David B. Smith Gallery

Denver's exhibition scene is overwhelmingly contemporary, and the David B. Smith Gallery is the most contemporary of the bunch. At his namesake gallery, Smith presents what used to be called cutting-edge art and today could simply be termed "advanced"; nearly everything at Smith — not just the video projections and interactive installations, but the paintings and drawings — is conceptual. Smith has brought in an intriguing group of artists from around the country, and also tapped a lot of progressive local talent, including Tobias Fike, Donald Fodness, Dylan Gebbia-Richards, Sarah McKenzie, Don Stinson, Joel Swanson and Michael Theodore, among others. No matter the particular show, you can count on seeing something new and improved here.

Readers' Choice: Museum of Contemporary Art Denver

David Cook Galleries

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, paintings, drawings, prints and photos depicting the American West made our region world-famous, turning the mountains and high deserts into celebrity locales familiar around the world. This art was produced by homegrown talent as well as a legion of artists who flocked to the area. Denver's premier purveyor of the resulting material is David Cook Galleries, a pair of linked storefronts with one given over to Western art, the other to Native American art. Cook features the all-stars of New Mexico and Colorado, with work by the Taos group, the giants of the Broadmoor Academy, and on and on. Fair warning: Their work has been collected for generations, so if you have to ask how much something costs, you can't afford it.

Readers' Choice: American Museum of Western Art

Best Gallery for Western Art — Contemporary Division

William Havu Gallery

William Havu Gallery

The century-plus tradition of depicting the Western landscape still thrives in contemporary painting, but the renderings are done in an array of up-to-the-minute styles, with the scenery translated into formalist reductions, expressionist riots or hyperrealist recordings. You can see them all at the William Havu Gallery, where the work of artists such as Jane Abrams, Jeff Aeling, Lynn Boggess, Michael Burrows, Stephen Dinsmore, Rick Dula, Jean Gumpper, Jeremy Hillhouse and Jivan Lee, among many others, is readily on hand. And if you hurry, you can catch The Modern West, a duet showcasing the meticulously painted yet cartoonish parodies of the mountains by husband-and-wife artists Tracy Felix and Sushe Felix.

Space Gallery

After being declared all but dead at the end of the twentieth century, abstraction has unexpectedly come on stronger than ever during the first couple of decades of the 21st. As a result, abstraction is just about everywhere in the art scene, from co-ops to museums. In Denver, you can always find some form of abstraction at the impressive Space Gallery, which occupies its own custom-built, neo-modernist building. Space's owner, Michael Burnett, is an abstract painter himself, and he features like-minded artists here. Many abstracts are large, if not enormous, making the double-height main gallery, with its long walls, an ideal place to present them. But even smaller pieces work beautifully in the exhibition rooms at Space.

Readers' Choice: Museum of Contemporary Art Denver

Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
The Arvada Center

No major venue in the metro area has focused as intently on contemporary art in Colorado than the Arvada Center. Collin Parson, director of galleries for the past eight years, often presents sprawling group exhibits in the very spacious lower galleries that are based on some kind of theme or topic, and he populates these shows with pieces by dozens of artists from around the state — not just the well-known names, but less familiar artists from the ski towns, the Western Slope and southern Colorado. At other times, Parson curates compelling solos that explore the work of individual Colorado artists in depth. But regardless of what's inside, there's always a large ensemble of three-dimensional pieces by Colorado artists in the sculpture garden just south of the building and, yes, Parson curated that, too.

Dateline
Courtesy Dateline Facebook page

Since Jeromie Dorrance and Adam Milner opened Dateline in 2014, the house gallery on Larimer Street has mounted shows with a sense of adventure while acknowledging the need for a critical eye. These days, 2016 Westword MasterMind Dorrance holds down the fort by himself, but he sticks to Dateline's original aesthetic as a place where experimentation, virtual residencies, brave installations and new faces — artists and curators alike, both local and national — control their own destinies. Every city needs a proving ground; in a town where nurturing artist-run galleries are now popping up everywhere, Dateline was one of the first...and remains the best.

Readers' Choice: RedLine

Leon Gallery

From the get-go, Leon Gallery was conceived as a showplace where artists could thrive and show their most experimental work, unsullied by the constrictive forces of the commercial art world, even if Leon was technically a commercial gallery. Now owners Eric Dallimore and Eric Nord have carried that commitment further by going nonprofit, a rarity in any art scene, and a trusting model that essentially turns the space over to an exhibiting artist for a given period of time. You might not always see the most polished work there, but it's certain that you'll see some of the most ambitious, created by artists whose imaginations have been set free from financial restrictions.

K Contemporary
Courtesy K Contemporary Facebook page

Just as artists have been doing for decades, three art venues came together last year to form the innovative 1412 Collective and share the old Mike Wright space in LoDo. While Abend Gallery and Gallery 1261 both tilt toward traditional art, K Contemporary has been hosting some of the hottest shows in town. Artist Doug Kacena is the force behind the new space, and with K Contemporary, he's shown himself to be an able curator who's already assembled a formidable stable of high-profile Colorado artists, including Monique Crine, Michael Dowling, Kevin Sloan, Suchitra Mattai, Karen Roehl, Scott Young and Mario Zoots.

Le Meridien Denver Downtown
Courtesy Le Meridien Denver Downtown Facebook page

The first thing you notice when you walk into Le Méridien hotel downtown is the stunning work by artist Jonathan Saiz called "Marie." It includes 1,100 tiny portraits of Marie Antoinette, all situated to form the silhouette of a mountain peak. It's just one example of the 1,700-plus pieces of art found throughout the property, and guests can go on a self-guided art tour of the ground floor to check out paintings by artists Laura Guese, Mia Mulvey and many more. Head up to 54Thirty, Le Méridien's rooftop bar, and catch even more works along the way, including Ramon Bonilla's "Netherworld: The Front Range." If you're lucky enough to be staying here, you can also peruse the original art in the guest rooms and hallways.

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema - Sloans Lake
Alamo Drafthouse

Forget stale popcorn and Junior Mints. Greasy hands down, Alamo Drafthouse Sloan's Lake has the best food of any movie theater in metro Denver. Start simple with popcorn (not stale), which can be doused in herb parmesan, truffle parmesan butter or clarified butter; move on to appetizers like Buffalo cauliflower or edamame hummus; then keep going to entrees of pizza, salads, burgers and more. You can finish up your meal with a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie or an adult milkshake or other alcoholic beverage. And that's just during the movie! After the final reel, enjoy a nightcap or three in Barfly, the Alamo's excellent bar that's worth a visit all its own.

Readers' Choice: Alamo Drafthouse

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