Big Splash

Colorado's Ocean Journey is swimming with artistic success.

"Passages of Water," by Japanese artist Masayuki Nagase with Michele Ku, comes into view as we approach the aquarium. It is a low-to-the-ground earthwork made of red granite that was quarried in Lyons and boulders from Jefferson County. The piece refers formally to the different parts of a river, from its mouth to its delta. The stones, some quite large, are set in gravel that further suggests the shape of a river. The piece is a playground for visiting children, and the artist's intention is that the children, climbing up and over the rocks, are meant to stand in for the water, which is otherwise a missing element.

Inside, Denver's Keith Chew has created a mammoth untitled copper wall that wraps around a good deal of the first floor and even appears on the second. Panels that refer to the sea and the land have been carried out in various patinas ranging from blue-green to reddish-brown. The panels have been arranged in a diagonal pattern. As in the Rose sculpture, the surface handling of the Chew evokes fish scales.

Further on, Connecticut artist Tim Prentice has created a series of five remarkable kinetic sculptures called "Full Fathom Five." Four of them hang from the fifty-plus-foot ceiling of the lobby and its grand staircase. One hangs above the entry to the two River Journeys on the second floor.

Colorado's Ocean Journey, view looking west across the Platte River.
Colorado's Ocean Journey, view looking west across the Platte River.
"Banners," by Tim Prentice, wall-mounted sculpture at Robischon Gallery.
"Banners," by Tim Prentice, wall-mounted sculpture at Robischon Gallery.

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Related Westword article

"Off the Deep End"
May 6, 1999
Colorado's Ocean Journey is banking on expensive special effects.

The "Banners" element of "Full Fathom Five" is a large and complicated series of tubes, rods and sheets of aluminum. It is viewed against the handsome red-brick wall, and it is divided into horizontal and vertical patterns. Small, thin squares of aluminum sheeting arranged in horizontal grids hang from flexible supports made of tubes. Five such grids hang in roughly parallel rows at various heights vertical to the floor.

The remaining four elements of "Full Fathom Five" can be seen after visitors complete their tour of the two River Journeys, on the way to the gift shop and restaurant.

The first of these, "Floating Squares," also uses grids of aluminum squares, but they've been hung horizontally, parallel to the floor. The next, "Zinged," which incorporates translucent white Lexan instead of aluminum, is hard to see against a backdrop of sinuous glass-and-aluminum curtain walls and the view behind them. That is somehow avoided in the third piece, "Seaweed," in which a series of plastic loops have been hung vertically in gentle, naturalistic curves.

The best part of "Full Fathom Five" is "Silverfish," a pair of mobiles that resemble a school of fish, despite the fact that Prentice makes no literal reference to the creatures.

It was Robischon who brought Prentice to the attention of Ocean Journey's art committee. Appropriately, his Robischon Gallery is now presenting Tim Prentice, a gorgeous show that focuses on Prentice's recent work, including some of the maquettes for the Ocean Journey pieces.

In the window of the gallery is the study model for "Seaweed," a series of vertical drops of Lexan loops connected by fine aluminum rods. Though "Seaweed" is nominally kinetic, it moves very little, swaying gently like seaweed in nature. In the back of the gallery is the maquette for "Silverfish." This piece moves a great deal as the curved aluminum sheets spin around one another.

Robischon has installed oscillating fans to facilitate the movement of these sculptures; it is something needed at Ocean Journey, where they are fairly static.

"Tim was willing to go along with the [Ocean Journey] theme without having to change his work," says Robischon. To prove the point, Robischon has displayed many pieces unrelated to the maritime theme but still closely associated to "Seaweed" and "Silverfish." They consist of groups of identical shapes that have been suspended not only from the ceiling, but also from the wall.

Most of Prentice's pieces at Robischon are kinetic, but even those that are not suggest movement. This quality is seen in the three wall-mounted sculptures from the "Warped Plane" series. Using aluminum squares affixed to rods, Prentice makes wall reliefs that seem to billow in the wind.

One of the most spectacular sculptures at Robischon is "Banners," which, despite its title, is not the model for the piece with the same name at Ocean Journey. Using an elaborate two-part armature, Prentice hung a screen of aluminum squares which are hinged so that they move in waves.

Tim Prentice is a beautiful and lyrical show that provides a good background for "Full Fathom Five." But unlike that group of gigantic pieces, the smaller sculptures won't be on permanent display; sadly, they will be put away in a couple of weeks.

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