Denver sees red with "National Velvet"

Earlier this summer, a project that was dedicated as "finished" in 2006 was finally completed. It's the 16th Street Pedestrian Bridge, by Carter & Burgess, that crosses I-25 and connects the trendy Highland neighborhood to the ultra-trendy Platte Valley.

The white-painted steel bridge is handsome enough, even if it's hardly the aesthetic or engineering equal of the nearby Millennium Bridge, which is farther east and was designed by ArchitectureDenver's Steve Chucovich. (A couple of weeks ago, I ran into Chucovich, who told me he was closing ArchitectureDenver and joining the international firm of Gensler to serve as a designer — too bad.)

The final element of the Highland bridge — the cherry on top, if you will — was the installation last week of a publicly funded sculpture by John McEnroe, one of Colorado's most accomplished contemporary artists. The piece, "National Velvet" (pictured), looks like a cross between an obelisk and a Christmas tree. It's made of plastic that's been tinted a vibrant red. McEnroe created it by casting individual sausage-like forms and then stacking them on top of one another. The scores of elements are all different in their actual dimensions but are essentially the same in shape.

McEnroe, who is currently represented by Plus Gallery, has been commissioned to do a number of public pieces around town, including monumental bas-relief sculptures at the Colorado Convention Center and an intimate wall piece at the Omar D. Blair Charter School. In those pieces, he used disconnected but recognizable images to create poetic, non-objective expressions that refer, respectively, to the history of the American West and to children. "National Velvet," on the other hand, is completely non-objective in form. What links all of McEnroe's work is the material he employs — hand-cast plastic created with his own recipe — plus the fact that everything he does is conceptual, which is why his works display such a broad range of stylistic expressions, from representational to abstract.

"National Velvet," which sits in a handsome plaza at the foot of the bridge, is marvelous and proves that the public-art program in Denver can really pick a winner once in a while, even if the bridge itself is hardly a masterpiece.

 
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