Shaping Up

A new piece of public sculpture planned for the Denver Performing Arts Complex may yet displace the goofy entrance canopy at the Denver Art Museum as the most reviled object in the local art world. If the winning entry in a recent competition--Jonathan Borofsky's as-yet-untitled monumental six-story-tall sculpture of conventionalized dancers made of white fiberglass-coated steel--is ever actually erected on the DPAC lawn, the only question left will be whether to laugh or cry. Here's a hint: The final selection of the Borofsky is said to have been made by First Lady Wilma Webb. Hey, that's funny all by itself.

Officials at the DAM, though, shouldn't breathe a sigh of relief just yet about getting their canopy off the hot seat. The more than $1 million needed to build the Borofsky hasn't been raised, and DPAC head Donald Seawell may eventually decide he doesn't even like it. Should that happen, count on the Borofsky not to materialize at all. After all, the last time Seawell encountered a work of art he didn't like, he oversaw its neglect and eventual removal. That would be 1983's "Solar Fountain," by highly regarded artists Larry Bell and Eric Orr, which was unceremoniously demolished and thrown into a dumpster just over a year ago.

Interestingly, the "Solar Fountain" occupied the Speer Boulevard site on which the proposed Borofsky is to be placed. Since the fountain's removal, the area has been redesigned; it now sports a poorly done staircase, along with a ridiculous clutter of curly-cue planters and dozens of never-to-be-used benches all lined up in a row.

One good thing did come out of the DPAC's selection process, though. Former DAM curator Nancy Tieken, who was on the panel charged with choosing a piece, became smitten with the work of one of the runners-up--Donald Lipski. Using the considerable resources of her NBT Foundation, Tieken purchased Lipski's "Yearling," a sculpture of a chair with a horse on top, and donated it to the city. "Yearling" will be sited on the lawn of the Denver Public Library, not far from another of Tieken's gifts, Mark di Suvero's magnificent "Lao Tzu," one of the finest pieces of public sculpture in the region.

Getting back to the Borofsky, another strike against it is its tremendous size. The city has a poor track record of getting monumental sculptures built. In fact, the only other gigantic sculpture on the local art agenda, Luis Jimenez's "Denver Mustang," a mammoth blue fiberglass horse meant to be placed outside the Jeppesen Terminal at Denver International Airport, is now several years past due, with no arrival time in sight.

Equally slow in coming was the promised removal of a public statue: Veryl Goodnight's "The Day the Wall Came Down," which until recently sat a few blocks from the DPAC in front of Currigan Exhibition Hall. On loan to the city for the past few years, the piece was finally carted away last week for its eventual installation in Germany (it memorializes the fall of the Berlin Wall). The sculpture, an identical version of which graces the George Bush Library in Texas, is made up of galloping horses charging through a graffiti covered wall--all of it made of bronze.

Another major sculpture that will soon disappear from downtown is Harry Bertoia's 1976 "Sounding Sculpture." Like the 17th Street building in front of which it's displayed (the former Colorado National Bank tower of 1972 by world-famous architect Minoru Yamasaki), the sculpture has been badly damaged. In the case of the sculpture, the problem was repeated vandalism. The building itself has succumbed to an architectural dumbing-down by none other than the Denver firm of C.W. Fentress J. H. Bradburn and Associates. As part of the sorry redo, in which the white Yule marble is being replaced with gray granite, the Bertoia has been deemed dispensable. One hopes "Sounding Sculpture" will find another local home, but there's no word yet on its ultimate fate.

Across town, it's the opposite story: A missing sculpture has reappeared. The three up-ended red cubes in Burns Park at Colorado Boulevard and East Alameda Avenue, created by Roger Kotoske in 1968, have been reinstalled after a first-rate restoration. You may recall that the Kotoske was badly damaged by vandals last year and has been in the repair shop ever since. But don't give credit for this rebirth to the group called "Friends of Burns Park"; that bunch is actually considering a plan to eventually deaccession all four of the sculptures in the park (in addition to the newly refurbished Kotoske, there are works by Wilbert Verhelst, Angelo di Benedetto, and Anthony Magar). With "Friends" like these, Burns Park doesn't need any enemies.

What should be done about the sculptures, whose condition has declined over the years? How about restoring the three that remain in their original states and preserving them--along with the smartly redone Kotoske--and maintaining them permanently? Doesn't that sound like the kind of thing we might expect "Friends" to do?

If public sculpture around town remains a question mark, news on the exhibition front is better, with two rewarding sculpture shows now on display. Up at Golden's Foothills Art Center is the always-interesting North American Sculpture Exhibition, an annual juried effort that draws entries from across the country as well as from Canada and Mexico. Closer to home, Denver's only specialty gallery devoted exclusively to sculpture, Artyard, is featuring the adventurous sculptures of Castle Rock's Virginia Folkestad.

Now marking its nineteenth year, the exhibition in Golden was jured by internationally known Texas sculptor Jesus Bautista Moroles, whose own solo show only recently closed after a nine-month run at the Museum of Outdoor Art in Greenwood Village. Moroles did a superb job of sifting through hundreds of entries to come up with the more than seventy works on display here. He's obviously made an effort to survey the many currents that occupy sculptors today, including in the show prim neo-traditional figure studies as well as abstract and non-objective pieces. Some of these sit on the floor, as expected, while others are hung on the wall--and, in at least in one case, from the ceiling.

In the small niche off of Foothills' main entrance are a selection of Moroles's signature sculptures, including two of his famous red-sandstone steles and a black-granite ziggurat. Unfortunately, this space, which until recently served as the center's gift shop, is oddly shaped and crowded with visual clutter such as windows, shelves and a lot of woodwork, making it far from ideal for viewing Moroles's spare, minimalist sculptures. Nonetheless, the sculptor's genius shows through, providing viewers with proof of his rock-steady credentials.

The exhibit starts off slowly, with little of genuine interest in the first two small galleries. An exception is "North Coast," a muscular, low-to-the-ground abstract made of cast aluminum by Keith Bickford of Los Altos, California. Not until the viewer proceeds to the large central gallery and the even grander back gallery (which was once the nave of a church) does the show really get going.

One of the exhibit's most elegant and sophisticated pieces is found in the central space. "Faces of Hope: The Homeless," by Denver sculptor Steve Pierce, comprises a black metal framework from which stacks of clear plastic panels, imprinted with blurry portraits, have been hung. The panels can be flipped back and forth to reveal different images of the city's homeless population.

More traditional in tone are two stone sculptures also displayed in the center room. "Diva," by Thomas Wermers, is an abstracted figure of a standing woman carved from dolomite and limestone; like "Faces of Hope," it was made here in Denver. The other notable stone piece is Ohio artist Charles Herndon's "A Passage in Stone," a twisted knot sculpted from red granite.

Near the stone sculptures is an unusual abstract of a man seated on a rough-hewn wooden stool. "The Age of Iron" is the work of Bruce Gueswell, who hails from Loveland, that center of sickeningly sweet sculptural sentimentality where the typical fare is the polar opposite of a difficult piece such as this.

Things really pick up as the viewer proceeds to the final section in the large back gallery. Lee Imonen of Portland, Oregon, uses maple and steel to create "Untouchable," a cluster of spikes that have been elaborately gathered and held together with prominent pegs. "Jednostranost" is a sublime minimalist spire made of patinated steel by Richard Kalas of Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Westminster sculptor Michael Symber's "Back Door Girl" is a series of steel forms--including, amusingly, a window screen--that rise from a tall vertical stand.

Several artists adapt the columnar form to unorthodox horizontal placements. In Mexican artist Becky Guttin's "Transmutacion," a stainless-steel cylinder is partly obscured by resin sheets wrapped around it. A similar approach is taken by Darl Thomas of Salt Lake City for the much smaller tabletop metal sculpture "Planes in Space 4."

One of the most unusual pieces in the show is "Flyin' Bedstead," by San Francisco's Walter Bruszewski, a ceiling-hung stabile made of sheet metal, rods and wire. For this airy piece, hanging metal panels have been pierced with circles and brightly painted in various shades including orange, yellow and green.

Bruszewski's stabile has a insubstantial quality not often seen in the sculptural medium. It's very much like the approach taken by local installation maven Folkestad in her Cornerstones show at Artyard. The sculptures that make up this show are interrelated but clearly separable works; all are close to the ground and feature the imaginative use of seemingly incompatible materials like concrete and knitted yarn.

In "Cornerstone: morning," baling-wire fencing seems to flow out of a cast-concrete form that sits on the floor. Trailing off from the fencing are wax-covered wires. For "Cornerstone: evening," Folkestad uses a yellow, yarn-covered trivet as the base for a concrete corner adorned with a tangle of woven baling wire. Folkestad has written that she was inspired to do this series by the corners of rooms--which, she observes, are most often empty.

The Front Range isn't particularly known for its sculpture. But as long as there's plenty of controversy about public sculpture--and plenty of good private work--there's at least something to talk about.

19th North American Sculpture Exhibition, through July 12 at the Foothills Art Center, 809 Fifteenth Street, Golden, 279-3922.

Cornerstones, through July 15 at Artyard, 1251 South Pearl Street, 777-3219.

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