Best Museum Exhibit 2016 | Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

By any measure, the paintings, photos, videos and wallpapers that made up Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty — which filled all three floors of MCA Denver — were over the top, a combined consequence of the artist's accomplished technique, outrageous choice of subjects and effortlessly conveyed, spectacular visual impact. The exhibit, expertly curated by Bill Arning, director of Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and Elissa Auther, a guest curator at MCA Denver, surveyed Minter's oeuvre from the '70s to the present, charting the course of her career from early fame to later obscurity (as she fell into the sex-drugs-and-punk scene in the East Village in the '80s) and, finally, to her rediscovery during the past ten years. Throughout, Minter mined some unlikely sources — food, high fashion, hardcore porn and urban grit — to achieve her relentlessly sumptuous results. One of the secrets to Minter's success — and, ultimately, this show — is the way her works are simultaneously appealing and repulsive, compelling viewers to alternately look at and look away from them.

Readers' choice: Mythic Creatures, Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Best Juxtaposition of Colorado Artists and International Art Stars

Showing Off

Christoph Heinrich, the Denver Art Museum's director but a contemporary curator at heart, took on the interim assignment of managing the museum's Modern and Contemporary collection during the search for a new curator this past year. Heinrich reinstalled level four in the Hamilton Building with Showing Off as a way to highlight art that's come into the DAM's permanent collection over the past several years — including gifts like the gorgeous Agnes Martin painting as well as works acquired from temporary exhibits mounted during Heinrich's tenure. The still-open show is dominated by works done by internationally famous artists: In addition to Martin, there's Nick Cave, Al Held, Glenn Ligon, Sol LeWitt and Vik Muniz. Of course, famous artists and their work are to be expected in an art museum, but what was less expected was that these art stars would keep company with a contingent of Colorado artists, including John McEnroe, Martha Daniels, Amy Metier, Maynard Tischler, Stacey Steers and Daniel Sprick — a combination that set this engaging show apart.

Collin Parson is a booster for the value of Colorado art, and Art of the State 2016, a juried show open to all Colorado artists, is the latest proof of his commitment. Along with two local art experts, Gwen Chanzit and Michael Chavez, Parson conscientiously sifted through almost 1,500 submissions, ultimately choosing nearly 150 pieces. The show encompassed every style and medium imaginable by artists ranging from area favorites to complete unknowns, as well as scores whose artistic reps fell somewhere in between. With so much going on, it was hard to make sense of the show, but it did reveal certain things about the scene. First, it's apparent that there are many Colorado artists working with some kind of realism, including hyperrealism and even neo-pop art. Also, there are many artists interested in abstraction and conceptualism, and we have a vibrant photography scene. The show may not have been particularly cohesive, but the sheer numbers alone made it a don't-miss.

The largest art department in Colorado is at Metropolitan State University of Denver, and because of its focus, Metro — founded in 1965 as a state college — has played an inordinately large role in the city's art world. In fact, so many artists have graduated from the institution that a jury was required to cut down the number of those who qualified to fit into the (admittedly very large) Center for Visual Art, where the resulting Vault: MSU Denver Alumni Exhibition was presented. Leila Armstrong, an MSU graduate who teaches art history at Metro, and Matt Chasansky, another alum who works in art administration, served as the jurors. CVA curator Cecily Cullen took charge of the exhibition design, and in doing so, somehow managed to make sense out of the rather disparate lot. Many Metro grads have become well-known Denver artists — among them Phil Bender, Virginia Folkestad, Mark Friday, Jennifer Ghormley, Jason Lee Gimbel, Dania Pettus, Dave Seiler and Mario Zoots — and the show perfectly reflected what a significant contribution the school's former students continue to make to the Denver scene.

The McNichols Building in Civic Center is undergoing renovation and won't open again until this fall, but one of the last shows there before it closed was decidedly one of the best efforts of the year. Titled Trine Bumiller: 100 Paintings for 100 Years, the show celebrated the centennial of nearby Rocky Mountain National Park. Bumiller was an artist-in-residence there, and the idea came to her of doing 100 paintings to mark each of the park's 100 years. While living in a cabin during the residency, she created sketches of the scenery she encountered; back in her studio, those sketches led to preliminary watercolor studies for the final abstracted takes on nature. All of the paintings were 24 inches tall, but they had nine different widths, ranging from 6 to 48 inches. Each panel was numbered, with their order in the exhibit determined by a random-number generator. Bumiller installed them at the same height around the entire space so that they functioned as an eye-popping painted band wrapped all the way around the top floor of the McNichols. Like the park itself, the result was simply sublime.

Roland Bernier, who worked in abstraction and text-based conceptualism and had been showing his work at many of Denver's top commercial galleries and museums since the 1980s, died last summer. But it was his involvement in the alternative art world as a longtime member of the Spark Gallery co-operative that explains why members there overwhelmingly voted to mount a show to honor his memory. The group gave over all three spaces to The Seen and Unseen: Roland Bernier, an economical survey of his incredible output that was curated by members Sue Simon, Elaine Ricklin and Madeleine Dodge. Among the earlier works were an elegant '80s abstract and a sophisticated pattern painting based on graffiti from the '90s. The show was dominated, however, by his 21st-century pieces, wherein Bernier used words as his principal compositional device. In some, words were spelled out in 3-D letters, while others employed words appropriated from photocopied newsprint. This memorial exhibit only hinted at Bernier's tremendous range, because Spark isn't big enough to accommodate even a single sample of every kind of thing that he did.

John DeAndrea, who grew up on the west side when it was still "Little Italy," became a world-famous artist in the 1970s — fairly unusual for someone in Colorado. DeAndrea's signature style is hyperrealist figural sculpture, and his most famous work — and one of the Denver Art Museum's most popular pieces — is "Linda," an incredibly lifelike reclining nude woman in oil on polyvinyl with human hair. As important as it is, and in spite of the frequent requests that it be out on exhibit, it spends most of its time in a darkened, air-conditioned room because light and heat are slowly destroying it. Every so often, it's taken out of wraps and brought into a dimly lit gallery, as it was for the magical Starring Linda last summer at the DAM. For this show, Modern and Contemporary curator Gwen Chanzit put Linda together with two other DeAndrea sculptures — an older sculptural group and a recent female nude, both of which were perfectly complementary and provided just the right weight for this delightful show.

Michael Burnett, owner of Space Gallery, has a particular interest in contemporary abstraction — and as proof, he's made it the standard fare of the place. Last summer's Beyond the Plane was the third Space exhibit in a row that showed off separate groups of artists from the gallery's deep bench of abstractionists. The venue is so large that those participating were represented by entire bodies of work. There was even a solo that was both a part of and separate from Beyond the Plane, with its own subtitle, Fresh; it featured smudgy paintings by Patricia Aaron that she had done during a residency in Hawaii. Lewis McInnis was another star of this show, his elegant paintings perfectly juxtaposing hard edges with soft margins. The McInnis paintings worked beautifully with super-sophisticated Howard Hersh compositions that incorporated geometric forms. The show was rounded out with constructivist sculptures by Stephen Shachtman, architectonic assemblages by Duane Noblett and expressive paintings by Judy Campbell.

Denver abstract painter Mark Brasuell was the subject of a career survey last winter that included many of his wildly colored paintings as well as a bunch of his large drawings. So many Brasuell creations were crammed into Regis's O'Sullivan Gallery that it was an embarrassment of riches, but crowding was the show's only true shortcoming. Brasuell has been exhibiting his work in Denver since 1988, and since then he's been a major player in the city's alternative scene; he co-founded Edge Gallery with Ken Peterson and was the co-op's president for many years, and he's currently a member of Spark Gallery. For Brasuell, each painting or drawing series is infused with secret narrative content that he essentially paints over. One series might address a death in his family, another the struggle for LGBT rights, but regardless of the topic, there's an overall consistency to just about everything he's done over the past couple of decades.

The guys who run Point Gallery, Frank Martinez and Michael Vacchiano, have primarily focused on artists who work in one or another contemporary variant of good old-fashioned realism. That was the case with the drawings and paintings in Michael J. Dowling: Forgotten Scoundrels. Dowling's enigmatic portraits were inspired, at least in broad terms, by Italian old master Caravaggio, an artistic genius and a known rogue. This source of inspiration, both aesthetically solid and ethically disreputable, explains why Dowling's figures were expertly done but had a dark and edgy quality to them, especially in the handling of faces and garments. Dowling grew up in Colorado and studied with John Hull years ago, when Hull taught at the University of Colorado Denver, and the mentor's influence is easy to see in these works. Dowling also spent two years in Italy studying traditional painting techniques, and that is revealed in the work, too, partly explaining his creation of 21st-century works inspired by an artist from the sixteenth. It also neatly explains why he's such an expert at conveying the figure.

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