Winter Gardens

A notable Santa Fe artist joins two locals at Havu, while a New York star makes his Denver debut.

Originally installed in 1981, the sculpture was set in the middle of the lawn and surrounded by formal walkways. The placement was dictated by an only partly completed plan conceived by the world-renowned architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. But because of budget constraints and DPAC don Donald Seawell's well-known antipathy for the sculpture, the plaza was never landscaped and was only minimally maintained.

In the mid-1990s, a decision was made to revamp the area, and the firms of EDAW and Carter and Burgess came up with a novel plan for a sculpture park. And they had an even more novel way of achieving it. Their first suggestion? Remove the "Solar Fountain." You know, the only sculpture there.

Everything else they did was just as bad and just as idiotic. For instance, look at that preposterous set of stairs that hysterically wend their way up to the galleria above. The stairs are meant to do double duty as seating for outdoor theater audiences, though it's hard to imagine anything that would be audible above the constant din of the traffic on Speer.

"Untitled," by Joel Shapiro, welded steel.
"Untitled," by Joel Shapiro, welded steel.
"Tower Piece Drawing," by Lawrence Argent, graphite on vellum.
"Tower Piece Drawing," by Lawrence Argent, graphite on vellum.

Details

Through February 24, 303-893-2360

Joel Shapiro: sculpture
Through May 29
Denver Performing Arts Complex, Speer Boulevard between Arapahoe and Champa streets, and the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000

William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street

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See that mangy evergreen tree imprisoned in a concrete container on the elevated plaza at the bottom of the stairs? According to documents produced for the project, that tree is meant to be decorated by artists along seasonal themes. (Apparently someone at either EDAW or Carter and Burgess had a subscription to Martha Stewart Living.)

Well, not surprisingly, no one ever got around to putting on a play at the bottom of the steps or decorating the tree. However, with the Shapiros, there are finally some sculptures in the sculpture park -- and to think, only a few years after the "Solar Fountain" was scrapped. But don't get your hopes up: The Shapiros are set to leave at the end of May.

However, there is a plan for a permanent piece for the sculpture park, a preposterous sixty-foot-tall dancing stick-figure couple by Jonathan Borofsky, which was personally chosen by Denver's first lady, Wilma Webb. The Borofsky was supposed to be paid for by private donations, but those funds have not materialized, and it looks like the public art budget for the ever-expanding Colorado Convention Center next door will be raided to pay for at least part of it. The move is both possible and legal since the site is adjacent to the CCC, and the law allows for funding in such a situation.

I'm sure some will come to love the Borofsky, but from my naive point of view, it is comparable stylistically to those embarrassing ballerinas by Ruth Keller Schweiss over at the Adam's Mark Hotel. (In what can only be seen as one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction things, Bell, of the "Solar Fountain," is doing his own stick figures not far away at the under-construction Invesco Field at Mile High -- or whatever it's called.) I repeat a prediction I made when the Borofsky was first proposed in 1998: The sculpture will become the most reviled object in Denver.

I guess we'll have to wait and see. For now, though, those marvelous Shapiros are definitely worth a look -- even if only from the window of a speeding car.

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