Here’s the list for 2016.
1. Shock Wave: Japanese Fashion Design, 1980s–90s, Denver Art Museum, September 10 through May 28, 2017
The Denver Art Museum is making a shrewd move by transforming its old-school “textile department” into a “fashion department” that also includes other textiles. The transition is right in sync with the times — you’re either in or you out, as the say on Project Runway, and fashion is in — but it’s a jarring move for traditionalists. Lucky for them, DAM’s new fashion curator Florence Müller is the real deal and this first-effort connecting late-20th century Japanese design with all of the things that came before and after is the sort of balm that could slide everything easily into its new place.
2. Arne Svenson, The Neighbors, Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, Feb. 20-June 12
This show was hard to like due to Svenson’s obnoxious habit of pointing his camera lens inside the windows of his unknowing neighbors and capturing their most intimate moments for the rest of us to gawk at. But it ultimately raised issues of privacy and artistic privilege at a time when those topics needed to be examined. Sometimes crucial manifests itself as cringe-worthy and Svenson’s critics just need to suck that up.
3. Daniel Sprick, Painting Out-of-Doors, Museum of Outdoor Arts, March 19-July 15
Sprick is the best contemporary realist we’ve got and this show had him breaking free of the controlled portraits and pretend tableaux we know him for and taking on the alleys, parked cars and everyday, urban architecture of Denver. The paintings on display were full of precision and personality, with barely a whiff of false sentiment. It was a sort of journalism.
4. SANGREE, Unclassified Site Museum, Black Cube Nomadic Museum. September 15 through Dec. 31
There he was, presidential candidate Donald Trump traveling the country and spewing divisive rhetoric about how he was going to shut off Mexico from the U.S. And here they were, the Mexican duo SANGREE actually installing remnants of their country’s ancient Teotihuacan civilization in mock vitrines under Denver’s downtown streets. This fake archeological site was a wall-crasher and a reminder that we earthlings are connected not on our surfaces but through our core.
5. Drawing Never Dies, RedLine, July 9-August 5.
An unexpected pleasure, Drawing Never Dies served as a necessary update on art’s most basic technique. Jurors Donald Fodness and Daisy McGowan sorted through a mountain of entries but kept an open mind and presented a survey broad enough to include work in multiple dimensions and produced in everything from graphite to ceramic, string, blood, snail trails, ribbon, lasers and digital ones and zeros. A fresh filter for familiar names like Adam Milner, Clay Hawkey, Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, Bruce Price, Suchitra Mattai, Mario Zoots and more.
6. Laura Shill, Phantom Touch, Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, February 20-July 3.
The MCA can be a high-pressure showcase for emerging artists, but Laura Shill seized the opportunity and had a blast along the way. Her work is hard to define — a strange combo of installation and collage that made for a show broad enough to include both a plush and interactive room full of 18-foot tall, fleshy, phallic tubes, and a series of highly-reductive, framed cut-outs from fashion magazines. Curator Nora Burnett Abrams pulled it together into a narrative that managed to be both sexy and feminist and an effective freeze of our rapidly changing social attitudes.
7. Martha Russo, Coalescere, Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, March 31-June 12.
Russo doesn’t finish her art works as much as pause them every once in a while so the rest of us can see what she is up to. Coalescere, curated and coached by Mardee Goff, stopped decades of Russo wonders in their tracks and produced a big-picture view at the artist’s life-long look at mortality and immortality. Russo’s work is all tiny bits, thousands and thousands of them, brought into complicated organisms making any meaningful exhibit of her work a major production. BMoCa went the distance here.
8. Jonathan Saiz, The Deep End, Leon Gallery, November 18 through January 7, 2017
Jonathan Saiz confirmed our worst fears as 2016 closed out on a particularly ugly and impolite political note: The world is, for sure, coming to an end. He’s not a partisan, just a keen observer of humanity’s willingness to recklessly and selfishly screw itself. His creations for this show, assembled from 9,000 little paintings packed in tiny plastic boxes, go to very dark places but always seem to squeeze out a bit of optimism, or at least, an acceptance of the natural order. Doomsday Eve might not be an excuse to party, but it’s no reason to freak out either.
9. Anibal Catalan,Vorticity, Denver International Airport, Terminal C, Permanent.
Anibal Catalan’s brand-new installation at DIA almost falls into the danger zone. Among its inspirations are the outline of the Rocky Mountains and the aerodynamic shapes and surfaces of jetliners — deadly cliches for airport art in Colorado. But the piece, which hangs from the ceiling in the remodeled Terminal C, sets a quality standard in the way it combines those two forces into something new and endlessly watchable for viewers with nothing but time on their hands. He’s is an architect by training and skilled at using natural influences to create three-dimensional objects that make sense in their environments. The piece has both broad and intellectual appeal and that’s more than you can say for most public art.
10. Women of Abstract Expressionism, Denver Art Museum, June 12- Septembr 25.
There are reasons to love this show: It brought attention to a group of talented, and even heroic, painters who were unfairly overlooked because of their gender during the most important era in American art history. And there are reasons to distrust the whole extravaganza: It packaged and exploited their victimhood to bring attention to itself; branded them for eternity as damaged goods instead of just good painters; and took the easy way out by lumping them together instead of giving them individual shows (Isn’t that what the art world truly stole from them? Yes, and we’re still robbing them of their due, segregating them from men and treating them differently because they are women). But it was ambitious and maybe the best that could be done on an important issue. Plus it came with genuine surprises that made everyone look at Denver, which we love. Bravely edited by curator Gwen Chanzit.
2016 was a really, really good year. Here are the shows we are sad to leave off this list:
Ana Maria Hernando at the University of Colorado Art Museum; Caleb Hahne at Rule Gallery; Kim Dickey at MCA Denver; Clark Richert at Gildar Gallery; James Surls and Charmaine Locke at the Colorado Spring Fine Arts Center; Doug Kacena at Mike Wright Gallery; Scott Young at Rule Gallery; Stories in Sculpture: Selections from the Walker Art Center at the Denver Botanic Garden; Repeat/Recreate at the Clyfford Still Museum; Colorado Women in Abstraction, Center for Visual Arts.
Bits that don’t fit, but deserve some 2016 love:
The City of the Sun mural by Gemma Danielle on the Cherry Creek bike path; Dmitri Obergfell’s Go Home Bacchus outside of BMoCa; Gildar Gallery’s booth at Material Art Fair in Mexico City featuring Zach Reini, Dmitri Obergfell and SANGREE; various things on both the inside and outside of buildings by Jaime Molina; those random paintings in Colfax Avenue crosswalks sponsored by Denver Arts and Venues; Ravi Zupa’s gun sculptures;
Sandra Fettingis’ decorative panels on the RTD A Line; The Clyfford Still Museum’s loans to the Royal Academy of Arts’ Abstract Expressionism show, which opened up a whole new avenue for exporting Colorado culture.
And this, just because it was so great and artful in its own way:
The RiNo Art District’s ongoing advocacy for all those artists and galleries that have been displaced by development in the urban core: “It’s time to be louder. It’s time to be bolder.” We hear you.