Thursday, April 06, 2006

The good the great and the utterly imbecilic

There is an ever growing population of public throughout the Denver metro area. It can be hit and miss, but I think the overall direction of the quality of the work is improving. The one major exception to this trend is Jonathan Borofsky's "Let's Dance." The approximately $1.5M sculpture stands at about 60 feet high, has an audio component of music composed by the artist emanating from its base, and represents part of the legacy of Denver's previous bloated mayor and his wife.
Borofsky's Let's Dance

The parcel of land was intended to a garden for permanent and temporary installations of sculpture. Unfortunately, the self-indulgent scale and lack of nuance of the Borofsky piece precludes the ability to effectively share the grounds with any other sculpture. Lest anyone believe that bad art is a wholly benign phenomenon, a traveling group of Bernar Venet sculptures were place in the garden along with the Borofsky dancers with unfortunate results for the distinct, graceful Venet forms. The difference in scale, and the insipid silliness of the Borofsky undercut the integrity of the Venets, making them feel like the detritus of party favors strewn underfoot of the goofy dancers. (I wish I had taken an image of this)
Certainly, Borofsky's work doesn't hold much interest for me, save for his series of sketched records of his dreams. I can certainly understand the potential mass appeal of his work, however, to say that Borofsky mailed it in when he developed this piece would overstate the level of creative investment the artist made in the conception of the project. In a radio interview in 2003, Borofsky cited the white snow capped Rockies and the white roof of Denver International Airport as having an impact on him and alluded to a linkage with the white of the sculpture. Perhaps he couldn't be bothered to mail it in himself, and got a neighborhood kid to do it.
As much as I disliked the sculpture when it first went up, I allowed for the possibility that it would at some point grow on me. It hasn't.

Bernar Venet's Indeterminate line

Half a block away, and a bargain at $600,000 is a large Bernar Venet titled "Indeterminate line" that is a solid, elegant demonstration of public sculpture.

Two Venet sculptures that were a part of a traveling exhibit in the yard at Ironton Studios where they came for repair after falling off a truck.

Let it not be said that I prefer my public sculpture without humor. My favorite piece is by Lawrence Argent (I can't find the title) sited on a median of South Broadway.

Lawrence Argent sculpture

The intense color and weirdness of this piece struck me immediately, and positively so. This sculpture is the greenest bit of landscaping you'll see anywhere in Denver, as natural grasses planted around it's base shows. The sculpture relates to the madness for the green carpet of lawn that obsesses so many and stands as a testament to the fact that no amount of water or effort can really turn this semi arid desert into a lush oasis. I feel this piece is also riffing on the rise of the formal aesthetic that is architecturalizing the landscape of such medians, gated communities and city boundaries that has been a trend here for several years. Another Argent piece was recently erected in Downtown Denver last fall, and I saw it for the first time on this trip. "I see what you mean" is a 40-foot tall blue bear that is peeking into the glass atrium of the Convention Center. Here's a picture. This sculpture seems very popular with folks, and it is entertaining. I don't know exactly how I feel about it. Certainly it is big, and fun. (as opposed to big and stupid; see Borofsky above.) I like the way the piece interacts with the building, and engages the audience. I just wonder if we are stepping into the realm of theme park art with giant infantalized sculptures that tickle everyone pink. An initial thought I had when I first saw the sculpture was that the blue bear reminded me strongly to the logo of the SCFD (Scientific & Cultural Facilities District) which is the public funding organization for cultural events, and has a bear as its mascot.

I expect there will be future public projects by Argent, and I'm looking forward to seeing whatever he comes up with next.

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