Six Denver-area art exhibitions you absolutely must see right now

Feel that chill in the air? There is plenty to do inside, thanks to local galleries. Among the best out there: a musical show on the walls at the MCA; a tribute to olive trees at Rule Gallery; and a round-up of compelling mountain vistas at Visions West.

Here are my picks:

A piano star turns to paper

“Bathing the Room with Blues” is a different kind of exhibition from what the Museum of Contemporary Art usually offers up. Instead of bringing in an established painter, sculptor or installation-maker to show his or her wares, this is more of a celebrity outing, with work on display from Jason Moran, a local musician with an international reputation for experimenting in the realm of visual art.

Visitors get to experiment with him. The bulk of the work is a series of two-dimensional pieces, hung on the wall, that Moran created by placing Japanese gampi paper over his keyboard and then using ink to trace his fingers as he played. His aim is to capture the “residue” of music-making.

The ink, no surprise, is blue, honoring the musical format known as the blues, and Moran continues that tribute by showing vintage photos of beloved musicians — some that visitors will recognize and others they will learn about. There is also a diorama of a legendary Manhattan jazz club, Three Dueces, and a tribute to Denver’s own jazz past. The whole show might be more at home in a history museum, and the works on paper are not always convincing, but it has compelling moments that ask us to see music as well as hear it.

“Bathing the Room with Blues” continues through Jan. 30 at the MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany St.,  303-298-7554 or

In the city’s downtown, sharp takes on the Mountain West

Visions West is among the city’s most consistent suppliers of top-notch exhibitions showcasing artists making work in, and about, this part of the country. “I Like the West and the West Likes Me” is a group show that brings together some of the gallery’s best talents.

Nature is the overall theme but these seven artists all have their own eye and attitude when it comes to depicting it, ranging from Beau Carey’s series of paintings capturing different personalities of the moon to Danielle Winger’s electrifying paintings of forest fires rendered in blazing red.

There are also mountainscapes, of course, and it is interesting to compare how different artists make them. Jennifer Nehrbass, for example, sees them as collages of natural elements whose sharp lines jut up against each other. Winger captures them as fluid, moody spaces where different elements overlap and interact. Strong voices abound here.

“I Like the  West and the West Likes me” runs until Dec. 4 at Visions West, 2605 Walnut St., 303-292-0909 or 

At Rule, a new voice explores an ancient theme

Rule Gallery expands its offerings, and its geographical outlook, with a show of new paintings by Libyan-Yurok artist Saif Senussi Azzuz, who presents of series of works themed around the olive tree.

These trees, common in the Middle East, are important sources of oil and wood that have sustained countless generations. But, in this artist’s hands, their twists, knots and burls also serve as metaphors for the lives of the people who exist with them.

Azzuz’s acrylics on canvas and enamel, presented under the title “If the Olive Tree Knew,” are brilliantly colored abstractions that render the tree as an energetic force with complicated patterns of intertwined branches and leaves. They are nature paintings with a distinct contemporary twist that feels both earth-bound and spiritual.

“If the Olive Tree Knew” continues through Nov. 27 at Rule Gallery’s Denver location, 808 Santa Fe Drive, 303-800-6776 or

In Boulder, ambitious outlooks

The Dairy Center is offering a rich quartet of exhibitions that add up to a variety show of sorts introducing recent work by regional artists, each seeking to explain a unique perspective on the world, near and far and inside our minds.

Keith Brenner’s “Diptych: Stories Between the Borders and Around the Edges” features 50 photos presented in pairs that invite viewers to compare visuals and develop their own narratives around the scenes. Nearby, Belgin Yucelen displays “Floating Tales,” a series of ephemeral prints that “challenge imaginations by creating a fictional world beyond the existing, to conjure unrealized possibilities.”

There is also Natasha Mistry’s series of circular, geometrically precise oil paintings that connect to her meditative practices, and Paul Brokering’s endlessly fascinating abstract photos of architectural sites that emphasize their colors and shapes over their primary functions. They are meant to be stared at.

All four Dairy Center shows continue through Jan. 7, at 2590 Walnut St., Boulder, 303-440-7826 or

At MCA Denver, piecing together ideas about identity

The simple forms that abound in Deborah Roberts’ two-dimensional works mask their rich complexity. The closer you get to them, and explore their details, the more her narrative about Black life in America becomes clear.

Austin-based Roberts focuses on Black children, creating cut-out collages that combine found images from the internet with hand-painted embellishments. Her human forms exist almost as silhouettes presented on stark white backgrounds.

But it is within those forms where her stories are told, using a language of overlapping images that imply both struggle and strength, and then a million more things. The pieces are not easily reduced to the stereotypes and simple points of view that dominate the conversation about race in this country.

The exhibition also features a sampling from Roberts’’ text-based “Pluralism” series that explores the stereotypes associated with Black female names.

Deborah Roberts’ “I’m” continues through Jan. 30 at the MCA Denver, 1485 Delgany St., 303-298-7554 or

In Arvada, one last chance to read the art

The Arvada Center’s “Word Play,” in its second-level gallery, is meant to be a clever accompaniment to its downstairs retrospective of work by the late Denver legend Roland Bernier, who famously used letters in his abstract art. This show pulls together pieces by many of the region’s working artists who use text as the starting point of their work.

Because the exhibit is based around a style rather than a theme, it covers a lot of ground and can feel a little forced. Still, there are highlights that bring it solid energy and make a two-show trip to Arvada a good outing.

Among the best: Joel Swanson, one of the area’s most proficient and successful artists, who contributes interesting pieces from his series of works that play with the meanings and patterns of word use. Swanson’s pieces are puzzles that entertain while asking us to think about how we communicate.

Also standing out in this large array are pieces by Trey Duvall, Sammy Lee and Paul Weiner. Definitely spend some time watching the video by Jeff Page.

“Word Play” continues through Nov. 14 at the Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Blvd, Arvada, 720-898-7200 or


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