Heavy Thoughts

Sculpture solos at Robischon and Artyard overshadow the group outing at Foothills.

Sitting on the lawn of the Colorado Convention Center adjacent to Speer Boulevard is "Indeterminate Line," that enormous rusted-steel spiral doodle. The piece, created by Bernar Venet, is one of the most important works of art in the city. The French-born but New York-based artist has an international reputation, but Venet's local fame dates back only to the unveiling of his piece two years ago.

In order to take advantage of the public's new awareness of the sculptor, the venerable Robischon Gallery is presenting Bernar Venet: Sculpture and Works on Paper. Though modest in scope and featuring only one mid-sized sculpture among a half-dozen small ones, the Venet exhibit is still heart-stopping in its elegance.

Venet was born in 1941 in the French Alps. By the age of ten, he was already drawing and painting, and by eleven, he'd exhibited a piece in Paris. He was essentially self-taught, though he attended Villa Thiole, an art school in Nice. He joined the French army in 1961 but continued to produce paintings and photos, as the military allowed him to have a studio. After his service, he returned to Nice, and in 1963 became involved with artists of the French New Realist movement, notably Arman. Venet moved to New York in 1966 and lived in Arman's studio until he took up residence in the Chelsea Hotel. His work of this period is conceptual and includes pieces done on magnetic tape, which cannot be viewed.

"219° Arc x 5," by Bernar Venet, welded steel.
"219° Arc x 5," by Bernar Venet, welded steel.
Untitled, from the "Balanced Dissolution" series by 
Chuck Parson, assembled steel.
Untitled, from the "Balanced Dissolution" series by Chuck Parson, assembled steel.


Bernar Venet
Through July 29, Robischon Gallery, 1740 Wazee Street, 303-298-7788

Balanced Dissolution
Through July 31, Artyard, 1251 South Pearl Street, 303-777-3219

North American Sculpture Exhibition 2006
Through July 9, Foothills Art Center, 809 15th Street, Golden, 303-279- 3922

Venet returned to Europe in 1972, but he was back in New York by '76. In the interim, his work had changed to include a body of paintings and drawings of geometric shapes that, though more concrete, still had a lot of conceptual aspects. By 1979, he was doing sculptures depicting those shapes, including the first of his "Indeterminate Lines" series. (The earlier pieces in the series were created in wood, the later ones in steel.) In the '80s, his steel sculptures, related both to expressionism and minimalism, were being built around the world. Since then, his art career has flourished, and he's never been more successful than in the last few years.

The Venets at Robischon provide a good introduction to the artist's recent interests. The large steel floor piece, "219° Arc x 5," is the first one you see, and it literally weighs a ton. The first number in the title refers to the degree of arc, the last to the number of elements involved. Visually, the work is light and seems to soar, even though it's not very tall. The rusted patina is also eye-catching.

In the next space are a group of smaller sculptures, all of which are also based on the arc shape and expressed in various degrees of angle. These are all done in steel finished in a rich, black patina except for one, which is made of aluminum. The black shapes set against their white display stands makes them look like three-dimensional drawings, an impression that is enhanced by the actual Venet drawings and prints that fill out the show.

Bernar Venet is gorgeous, definitely one of the best offerings so far this year. There's only one strange thing: The show is up in June, during the art season's three-month hiatus. Then again, we've got a new Daniel Libeskind-designed wing at the Denver Art Museum set to open in October, so all the old rules must be out. For the rest of the summer, we're going to be treated to fall-quality shows everywhere, an indication of what's to come when fall actually gets here.

Chuck Parson, one of the region's top sculptors, is another artist whose work you'd expect to see in a fall slot, but his solo, Balanced Dissolution, is on right now at Artyard. Like Bernar Venet, Parson is an artist who does non-objective metal sculptures with deep roots in conceptual art, though he's more of a constructivist than a minimalist. And he's never expressionistic, except in theory: He likens the bolts that hold his sculptures together to the emotions that connect people.

In the early '70s, Parson moved to Colorado from Michigan, where he was teaching. He was already a mature artist, with a BFA from the respected Kansas City Art Institute and a freshly inked MFA from the legendary Cranbrook Academy. He emerged in the '70s as a key player in town, showing an early interest in then-new mediums such as video, performance and installation. Since the '80s, Parson has been chiefly interested in creating freestanding sculptures that have an industrial aesthetic, which comes from the heavy-duty materials he uses and the complicated machine-like compositions he prefers. The dialogue between the world, represented by the materials, and the person, represented by Parson himself, is the key underpinning of his work.

For Balanced Dissolution, Parson created an astounding 45 works, including monumental sculptures, wall constructions and what he calls "dimensional drawings," in which drawings are enhanced with sheets of plastic and other materials. There's enough work to fill several galleries, and Artyard is exhibiting it in two parts, with an indoor section and a grander outdoor one.

In the small indoor space, Parson has installed two large sculptures surrounded by his dimensional drawings, giving the humble little room a swank atmosphere. Though the dimensional drawings are interesting and go a long way in setting the mood for this part of the exhibit, the two mostly black sculptures dominate the space. They are signature Parson, though their cylindrical shafts break with Parson's typical juxtaposition of flat planes in rigidly horizontal and vertical arrangements. The continuous shape of the cylinder throws a curveball, so to speak, at his tried-and-true formula. These sculptures, like all of the others in the show, are untitled.

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