Best New Private Gallery/Event Space 2023 | Ant Life | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Courtesy of Ant Life

What would you do after spending 999 days riding around the world on a bicycle? Jacob Lemanski took a hit of acid and decided to show the world his art: enormous, psychedelic ant farms. A former engineer, Lemanski used his savings to create Ant Life, a private event space that doubles as a gallery for his beloved ant farms as well as his other art, which includes luminescent light spaces, tapestries he calls "space screens," clothing, beanbags and more. Lemanski has kept the spot booked and busy, hosting everything from wedding receptions to psychedelic mushroom events. He hopes to make Ant Life an established brand, and given that Colorado has legalized several psychedelics, he could well be on his way.

2150 Market Street
Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art

Founded by director and curator Hugh Grant in 1996 and opened to the public twenty years ago, the Kirkland Museum isn't just dedicated to its namesake, artist Vance Kirkland, but also to artworks by Colorado artists from multiple major movements, many of whom were contemporaries of Kirkland's. Everything here flows together seamlessly, given that the museum's layout is similar to a living space or series of salons. Here you'll find highly creative sculpture, paintings, drawings, ceramics, fiber art, furniture and more. The entire collection, which also includes international works of decorative art, is worth a visit any time, but the current exhibition, Vance Kirkland's Cosmos, which includes a never-before-seen collection from the influential artist, is a must-see before it closes on May 28.

Gallery 6 had quite the year in 2022, moving from its East Sixth Avenue venue on the edge of Cherry Creek to the heart of the Art District on Santa Fe, where it's had a hearty reception since reopening in May. The space is far larger than the gallery's previous digs, providing ample room for photography from the likes of Denver art-scene veterans Tony Eitzel, Dave Stephens, Kevin Schwalbe and Scott Wilson. Wilson is a co-owner of the gallery, and his stunning "Anger Management," a photo that captures the ferocious beauty of a wild Mustang kicking up dust, nabbed him the Open Photographer of the Year honors at the 2022 Sony World Photography Awards.

918 West 8th Avenue

A denizen of Denver's underground nightlife, Shadows Gather has been sneaking into clubs since before she was legally allowed in. And she continues to revel in the club scene, taking spur-of-the-moment Instax photographs of the raucous moments, faces and T&A of the queer and punk communities. She's gained a big following on Instagram for her snapshots of rebellion that echo the stylings of influential New York photographer Nan Goldin. Her pics have also gotten her flagged on social media, however, given their subject matter, which ranges from a person sniffing poppers to someone doing a bump of blow off a blade. Each picture pulls you in and nudges you to unleash your own badass inner club kid.

Sigri Strand

Denver is chock-full of arts organizations that have become a solid foundation for the future of the city's art scene, and PlatteForum is dedicated to serving youth through its ArtLab program. Students, often coming from Title I schools, are given the opportunity to study in a year-long internship under the guidance of professional artists in PlatteForum's residency program, which attracts creators from around the world. About thirty students are selected each year, and 95 percent graduate from high school and attend college. The program also provides its interns with mental health services, RTD passes, rideshares and a food pantry.

© Denver Botanic Gardens. Photo by Scott Dressel-Martin

Artist residencies lift up creative people by allowing them the time and freedom to make quality work. The terms may vary, but for established creators in the visual arts who maintain practices that focus on our relationship to the natural world, Land Line at the Denver Botanic Gardens is a lifeline, with an honorarium and nearly unlimited access to the DBG's public spaces, collections and research materials. Artists who specialize in botanical illustration also have the opportunity to work with the School of Botanical Art & Illustration alongside the Gardens' research and conservation team.

Courtesy of RedLine

After fifteen years, RedLine is still going strong in its mission of fostering the next generation of Denver artists. Each year, its resident artists not only create magnificent works, but they engage with the surrounding community through RedLine's array of programs, including Youth Art Mentoring, which pairs students with professional artists who work with them on a year-long project centered on social justice issues. And the artists often tend to continue giving back after their residencies; alumni include Denver art community leaders like muralist Thomas "Detour" Evans, collage artist Mario Zoots, and Anthony Garcia, who created Birdseed Collective, a nonprofit that implements arts-based community outreach programs.

While Threyda is normally accessed only by appointment, it opens its doors to the public on First Fridays and during exhibition openings. And when those dates come, be sure to go, because a night at this gallery is one to remember. Threyda curates only the most mind-melting artworks by visionary artists, including Android Jones, Morgan Mandala, Stephen Kruse, Seth McMahon and more. Whether you're gazing at a perfectly symmetrical pattern meticulously rendered in oil paints or a digital work dripping with fractals, each piece found in Threyda's rotating gallery is meant to be a catalyst for the type of transcendental experience you normally reach through psychedelics. Bonus: Opening nights and First Fridays often include live music, live painting and plenty of beverages.

878 Santa Fe Drive

A leader in the psychedelic visionary arts movement, Android Jones creates work that illustrates the heights of a DMT trip, which has made him a trailblazer in digital art, virtual reality and NFTs. His internationally recognized work has been projected on the Empire State Building, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, and the Ghats in Varanasi, India, and he was a visual artist for the 2015 Fare Thee Well Tour with the remaining members of the Grateful Dead. But he's also active in his home state, exhibiting a solo show at Threyda gallery last year. In January, Jones's Lyons studio was destroyed in a fire, but he raised more than his asking price of $250,000 in a GoFundMe to replace the expensive tools used to create his art, as well as countless art books and priceless sketches. Starting fresh is difficult, but we have no doubt this seasoned artist will stay on top.

The concept of the divine feminine is seen throughout the paintings of Emily Kell, a Boulder-based artist who has made a name for herself worldwide with her visionary works. Inspired by her tarot practice, mythology and archetypal figures from mysticism, Kell creates portraits of feminine figures, often with a background of swirling stars. She's also a poet, and created an alphabet she calls "moon scratch," which is instantly recognizable in her oeuvre. While most visionary art is centered on ecstatic psychedelic states, Kell's work is more about introspection and transitive moments. Her art was published in the 2018 book Women of Visionary Art, though her greatest accomplishment is likely the meaningful inspiration she passes on through her paintings.

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