SPACED OUT

In recent years, Loveland has acquired a national reputation as the place where romantics and cornballs send their Valentine's Day cards to be canceled with a "Love-Land" postmark at the local post office (which, by the way, features some charming WPA murals by Russell Sherman). Perhaps it's this saccharine sentimentality that attracted the many artists who helped create the town's other claim to fame--being a center for traditional, representational sculpture. After all, many of Loveland's scores of sculptors create the artistic equivalent of those Valentine cards, simply substituting an Indian with a bow and arrow for the de rigueur Cupid.

Given that air of civic sweetness, it's hard to believe that the Loveland Museum--which, appropriately enough, looks like a former House of Pies--is currently hosting an exhibition of thoroughly modern work by the most respected contemporary sculptor in Colorado, Robert Mangold.

The last time Mangold was the subject of a single-artist exhibit was in 1993 at Artyard, the sculpture gallery run by his wife, Peggy, a leading figure in the state's art scene in her own right. It was then that Mangold previewed his "PTTSAAES" series, the work that has occupied him since and that is the exclusive subject of the Loveland show, Robert Mangold.

Mangold has long made science, especially physics, the inspiration for his work. It's an unexpected affectation for a visual artist, but it has served him very well for the last thirty years. "PTTSAAES," for instance, stands for "Point Traveling Through Space at an Erratic Speed," and the sculptures visually portray the idea of an atomic particle bouncing around the universe like, as Mangold says, "the path of a 3-D billiard ball."

Viewers will no doubt be most familiar with Mangold's kinetic sculptures, in particular those spherical whirligigs made of painted or polished metal known as the "Anemotive Kinetic" series. Mangold has been interested in incorporating movement into sculpture since before he came to Denver in 1960. During his school days in the 1950s at Indiana University, he was a student of American kinetic movement pioneer George Rickey (who, incidently, created his first kinetic piece right here in Denver while serving in the armed forces in 1945).

Given Mangold's long commitment to work featuring movement, it's surprising to find that the sculptures in the "PTTSAAES" series--which may represent the finest work of his long career--remain perfectly still. Mangold, however, says the pieces have what he describes as "implied motion, implied kinesis. A point travels through space, and you can see the motion. It works." So as different from Mangold's previous work as the "PTTSAAES" series is, it's clearly a continuation of the artist's scientific bent. And not just in terms of the issue of movement.

Mangold calls himself a "realist," a term more ordinarily associated with the traditional representational sculptors who dominate the scene in Loveland. "I'm a realist, they're abstractionists," he insists. "You can't ride those bronze horses. Representational work--none of it is real. Sculpture is a real thing, no matter what." Mangold's sculptures, in other words, aren't meant to look like anything but what they are.

His ideas along this line originated in college. "I went to study how to do the figure better," he says. "Then it was subverted at school into the question of `Why do the figure at all?'"

Mangold's particular form of "realism" is expressed in the "PTTSAAES" series by his choice of materials: tubular brass, stainless steel, and aluminum with polished finishes that reveal the natural color, surface and reflective quality of the metals. Mangold's metals, like the sculptures themselves, signify nothing other than their "real" nature.

The sculptor also expresses his realist philosophy through his scientific concern with the physical reality of space. He says the pieces in the "PTTSAAES" series reflect another of his longtime interests--spheres. The spherical shape is central to his famous "Anemotive Kinetics" from the 1970s and 1980s and in the older "Tetrahedralhyperspheres." And though the link to the new series can be hard to see (the "PTTSAAES" works are characterized by jagged lines and triangular forms), Mangold says the sculptures "come back to where they were, like spheres. Like spheres, there's a lack of beginning or end."

That idea is evident in the pieces that lead viewers to imagine what they can't see. Some, like "PTTSAAES series #15" hang from the ceiling, appearing to pierce and pass through it. Others, like "PTTSAAES series #7," pass through the gallery's walls.

But the pieces that are most successful at conveying the idea that there's more there than meets the eye are those that appear to go through the floor. The finest of these is "PTTSAAES series #12," which stands out as a masterpiece even among the crowded field of first-rate work on display here. "#12," which is made of polished stainless-steel tubing, consists of a tall and substantial element of zigzags offset by a separate floor-bound element in the shape of two interlocking triangles.

Most of the sculptures in the "PTTSAAES" series don't include such phantom elements, instead illustrating the entire circuit of their imagined movement within plain sight. Floating below the ceiling on nearly invisible wires is "PTTSAAES series #8," a dense knot of straight lines in an exaggeratedly horizontal composition of thin polished brass tubes. It's among the most successful of the pieces here in suggesting movement; the imaginary point of the series' title must be traveling at a dizzying speed.

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