Clyfford Still Museum
Courtesy Clyfford Still Museum Facebook page

People from around the world come to Denver specifically to visit the Clyfford Still Museum, so if you've got friends and family coming to town, they should see it, too. Still, an acknowledged master of abstract expressionism, had only the slightest association with Colorado before his death. In his will, he dictated that any American city willing to build a museum to house his oeuvre would receive the collection, and Denver stepped up in 2004 when then-mayor John Hickenlooper committed to meeting the requirements of the will. Housed in an austerely elegant concrete pavilion, the Still is home to 95 percent of the artist's output, so if you want to see his classic, often massively sized compositions, this is where you have to do it. But the museum is a great place for in-towners, too, because director Dean Sobel keeps things lively by constantly changing out pieces.

Readers' Choice: Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Zip 37 Gallery
Courtesy Zip 37 Gallery Facebook page

Works in this town's major galleries typically trade for healthy prices, but Zip 37 regularly shows pieces that sell for just a few hundred dollars — and even less if those pieces are in the gallery's Back Room. An artist cooperative founded more than twenty years ago, Zip 37 numbers such well-known local artists as Zoa Ace, Pat Cronin, Katie Hoffman, Jennifer Melton, Louis Recchia and Jean Smith among its members. Just a couple of years ago, Zip 37 was part of a thriving alternative scene along this block of Navajo Street, but Edge, Pirate and Next left in the face of rising rents. Today, Zip 37 and the Bug Theatre are the last survivors.

Readers' Choice: Affordable Arts Festival

RiNo Made Store
Courtesy RiNo Made Facebook page

Last holiday season, Tracy Weil of the River North Arts District gave the idea of opening a shop selling artist-made merchandise a hard trial by filling a vacant spot at the Source on Brighton Boulevard. Chock-full of unusual art wares designed and created by RiNo artists and makers, the temporary store made a good impression with handmade holiday cards, artist prints, clothing, jewelry and a wealth of items produced by neighborhood residents. RiNo's had its share of struggles and growing pains, spawning arguments about whether the district still serves the artists who put it on the map as a destination, but RiNo Made attempts to prove those arguments wrong. And it's sticking: A permanent RiNo Made store is now open in the new multi-purpose Zeppelin Station development at 35th and Wazee streets, within walking distance of the Blake Street light-rail station.

Robischon Gallery

Robischon Gallery, the city's flagship contemporary-art venue, opened in 1976 and moved to its current LoDo location close to thirty years ago. The charming red-brick building holds a series of swanky, high-ceilinged exhibition spaces that spread out over more than 9,000 square feet. That's about the size of a small museum, which Robischon could well be, given the quality of its exhibits. Works by dozens of the best Colorado artists, as well as many of the big names in national and international contemporary art, are regularly shown at Robischon. Over the decades, co-owners Jim Robischon and Jennifer Doran have made an outsized contribution to Denver's art scene; long may they continue to do so.

Readers' Choice: Denver Art Museum

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

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