year, a raft of Denver art venues mount shows as part of the Month of Photography, the brainchild of photographer Mark Sink. During last spring's event it was Sink's wife, Kristen Hatgi Sink, who stole the show with the engaging exhibit A Tented Sky: New Works by Kristen Hatgi Sink. Her subject was the female nude, and she posed her models tabletop, drenching them in honey and adorning them with cut flowers, sliced fruit, preserved butterflies and even an octopus. Typical of her exacting standards, Hatgi Sink spent many hours getting just the right shots. The finished photos, in oversized digital pigment prints produced by Ron Landucci, were richly colored, densely composed and perfectly executed. An installation of flowers, fruit and honey supplemented the photos and resonated with them, even if the organic matter started to stink before the show closed.

A couple of years ago, Glenwood Springs-based artist Andrew Roberts-Gray was interested in capturing the mountain scenery in paintings that were fairly traditional save for a few colorful and expressive abstract passages inserted here and there. Those paintings represented a contemporary spin on that old workhorse the Western landscape. The artist's oeuvre has changed considerably since then, and although he still claims to refer to the landscape, such reference was hard to see in his most recent work, which made up the solo After the Pale King: Andrew Roberts-Gray at Michael Warren Contemporary. The show was dominated by gigantic, post-minimal wall constructions made up of multiple panels that sometimes had geometric sculptural elements. Artists are often timid about changing course once they've developed a successful artistic formula, as Roberts-Gray had with his earlier, slightly altered landscapes, and it probably took courage to throw away that signature style. Fortunately, he found another one that is just as successful, if not more so.

Last winter, Robischon Gallery presented a suite of environmental shows that zeroed in on the topic of water, an urgent subject in the West. A standout among these strong exhibits was Stephen Batura: Floodplain, and although the entire show had fewer than a half-dozen paintings, the experience was just this side of transcendental. That's because the exhibit was anchored by a single spectacular work: the title piece, "Floodplain." Measuring forty feet across and rising twelve feet high, it was a highly expressive but nonetheless convincing rendition of rapidly flowing water. The casein-on-board painting relates to the many that Batura has done over the years on the subject of the South Platte River, including those times when it has flooded. In terms of size and charisma, "Floodplain" demands to have a big wall to hang it on. And it deserves to: It should be on permanent display in a local open-to-the-public lobby, or even a museum.

The idea for the ambitious group show Learning to See Color at the University of Denver's Vicki Myhren Gallery was sparked by a Josef Albers portfolio in DU's collection. Albers did the prints in the '70s as a retrospective of his fifty-years-long obsession with color. Free-associating from the images in the portfolio, co-curators Dan Jacobs (the Myhren director) and Jeffrey Keith (a noted Denver artist) went beyond just exploring color to examining how color illuminates the nature of art itself. They rounded up an array of works that showed how color can indicate mood, narrative, composition and other visual-art features. The show included many notable works by internationally famous artists, such as Andy Warhol and Helen Frankenthaler, and many pieces by Colorado artists, including Sushe Felix, Monroe Hodder and Kate Petley. The only down note had nothing to do with how well the organizers put together the exhibit or how interesting their many inclusions were, but rather with an anonymous crime: Collin Parson's "Night Sight/Night Site," a multi-part installation, was repeatedly vandalized and ultimately removed. In spite of this terrible hit, the show still held together as one of the season's top attractions.

Back in the '70s and '80s, painter Fritz Scholder was a hot property, riding the Southwestern craze of the time — but then, about twenty years ago, he fell out of favor. Recently, though, perceptions of his efforts have started to change, and a good indication was the wildly popular Super Indian: Fritz Scholder 1967-1980, a show that looked at the artist's highly idiosyncratic depictions of American Indians. In retrospect, these paintings revolutionized the public perceptions of Native American art and liberated American Indian artists from the limitations of their traditional practices. It could accurately be said that there is Native American art before Scholder and after Scholder — the changes he wrought were that big. Curated by John Lukavic, from the Denver Art Museum's Native Arts department, the show was anchored by the many Scholder pieces in the DAM's collection, including a trove of ten major works only recently donated by mega-collectors Kent and Vicki Logan. It was intriguing to notice that as Scholder's paintings have gotten older, they've started to look newer, and even seem contemporary right now.

As director of the Clyfford Still Museum, Dean Sobel relentlessly comes up with new ways to present the artist's accomplishments — a most pressing assignment, considering that the CSM is exclusively given over to the exhibition of Still's pieces. To keep visitors interested, Sobel can't just present the same old chronology over and over again; luckily, he's been great at brainstorming new ways to showcase the enigmatic artist. The most recent example of this was Repeat/Recreate: Clyfford Still's "Replicas", mounted this past fall. Still was one of the pioneers of abstract expressionism, America's earliest claim to being an art powerhouse. The romantic idea of the style is that paintings of this type are the result of an artist staging a unique battle with paint on canvas. But Still didn't paint that way, and instead of his paintings being one-off encounters, he sometimes made multiple copies of the same painting. To pull off this fabulous show, Sobel and CSM consulting curator David Anfam gathered paintings and their copies from around the world, displaying them with their companions for the first time.

Put together by co-curators Donald Fodness and Geoffrey Shamos, Jokes of Nature was a large group show meant to explicate RedLine's theme last year, "Play It Forward." The curators chose pieces in which the grotesque plays some kind of role, and they included things that they felt encompassed the diabolical, scatological, pornographic, dreamlike, carnivalesque, uncanny and caricatured. You get the picture: The exhibit was all but a freak show. But to the credit of the curators, they kept the teenage gross-out stuff to a minimum — though it must have been hard to resist that temptation, considering their themes. Although artists from around the world were represented, the show was also chock-full of the work of current or former Colorado artists, such as Stephen Martonis, Gretchen Marie Schaefer, Xi Zhang, Laura Shill, Martha Russo, Amber Cobb and Kristen Hatgi Sink, among many others. Fodness is an artist who works with a funk vocabulary, while Shamos is a recently minted art historian; they made a great pair of opposites, and we're hopeful they'll team up again.

Although the Museum of Outdoor Arts is mostly about sculpture in public spots around metro Denver, it also maintains a set of indoor galleries at its headquarters in Englewood. This past winter, Joel Swanson: Polysemic was installed in these inside spaces, along with one additional outside piece: a billboard titled "Respectfully" that was erected in the MOA's Sculpture Alley, next to the building. "Respectfully" referred to the common closing salutation, which Swanson freed from its context and meaning — and that's what he did with everything inside, as well. The show opened with three installations presented as one; in each, Swanson had taken a source — product packaging in the first, Zapf Dingbat symbols in the second and envelopes in the third — and then stripped it down to its basic form, in the process changing its meaning. He's particularly fascinated with language, and a wallpaper installation and a suspension piece were both based on palindromes, words spelled the same way forward and backward. Don't be fooled by all this heady content, though: Swanson always ensures not only that his work is about ideas, but that it's beautiful, too, so you can just look at it without worrying about what it means.

Looting the history of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century genre painting that depicts Western expansion in America, then crossing that reference with one that relates to Ed Ruscha's post-pop taste for text and irony, was the formula for the exhibit Shawn Huckins: The American __tier, presented last spring at Goodwin Fine Art. For this dazzling show, Denver painter Huckins created a body of very accomplished and witty conceptual-realist paintings, expertly copying famous historic paintings — like those by George Caleb Bingham — and defacing them, so to speak, with words spelled out in block letters running across the pictures. The words conveyed messages that were sourced from found tweets and text messages. Interestingly, Huckins masked off the parts of the image in which letters appeared before he started to paint, even though it appears as though the messages were tacked on afterward. The dialogue between the images and the words contrasts the quieter times of the past with the hectic pace of life today, but for Huckins, they also equate the way that people at that time, as now, faced an uncharted future.

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