Denver’s commercial art galleries sometimes feel like a gift that no one opens.
The city has dozens of them, and they can be full of museum-quality works. You are almost always free.
Yet they are remarkably underestimated. Most of the time when I visit on weekdays I am the only one there. All this good art and nobody to see it.
The truth is that the art business no longer relies on physical space as it used to be. Merchants can sell their wares online and at the major art fairs in places like Miami and New York where buying can be frantic. They market goods surprisingly well using everyday tools like Facebook and Instagram. They work on the auctions and the management consultants or take collectors with them to visit artist studios directly.
Even so, the galleries thrive. After all, a trader needs an office, and an artist wants to put on a show, even if the crowds only show up for the opening reception (and yes, the openings in this city are still huge). Also, they are advertising tools that anchor the business in the community and serve as very pretty billboards.
That makes them a cute place to be if you like art, and galleries are more than happy when people just come in for a look. The people who run it – the best, anyway – are art lovers themselves. The exhibits are curated with a lot of thought and because the dealers are so familiar with the scene, they feature the most talented people and pick up topics that are important to the hometown.
A good gallery is more than a retail showroom. It offers an experience, through the work or the architecture, the greeting or the sense of adventure that it offers. The commercial galleries on this list – unlike museums or nonprofits because they want to make money – routinely provide this. They offer a special experience that changes depending on what and who they are presenting.
Week after week, sometimes year after year, these places are the best in Denver.
1. Robischon Gallery
Robischon is probably the top gallery in Denver by sales and the artists it represents. It has a huge roster of Colorado talent (Terry Maker, John McEnroe, Gary Emrich, Edie Winograde) and serves as the local dealer for some international stars (Richard Serra, Ann Hamilton). Owners Jim Robischon and Jennifer Doran know what they have and mix and match their stall to create exciting shows consistently.
See It Now: A show for four with Chuck Forsman, Elena Dorfman, David Sharpe and Isabelle Hayuer runs through May 10th.
1740 Wazee St., 303-298-7788 or robischongallery.com.
2. David B. Smith Gallery
David Smith has a keen eye for talent near and far and that is what sets him apart from his peers. He works with some of the best names in the area (Sarah Mc-Kenzie and Don Stinson) but his focus is national and that makes a showroom visit a pleasure. He’s also been having fun lately with must-see installations from artists like Michael Theodore and Mark Dean Vaca. It really is his time.
See you soon: New work by Tobias Fike, 2.-31. May.
1543 Wazee St. 303-893-4234 or davidbsmithgallery.com
3. Opposite way
If you’ve never heard of a 2 year old Counterpath, your loss is. It’s one of the few places in Denver that regularly presents experimental performance art – high quality work – big, small, and out there – that pushes boundaries in every way. It’s also a bookstore and gallery of art that isn’t for everyone but deserves to be seen. Go with low expectations … let go high.
See you soon: At Counterpath, things change quickly. Try it out.
613 22nd St., counterpathpress.org.
4. Plus gallery
Plus is the most adventurous gallery in town and has become a major new art venue in Denver. Owner Ivarzeile represents respected names (Jenny Morgan, Bill Amundson, Xi Zhang) and stages exhibits that feel more like events. No commercial gallery takes more risks, especially in the digital arena.
See it now: “common / myth”, Kristin Stransky’s debut and interactive solo exhibition until May 24th.
2501 Larimer St., 303-296-0927, plusgallery.com.
The new Dateline gallery is only in for a show, but it could be the next big thing in Denver. Artists Adam Milner and Jeromie Dorrance made it out of the living room of their RiNo shop apartment, but it’s a serious place, and the debut exhibit featured fine, well-edited work by the latest newcomers (Katrin Davis, Gato Karatoyote). Who knows if this place will last. In the meantime, go there when it is open which isn’t that often. Mostly on Sundays from 12pm to 4pm
See you soon: A group exhibition called Gangsta Paradise opens on May 7th.
3004 Larimer St. or ddaatteelliinnee.com
6. Pattern Shop Studio
You can forgive Pattern Shop for not being open every day of the week. It’s the actual home of Sharon and Rex Brown, after all, who made the space out of a former production building (with the help of Denver architect David Owen Tryba). They show off artists they like, including Sharon, and treat visitors like guests, which really puts this gallery on that list. The doors are open on the first Friday evening and Thursday afternoon.
See It Now: An Amazing Retrospective Of Prints By Bud Shark Collaborating With Enrique Chagoya, Barbara Takenaga, Betty Woodman, And Others.
3349 Blake St., 303-297-9831; patternshopstudio.com.
7. Ice Cube Gallery
Ice Cube is a cooperation, which means that artists own and operate it and members, usually in pairs, change shows according to a mostly regular schedule. It is large, finely honed and clearly visible, and the artists almost always come up with the opportunity to show there. Ice Cube feels fresh every time you step in and you can often find good deals.
See you soon: “The Butterfly Effect”, a collaboration between Sandy Lane, Terry Lane and David Reed, and “Justamere” by Diane Martonis, 2-24. May.
3320 Walnut St. 303-292-1822 or icecubegallery.com.
8. Svper Ordinary
Svper Ordinary is both a retail space and a gallery. But it plays both roles with a sense of style and a real understanding of what makes Denver an interesting place. Svper Ordinary is located in The Source, the local food and shopping mall that attracts many visitors to the RiNo area. It focuses on regional artists who are doing solid work at very reasonable prices. The place was designed by Denver’s eco-friendly and adventurous Tres Birds Architects.
See now: sculpture and mixed media works by Jon Strieby on display.
3350 Brighton Blvd., 303-802-7044 or svperordinary.com.
9. William Havu / Sandra Phillips / Walker Fine Art
OK, putting three galleries on one number is a bit of a cheat, but these places are top notch, all within a few blocks of the Golden Triangle, and share a similar, simple elegance in the way they display art. Havu curates with a sense of place and is characterized by painters (Sushe and Tracy Felix, Homare Ikeda). Bobbi Walker has an eye for art that is sharp and easy to like (Sabin Aell, Roland Bernier). Phillips is a local legend with remarkable taste and loyalty to her talented squad (Margaret Kasahara, Mel Strawn, Virginia Maitland).
See it now:
9a. In Havu: Amy Metier’s Abstract Oils and More until June 7th.
1040 Cherokee St. 303-893-2360 or williamhavugallery.com
9b. At Walker: Mark Penner Howell plus a furniture installation through May 31st.
300 W. 11th Ave. 303-355-8955 or walkerfineart.com.
9c. At Phillips: New work by Frank Sampson, who at the age of 86 paints particularly hard until June 7th.
420 W. 12th Ave. 303-573-5969 or thesandraphillipsgallery.com.
10. Native American Trading Company
The trading company is 31 years old and better than ever thanks to the hard work of owners Jack and Robin Riddel Lima, who take on their role as suppliers of Western art, from paintings to ceramics, old and new, local and not serious. They do a lot for their neighborhood, the city and local Indian artists who need an established business with a national clientele to do their good job.
See it now:
Landscapes by Peter Hansen.
1301 Bannock St. 303-534-0771 or nativeamericantradingco.com.
11. Valid gallery
Owner Adam Gildar has carved out an important niche by taking risks for young artists who need legitimate notoriety to make their careers possible. This is where personable up-and-coming new talent (Hollis + Lana, Amber Cobb) can be seen, although some established veterans have started popping up on the walls lately.
See it now: a 15-person show with promising names like Libby Barbee and Suchitra Mattai runs through May 24th.
82 S. Broadway, 303) -993-4474 or gildargallery.com
Ray Mark Rinaldi: 303-954-1540, [email protected] or twitter.com/rayrinaldi