Best New Public Art 2017 | "Balloon Man Running," Sean O'Meallie | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
RTD Denver

The train to DIA — the University of Colorado A Line — has had its share of troubles, including intermittent stalls and malfunctioning crossing barricades. The least troubling aspect of the RTD project has been the public-art component, with each of the stations along the route augmented by a piece of public art. The best of the batch — in fact, the best new piece of public art commissioned in metro Denver this past year — is Sean O'Meallie's "Balloon Man Running," at the Central Park Station at Stapleton. The Manitou Springs-based artist typically creates whimsical pieces that have a childlike sense of wonder; O'Meallie is a successful toy inventor. With "Balloon Man Running," he tips his hat to both Casper the Friendly Ghost and to the related balloon-animal sculptures of Jeff Koons. And somehow, the piece also manages to convey the idea of hurrying to catch a train. The twelve-foot-tall piece can be seen for blocks, as it stands on a two-story-tall plinth that brings a humorous touch to a boring parking lot.

Readers' Choice: Project Colfax

Development has severely cut into Denver's arts districts, but the Art District on Santa Fe keeps chugging along, with thousands of people coming out every First Friday to experience the offerings of dozens of arts-related enterprises that line the sidewalks between West Fourth and West 11th avenues. In this time zone, you'd have to get down to the original Santa Fe — in New Mexico — to find as many art spots in one area. Among the attractions are some of the city's great commercial galleries, including Mai Wyn Fine Art, Space, Rule and Michael Warren; co-ops, notably Spark and Core; and arts groups like CHAC, as well as numerous artist spaces and studios. There are even a couple of small museums: the Museo de las Americas and MSU Denver's Center for Visual Art. But it's not just the fine arts that drive this stretch of Santa Fe; you'll also find the Denver Civic Theatre, home to Su Teatro, and the Colorado Ballet in its ambitious new home. The main thoroughfare for Denver's Latino community for generations, the strip also sports a fine assortment of Mexican restaurants, perfect for recharging between art shows.

Readers' Choice: Art District on Santa Fe

Courtesy Dateline Facebook page

The tiny, artist-run Dateline has built a big reputation among both underground- and commercial-art lovers for putting on risky exhibitions that showcase works by a diverse array of Denver artists. The shows themselves provide plenty of food for thought, but gallerist Jeromie Lawrence Dorrance ups the ante with openings stocked with actual food and drink, often thematically tied to the art on display. The party atmosphere and the gallery's location in the heart of RiNo make those openings a big draw for artists and fans alike, an ideal place to shmooze about booms and busts in Denver's art world. Don't forget to look at the exhibit while you're there!

Readers' Choice: Mirada Fine Art Gallery

Best Place to Party While Taking in Art Shows

MCA Denver

MCA Denver

The people behind MCA Denver know that to survive as an arts institution, you have to attract a broad array of patrons — and keep them coming back again and again. And so at regular intervals, MCA Denver turns into one of the city's hottest clubs, luring people in with karaoke nights, House of Style cocktail parties, performances by musical acts and much, much more. The price of admission includes entry into the galleries, and some of the youthful partiers actually wander back to see what's on display. Right now a trio of shows lets Denver's twenty-somethings travel back in time to see what twenty-somethings from past generations were up to: New York in the '60s and '70s is highlighted in Wall Writers, in the '70s and '80s by Basquiat Before Basquiat, and in the '90s by Ryan McGinley. MCA Denver has made its mark on the city not just with smart exhibits, but with smart marketing...and great parties.

Robischon Gallery, a LoDo landmark for decades, is the city's flagship contemporary gallery — not just because the place approximates the size of a small museum, but also because so many of the artists whose work is shown there also exhibit in actual museums. Figures from art-history books like John Buck, Ann Hamilton, Manuel Neri, Judy Pfaff, Kiki Smith, Bernar Venet and others are represented by the gallery, and if you want a Christo or an Ellsworth Kelly, for example, Robischon can get that for you, too. The gallery has also assembled a roster of some top local talent — Kim Dickey, Ana Maria Hernando, Trine Bumiller, Gary Emrich, Terry Maker, David Sharpe and many, many others — and their works often wind up in museums as well. Another thing that sets Robischon apart is how elegantly and intelligently every exhibition, regardless of the theme or topic, is installed; credit for that goes to Jennifer Doran, who along with husband Jim Robischon selects the first-rate work by first-rate artists that the gallery displays.

Readers' Choice: Mirada Fine Art Gallery

Wes Magyar

Just about everybody in the art world is interested in the next big thing to emerge on the contemporary scene, which is why a number of galleries offer the work of newer — read: younger — artists. A lot of young artists have come through Rule over the years, often freshly minted BFAs, and twenty- and thirty-somethings are still over-represented in the gallery's stable. Co-directors Valerie Santerli and Rachel Beitz are always scouting local talent: If someone's about to get hot, Rule will be among the first to get there.

Readers' Choice: Mirada Fine Art Gallery

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

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.

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.

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