Taken for Granite

Sometimes Moroles's work recalls Rome, sometimes Mexico City, but it's always about what American sculpture is right now.

The best way to see Jesus Bautista Moroles is to begin at Artyard, proceed to the Madden Gallery at MOA and wind up at Samson Park. This way, the exhibition builds from the private and intimate at Artyard to the public and grand at Samson Park--with the in-between in between at the Madden Gallery.

At Artyard, the small front gallery has been filled with more than a dozen Moroles sculptures. The room is dominated by one of Moroles's signature chessboards, in this case "Granite Chessboard Table," which is made of two contrasting shades of granite: Texas pink and black. A metal-framed table sits on four squat square feet, two in pink, two in black; its surface is in the form of a chessboard, the pink and black used in lieu of the traditional red and black. On top of the table, Moroles has placed six small sculptures like chess pieces.

These small sculptures, along with the chessboard itself, are meant to function singly or in any number of combinations; they also lay out much of Moroles's formal vocabulary. There's a stele, a fish and a stone "weaving," along with other shapes that are less easy to describe. All display Moroles's approach to finish, with shiny, highly polished areas set hard against rough, mechanically cut passages. The small and simple "Concave Stele," for example, could be a scrap of stone. Polished on one side, it looks broken on the other; only Moroles's perfect sense of scale shows the viewer that it was all intentional.

Artyard also includes some exquisite larger steles. "Black Core Totem" is an eight-foot-tall spike of red Fredericksburg granite, both staid and sleek at the same time, like many of the artist's sculptures. Moroles has drilled three large holes through the spike, then filled these with cylindrical plugs of black granite. Using power tools, he has finished one face of "Black Core Totem" with a honeycomb pattern that resembles tire treads; as a result, the piece at once brings to mind both ancient and modern sources.

The exhibit moves into larger pieces at the Madden Gallery. This portion, too, is anchored by a characteristic Moroles chessboard covered with characteristic Moroles sculptures. But here the installation is much larger; instead of taking the form of a table, "Chessfloor"--as indicated by the title--is laid directly on the ground in squares of Texas pink and black granite. Several of the sculptures that top "Chessfloor" illustrate Moroles's consummate skill at carving and cutting stone. In "Interlocking," which is made of Fredericksburg granite, Moroles has dovetailed the stone together vertically, and the fit is perfect. "Granite Weaving," also of Fredericksburg granite, is even more astounding: Moroles has created a vertical grid of interlocking stone that holds together even though he used no mortar or connections of any kind.

For "Moonscape," a highly finished piece of Texas pink and Dakota mahogany granites, Moroles has placed a thin sheet of granite pierced by a series of eye-like holes on top of a cylinder base. The piece, which is too large for "Chessfloor," stands alone at Madden; it's perhaps the finest sculpture in the entire exhibit.

The show's final portion is at the gated Samson Park, on the west side of Fiddler's Green Amphitheater. (MOA owns not only Samson Park but Fiddler's as well, which means it receives rental revenue for events held there.) Just past the gates is the largest Moroles piece, "Granite Hi-Chair." The earthy, pink-colored Oklahoma-granite sculpture, which is over thirteen feet tall, is rough-finished and is reminiscent of the ruins of a Mexican pyramid--a reference enhanced by the crude ladder form up the front. MOA is considering acquiring one of Moroles's works for its extensive permanent collection; this is the one the museum should get.

On display at Samson Park are three of Moroles's large, impressive steles; all feature repeated horizontal elements that suggest a spine. In the black granite "Musical Stele," these repeated horizontals are thin enough to vibrate but thick enough not to break. As the title implies, when the horizontals are struck, the stele emits a sound like that of a harp.

Like "Chessboard Table" and "Chessfloor" at Madden, "Granite Hi-Chair" and "Musical Stele" are nominally functional. But Moroles also creates things that can actually be used. The three "Moonscape Benches," made of Texas granite, all rest on semi-circular bases suggestive of rockers; although it would take a lot of effort to get these to move, sitting on them is easy enough.

And after driving many miles and taking hours to look at these wonderful sculptures, you deserve a rest.

Jesus Bautista Moroles, through August 7 at the Artyard Gallery, 1251 S. Pearl St., 777-3219, and the Museum of Outdoor Arts, 7600 E. Orchard Rd., Greenwood Village, 741-3609; through May 15, 1998, at MoOA's Samson Park, southeast of Fiddler's Green Circle and Greenwood Plaza Blvd., Greenwood Village, 741-3609.

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