Dumb and Dumber

Jonathan Borofsky's "The Dancers" waltz into Denver.

Another figure seen in Borofsky's '80s installations is an androgynous form posed as though it were dancing, though without any kinetic features like the "Hammering Man" sculptures. Those androgynous figures, of course, are the prototypes for Denver's "The Dancers," proving that, contrary to what many people seem to think, this style and type of piece is hardly unexpected from Borofsky. Also, like the earlier examples, "The Dancers" has an audio component that broadcasts music from its base.

The human scale of the runners-up, the Lipski and the Boteros, suggested the way in which Tieken, Kemper and many others, including myself, were thinking about the sculpture park: Its relatively small size surely called for many relatively small sculptures. In fact, there was a full-scale mock-up of what a sculpture-studded park could look like a couple of years ago when a show by Joel Shapiro, co-sponsored by the DAM, brought more than a score of his fabulous pieces to the lawn.

But with the Borofsky sucking up all the visual space available, it's impossible to imagine that anything else could be added to the park. Oddly, the imposing size does not lend the piece a sense of monumentality but instead makes it feel bombastic. What other sculptures could possibly hold up to it -- except, perhaps, for another Borofsky? But then the park would look like an overcrowded china cabinet. This all-consuming hit-you-over-the-head effect of "The Dancers" does give it something in common with the nearby under-construction Colorado Convention Center: Both are way too big for their sites and for the gracious scale of the adjacent Speer Boulevard.

The CCC plays an essential role in the Borofsky saga, because public-art money earmarked for it -- as well as funds held by Denver's parks and recreation department -- were shifted over to the Denver Sculpture Park when private fundraising reached its outer limits at just under a million. This fiduciary sleight of hand was a surprise, because the city had previously refused to move art money from one project to another -- which is why there's a lot of public art in Denver in out-of-the-way places like under bridges and on the pavement. But there was something decidedly different about the Borofsky: Wilma Webb had picked it out, and it would be embarrassing if it never happened. So, presto-change-o, the rules fell by the wayside -- just as they had in the naming of the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Building. In both cases the city council did the mayor's bidding, as usual, and carried out the necessary legal maneuvers to change the relevant ordinances.

It may sound elitist, but wasn't it better when public art was chosen with no input from the public? Especially because now the public is represented by politicians or their wives.

It's a real pity that the CCC wasn't constructed in the Platte Valley, where former mayor Federico Peña wanted to build it, because the open spaces over there would have easily accommodated it, and one of those huge parks would have readily handled something the size of the Borofsky. Though there are many things I don't like about "The Dancers," if it had more room to breathe, I wouldn't hate it as much as I do -- and I wouldn't have to look at it as often, either.

And, to be blunt, I do hate it. I think the figures are ungainly and awkward in detail and overall appearance. Sure, Borofsky is an important artist, but I've never felt that he was great at cutting space with form, and that's painfully apparent in the case of "The Dancers." The feet are too big, and the conventionalizing of the musculature and the features of the faces seem clumsy. All of this was intentional on Borofsky's part, being that he's in the generation that rejects beauty and elegance and instead pointedly tries to do things that look dumb.

Or would that be mindless? Coming over the Speer Boulevard bridge, I observed that on one side, there's a ball field named for a beer, on the other, a sports arena named for a soft drink, plus a roller coaster and a Ferris wheel -- and now a pair of cartoon characters dancing the jitterbug. Having fun yet, Denver?

The kid-friendly charm of "The Dancers" is guaranteed to make them popular among the youngsters, and just last week I saw a couple of teenagers throwing a Frisbee through the legs of the colossal figures. It was this sight that inspired a thought: What if those teens displaced from Skyline Park found their way down here? Wouldn't that be funny?

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