Best Place to See Cutting-Edge Art 2017 | David B. Smith Gallery | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Birdseed Collective

Serving as headquarters for the Birdseed Collective, Westword MasterMind Anthony Garcia Sr.'s nonprofit arts and community-building organization, Alto is a space with heart, bringing known and unknown artists to the forefront with imaginative and adventurous exhibits, much in the way more established yet under-the-radar galleries like Dateline and Leon do. Since opening Alto a little over a year ago in the Tennyson Street Cultural District, curators Garcia and Raymundo Muñoz of 1/1 Magazine have been bringing in national street artists (including Miami's Luis Valle) as well as showcasing local talent; they've allowed Orchid Z3ro to envelop the space in video projections, along with other innovative shows. Alto means "high" in Spanish, which is appropriate for a gallery that's clearly going places.

Infuse Gallery is based in Longmont, but its reach is global; its mission as a nonprofit is to serve organizations around the world, empowering at-risk artists. The brainchild of entrepreneur and artist Kyra Coates, Infuse invites artists both established and emerging to sell work on its website. A percentage of every sale gives back to the artist's nonprofit of choice, including such Infuse partners as RedLine's Reach Studio for the homeless, the Blossomy Project for young women and girls caught up in human trafficking in India, the victim-empowerment organization PAVE, and many more. In turn, artists served by those nonprofits can also market their work on the site. No need to say that this concept is a win/win — but we'll say it anyway. Coates has plans to open a physical gallery space later this year in Denver, which means we'll win big, too.

Wonderbound, which used to be known as Ballet Nouveau, has been defying traditional assumptions about what dance companies should do: recycle fairy tales, stick to proven works and dance to classical music only. Under the leadership of Garrett Ammon and Dawn Fay, the group has collaborated with contemporary musicians and artists, expanding its audience and also the boundaries of dance. This season, the dancers will be performing alongside members of the Flobots, who will perform their new album, as well as dancing to music from such local acts as Chimney Choir, the Ian Cooke Band, Jesse Manley, DeVotchKa's Tom Hagerman, and even the Colorado Symphony. Passionate about arts education, the company shares its work with more than 25,000 community members each year.

Best Opera for People Who've Never Seen an Opera

Boulder Opera Company

Too often, opera companies discourage new audiences with their exorbitant ticket prices and stuffy environments. Boulder Opera Company, which has been around for three years and recently became a nonprofit, wants to bring opera to people who might not have access to it. In April, the company will be performing Goyescas, by Enrique Granados, and a program of zarzuela pieces; in its upcoming season, Boulder Opera plans to put on more innovative original operas for children and people uncomfortable in traditional opera venues. Boulder Opera is willing to take risks on both unknown composers and its audiences; even when presenting works for kids, it refuses to dumb shows down.

Opera on Tap may be a New York-based nonprofit, but the Colorado chapter is going strong. Like Boulder Opera, the company takes opera out of the stuffy concert halls — but Opera on Tap brings it to bars. Instead of encouraging funereal attitudes and stiff bodies in stiffer seats, Opera on Tap allows audiences to drink and make noise, all while bringing the crowd up close and personal with the performers. Each month the group puts on a show at Syntax Physic Opera, and it hosts a yearly festival showcasing other companies' efforts. We'll drink to that!

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