Off Limits

Paint by numbers.

Now that the election season is (mostly) over, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas at a lot of malls and stores around town -- except, of course, for the giant wall on the back of the Denver Pavilions. As usual, it looks a lot like nothing.

Mall manager Susan Cantwell has wanted to change that for a long time, but she keeps running into...well, brick walls. First obstacle: Real estate company Brookfield Properties, which announced in 1998 that it would build a giant office tower at 15th Street and Tremont Place, right behind the Pavilions. Although nothing has happened so far, Cantwell points out that "they could develop it at any time, so we didn't want to spend a fortune painting the back wall and then have it covered completely." Second obstacle: Mayor Wellington Webb's Office of Art, Culture and Film, which doesn't want the Pavilions wall to be transformed from a big, boring eyesore to a big, obnoxious advertisement

"We've submitted several things to them, but the city has fairly stringent requirements," Cantwell says, referring to the city's rule that only 5 percent of a mural can bear the name of its sponsor. So far, a proposed dragon mural pimping the Cirque de Soleil (suggested for both the Pavilions and another building downtown) was rejected because it was the same picture that the traveling show uses in its advertising, and a complicated "Times Square-ish" mural with ads in all different sizes and shapes was turned down for obvious reasons.

"A purely financially driven advertising scheme is fine with us if they want to go through the city's permit people and the signage code, but that's a whole different deal," says John Grant, public-art administrator for the Office of Art, Culture and Film. "We try to help people understand what the difference between a sign and a mural is. We can say that we believe this is fine art. If it's not fine art, though, we send it to the permit people."

Over the last couple of years -- and a few mildly controversial situations -- the city has refined its rules about murals, Grant explains. The first sticky situation was another Cirque de Soleil mural, this one of a headless man with an umbrella, which was painted on the Davis & Shaw building at 14th and Champa streets without the permission of Grant's office. "It was part of an advertising scheme," Grant says. "I kind of felt like the people in town had been held to a certain standard, and the people from out of town were allowed to come in and walk all over that standard. That one was never reviewed by us. We based a lot of our decision-making on that. We used it to say that from here on out, this is the way we are going to do it." As a result, murals now have to be one-of-kind originals done by an artist, "not a design team that sits in on a marketing meeting," Grant adds.

The second snafu involved the Nike-sponsored Terrell Davis mural, still up on the side of a parking garage at 19th and Stout streets, in which the Nike swoosh is clearly visible on Davis's Broncos jersey. Because of that piece, Grant's office decided that logos and trademarks wouldn't be allowed in murals, either.

On October 24, the Pavilions finally got the city to accept one of its proposals: a shark mural that ties into Ocean Journey's Sharkscape exhibit without blatantly pitching it -- sort of a subliminal thing. "It's a big, beautiful fifty-foot-long Great White that says 'Sponsored by Ocean Journey' in little Helvetica type at the bottom," says Chris Krieg, an experienced local muralist who was hired for the job.

Krieg, who painted the renegade Cirque de Soleil mural, believes Denver's rules about murals and advertising are too strict. "I'd like to see Denver loosen up," he says. "In other cities, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, they revere and respect their murals." The Cirque de Soleil dragon mural "would have been beautiful," he adds. "It would have been a landmark."

Krieg was supposed to begin painting the Pavilions shark mural on October 30, but the job's currently on hold. Right where the mural was supposed to go, the mall now plans to punch windows in the wall for a new nightclub, and the company that owns the Pavilions, which celebrated its second birthday on November 5, can't decide what to do with the mural. "They have this 1,000-foot-long wall, and they were just going to live with it being blank instead of moving the mural fifty feet," Krieg laments.

Cantwell won't comment on the nightclub plans, but she does confirm that the mural idea is at sea. "We are talking to Ocean Journey," she says.

If the shark idea sinks, it will be a shame, Grant says. Despite Krieg's opinion of his office's standards, "When this design came through, I approved it immediately," he points out. "Anything can be viewed as advertising if you put your name on it, but this was also a really cool mural. It's something that kids will make their parents drive by and they'll scream, 'It's the shark!' And I'll take that all day long."

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