COLD COMFORT

The scale of most of the pieces also evokes the human figure. Many of them stand erect in the asphalt-paved outdoor space at Artyard. In "Fragility of Permanence No. 11," Parson has piled geometric shapes like discs, cubes, cylinders and rectangles into a vertical spike. In the center, between two heavy brackets, flat sheets of white marble have been stood on end. Running from the top of the marble to the metal base is a system of eyelet bolts and heavy steel wire, which holds the marble in place. All this engineering and these cold materials are meant by Parson to convey the emotional connections and relationships that hold up the individual: It's all about support.

And even in those sculptures that don't seem to convey the human figure, such as the altar-like "Fragility of Permanence No. 2 1/2," Parson sticks to the same scale. The biggest and most elaborate pieces in the series are thus accessible, because Parson has maintained a strict and delicate relationship to the viewer.

The largest piece in the show, "Stance," isn't from the "Fragility of Permanence" series but shares with those pieces a white, black and gray color scheme, along with a steel, wire and concrete construction. "Stance"--the title of which refers to taking a political stand--is an open tower rising to the height of a two-story building. It's supported by six steel pillars at the base, then reduced to four at the top. Running from the top to the base is a non-contiguous concrete pole that has been roughly segmented with jagged edges. There are wide gaps between the segments--almost as though it's been pre-weathered. The contrast to the actual weathering seen on the marble of the "Fragility" series is apparent.

More structure than sculpture, "Stance" is an architectural folly. In the scope of the artist's vision, in its style, in its large size and in its intentions, "Stance" is public art in every sense--except that it was privately funded and has no permanent site. Which raises the question of why, if the City of Denver, various metro government agencies and the state have been spending millions on public art, an art-world household name like Parson has never received a public commission. Especially since his work--often in the form of monumental sculpture--is the kind of thing one expects of public art.

It's not that Parson hasn't tried. He's made numerous proposals, and his work would have been particularly appropriate at Denver International Airport. The interior detailing of the Fentress-and-Bradburn-designed tent roof definitely shows an affinity to Parson's work and may even have been partially inspired by it.

But the selection panel that reviewed Parson's DIA proposal wasn't interested. According to Artyard director Peggy Mangold, who helped Parson make the presentation, it was apparent by the panel's questions that most members were totally unfamiliar with Parson's work. Think about that for a minute. Parson's been at the top of his field and has exhibited in and around Denver for more than two decades. Yet the people entrusted to select public art somehow missed his work.

Parson has been bitterly disappointed by the lack of support he's received from the public sector. But he's made his peace with it. "Artists have the responsibility to poetically render their own time," he says. "The public-art process, at least around here, is purely democratic and reflects political realities, which totally prevents the artist from being able to do that." As a result, while Parson has in the past served on public-art panels and tried to change the system from within, he simply doesn't bother anymore.

The loss is ours. Luckily, though, Parson pledges that he "will continue to make public art even if it is without public funds. I will continue to contribute.

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