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Courtesy Denver Art Museum
The least-understood thing about artists just might be the how and why of their work, the part that happens alone in the studio long before the finished product is ever viewed in a gallery. But the glass-window artist residencies featured in the DAM's Artists at Work program give us all a chance to peek into the process of art-making through live weekend demonstrations, as well as extended interactive public projects. Art is alive and well at the DAM — and not just on the walls.

DIY isn't necessarily age-sensitive, nor is it solely a bohemian approach. The idea of making things happen with your own power crosses all boundaries, and Counterpath, a Westword MasterMind and past Best of Denver awardee, has weathered gentrification and the test of time to keep rolling, both as a literary small press and as an anything-goes event space hosting free community art exhibits, poetry readings, avant-garde performances and other events powered by an older, wiser, working academic faction. This year, Counterpath is finding new life at a new location, on the eastern edge of Denver; look online for information about upcoming readings and projects, including a community garden in collaboration with Feed Denver.

Art couple Scott and Myah Bailey think lowbrow art's got cred, and to prove it, they've covered the walls of Sally Centigrade, their underground Larimer Square palace of pop culture, with highly collectible pieces, including original work and prints, from big genre names both local and national. If your taste in art edges over to the weird side, check 'em out.

Following the ever-changing tide of street art in Denver is a truly obsessive passion, and Project Colfax is that obsession personified. More than thirty artists were invited by Kentro Properties to paint the interior and exterior of the old Denver Car Wash, on what the artists say they were thrilled to find: virgin walls. Colorful art climbs the roofless structure and includes work by Yianni Bellis, Taste Burns, Ravi Zupa, Mike Giant, Jher, Pisto, Gamma Gallery, Mike Graves, Dread, Sandra Fettingis, Koko Bayer, Axiom, Chris Haven, Le Creep, Axel Geittmann, Girlie, Mario Zoots, Paige Madden and many more. See this piece of urban art while you can; its fate is still unknown.

The art collection at DIA is simultaneously famous and infamous, as exemplified by the best-known piece there, Luis Jiménez's "Mustang," which is both. Now the airport has added one of the region's most epic works of public art ever, Patrick Marold's "Shadow Array," an enormous environmental installation with a footprint the size of a building. The magnitude was necessary for the piece to even get noticed where it is, just south of the new Westin Denver International Airport and on either side of the adjacent RTD rail line flanking the station's long platform. The RTD tracks run in a valley, and Marold's creation lines its slopes with angled linear forms made out of joined logs from beetle-killed trees. The log elements have been arranged like a set of ribs, a pair of mirror-image radiating curves. "Shadow Array" takes advantage of its site, perfectly fitting the topography of the symmetrical slopes. The ribs create shadows when lit by the sun and via a lighting system at night, and those seemingly insubstantial reflections become as emphatic as the logs themselves. It's smart, sensitive and gorgeous.

Readers' choice: Project Colfax

The most unforgettable show from last summer was John Buck at LoDo's Robischon Gallery, the city's flagship contemporary outlet. The enormous multi-space venue was completely given over to Buck's monumental woodblock prints, carved wood bas-reliefs and freestanding sculptures, the kind of stuff that has made the Montana artist famous. But these expected components were just the beginning for this particular Buck exhibit, because overshadowing everything else were five gigantic automatons, setting up one showstopping moment after another in the exhibit. These automatons, made of wood and other materials, were digitally controlled and powered by motors so that they moved in complicated ways when viewers pushed a foot pedal. All of these kinetic installations addressed political topics, including colonialism and gun violence. Conceived by gallery co-directors Jim Robischon and Jennifer Doran, John Buck was meant to be their response to the Biennial of the Americas, which was presented at the same time and which, by the way, it completely blew away.

Readers' choice: Molly Bounds, Room With a View

Putting together a group show is a challenge, because the organizer needs to assemble participants whose works are compatible yet distinct. For the recently closed Unexpected Narratives at Walker Fine Art, Bobbi Walker selected four artists who met that assignment. There were two well-known abstract artists, Bill Vielehr and Ben Strawn, and two respected conceptualists, Bryan Leister and Roland Bernier, all of them represented by strong signature works. The Vielehrs were cast-metal bas-reliefs with scabrous surfaces like paintings, and they linked up with the Strawns, whose lyrical and richly colored abstractions balanced shapes and lines. Leister's pieces — such as his lenticular photos, which changed appearance when seen from different vantages — played with viewers' perceptions. Meanwhile, the Berniers were static, involving words spelled out in 3-D wooden letters in wall panels and sculptures. The four artists' works were installed in separate spaces, so that each display was essentially a solo — ultimately the secret to the show's success as a coherent quartet.

Readers' choice: Monkey Business

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.

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