Clyfford Still Museum
Courtesy Clyfford Still Museum Facebook page

Abstract-expressionist giant Clyfford Still had only the most casual association with Colorado, having briefly acted as a visiting artist at the University of Colorado Boulder. But a huge hunk of his life's work is right here in Denver at the Clyfford Still Museum. So how did it wind up here? When he died, Still left a stipulation in his will that any American city that would build a museum to house his pieces exclusively could get his enormously valuable collection of work. In 2004, then-mayor John Hickenlooper worked out an agreement with Still's widow, Patricia Still, pledging to build such a museum; the next year, she threw her own hoard of her husband's work into the deal. As a result, the CSM contains 95 percent of the artist's output. If you want to see Clyfford Still's work, you need to come to this museum — and people from around the world do. If you have friends from out of town already visiting, take them to see something they won't find anywhere else on earth.

Readers' Choice: Denver Art Museum

Since artist cooperatives don't charge commission on sales, they're good spots for finding affordable art, because you're starting with what amounts to a 50 percent break over commercial galleries. But times have gotten tough for this city's alternative spaces, so the cash-conscious collector has fewer options. That makes Spark and CORE, two co-ops that have long shared an address, real standouts. The artists at Spark, the city's oldest arts co-op, are more established than those at CORE, so the prices are usually a little higher. But you can still find bargains at both spots, with small- to mid-sized paintings, prints and photos sometimes for sale for as little as $100 each — and rarely is anything over a couple thousand dollars. As you contemplate the price tag, remember: Not only will you be buying a bargain to hang over the sofa, but you'll be helping out Denver's beleaguered DIY culture. Now go buy another piece or two.

Readers' Choice: Affordable Arts Festival

David Cook Galleries

For decades, the David Cook Galleries specialized in historic art of the American West, in particular Colorado, New Mexico and other nearby states. In recent years, Cook has become more and more focused on prints and paintings created in the first half of the twentieth century, as modernism overtook impressionism. The inventory varies, but it typically includes pieces by the storied artists of Taos and Santa Fe, as well as those associated with the Broadmoor Academy and others of the sort. The quality of the material is tremendous, with pieces that often rival those of museum collections. Adjacent to the fine-art section is Cook's American Indian gallery, with jewelry and ceremonial items made over the last century and a half by members of various Native American tribes from the Southwest. A trip to the David Cook Galleries — located in an old red-brick LoDo storefront — is just about as close as you can get in 2017 to the region's romantic Western past.

William Havu Gallery

Bill Havu, whose namesake William Havu Gallery is one of the top art venues in town, focuses on work by artists living in this part of the country — not just Colorado, but New Mexico, Arizona, California, Texas, Wyoming and even such unexpected places as Nebraska and Kansas. While all of the artists are from the West, the work Havu selects reflects international trends in contemporary art, though often with a distinct cultural tweak reflecting the region. Artists represented by Havu are typically mid-career, with substantial talents, including Amy Metier, Emilio Lobato, Virgil Ortiz, Nancy Lovendahl and Tony Ortega. A lot of people have the idea that art made by people living in this part of the country will be filled with kitsch depictions of cowboys, Indians, horses, buffaloes and coyotes; one visit to William Havu Gallery will dispel that false impression once and for all.

Center for Visual Art/MSU

The Center for Visual Art, the mid-sized museum that's an off-campus division of Metropolitan State University of Denver, often shows work by contemporary artists who live in different parts of the world. There have been exhibits devoted to Chinese artists, to African artists, to artists from the Middle East — as is the case with the spectacular Presence, a spring show that includes the work of three immigrants from that region who now live in Denver: Laleh Mehran, Sami Al Karim and Halim Al Karim. The international focus is key to the exhibition program put together by Cecily Cullen, the CVA's managing director and curator, but as shown by the local artists in Presence, she's interested in staying on top of the art of our region, too.

David B. Smith Gallery

To maintain the lively exhibition schedule at his eponymous gallery, David B. Smith travels the country, checking out cutting-edge artists in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, even Boulder. He's always looking for new talent for his aesthetically tight exhibitions, and his current offering, Range, is proof of that. New Yorker Penelope Umbrico uses iPhone apps to riff on the history of landscape photography as inspired by the work of the masters of that medium. The resulting digital photos infuse the original black-and-white views of the mountains made with film with colors from computer codes, in the form of shooting stripes or bars in toned-up shades, running right through the scenery. This show is part of the Month of Photography; at other times on the exhibition calendar, you might encounter interactive installations, or paintings that rise a foot off their surfaces, or sculptures that light up, or any number of imaginative takes on contemporary conceptual art.

Denver Art Museum
Courtesy Denver Art Museum

The Denver Art Museum has mastered the art of hosting a blockbuster. The secret to the DAM's success is the wide variety of offerings it presents, as well as the relentless frequency with which it presents them. Some of these major efforts are dead serious, like the groundbreaking Mi Tierra, which looks at the Mexican-American experience in the age of Trump via conceptual art; others are mostly fun, such as Star Wars and the Power of Costume, a major attendance hit. The addition of the DAM's Hamilton Building just over a decade ago was designed to allow the possibility of regularly presenting temporary exhibitions with several running at the same time — and the building has beautifully fulfilled that aim. These blockbuster shows really bring in the crowds and kick up the receipts — a goal for any cultural institution these days.

RedLine Contemporary Art Center
Courtesy RedLine Contemporary Art Center

With an unusual setup that combines exhibition spaces with fully subsidized artist studios, RedLine has upended the local art world during its brief existence, discovering scores of noteworthy emerging artists through its residency program. The nonprofit space launched by artist and mega-wealthy donor Laura Merage selects fifteen to eighteen artists to work alone in a series of modern studios, and also to work together as a community. The studio doors are always left open, allowing visitors to RedLine's always compelling exhibits to catch sight of the artist-residents at work on their pieces; if the artist isn't there, viewers can still see what they're working on. In addition to the upstarts, RedLine selects three mid-career artists to provide guidance, and they receive free studios, too. With so many local artists, especially young ones, priced out of the studio market by Denver's soaring rents, having free space to work downtown is a real gift. Too bad there aren't more RedLines around town; Denver could use a couple dozen immediately.

Best Place to See Photographs (and Learn How to Take Them)

Colorado Photographic Arts Center

Colorado Photographic Arts Center
From the Hip Photo

Denver's exhibition venues are currently swamped with photo shows inspired by the biennial Month of Photography. Otherwise, art shows devoted to photography can be hard to find in Denver. That's why the Colorado Photographic Arts Center is something to celebrate: It focuses on fine-art photography all year long. Founded in 1963 by Denver photographers who felt that their medium didn't get enough respect as an art form, CPAC has always fought that perception. Although the group had its ups and downs over the years and moved around a lot, this past year it landed in an ideal location on Bannock Street, only a couple of blocks from where it all began more than fifty years ago. At the new space, executive director Samantha Johnston puts together a crowded schedule of shows, along with classes, workshops and lectures.

Michael Warren Contemporary
Courtesy Michael Warren Contemporary

Take a tour through Denver's art galleries with a little one and you'll realize just how not-child-friendly the commercial art world can be. And we're not talking content, either. While most gallery staffers will gingerly thank a parent for teaching the next generation how to be art consumers, they seem afraid (somewhat rightly) that the children will destroy the place. But at Michael Warren Contemporary, owner Michael Warren not only happily greets children, he lets them roam the gallery and occasionally offers age-appropriate instruction on how to look at a painting or understand an artist's intentions. He appears genuinely excited that kids are in his space, and while many of his peers talk a good game about cultivating the next generation of art connoisseurs, he's really doing it — and making the process thoroughly enjoyable for both parents and children.

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