Best New Public Art: Our picks for the past decade
Westword's 2013 Best of Denver issue hit the streets yesterday.This year's prize for Best New Public Art? "Bridge," by Stephen Shachtman, a work located near Fort Logan in southwest Denver. How does this choice fit with our picks of the last ten years? Some pieces are still controversial, years later; others we take for granted as part of the urban landscape. Continue reading for a trip down memory lane.
2012 "For Jennifer," by Joel Shapiro Though it appears to be on the front lawn of the new Clyfford Still Museum, "For Jennifer" is actually on land owned by the Denver Art Museum, which also owns the fabulous Joel Shapiro sculpture. A signature Shapiro, the 32-foot-tall, dazzling blue piece is a cross between minimalism and representation, with the rectilinear metal bars economically brought together in such a way as to suggest a woman dancing. And that woman is the late Jennifer Moulton, the planning director during Wellington Webb's administration who envisioned the Civic Center Cultural Complex. Moulton never saw her vision come to fruition; she died in 2003, before the DAM's Hamilton Building had been built and before the History Colorado museum and the Clyfford Still had even been conceived. But it's fitting to have an ad hoc memorial to her located in the middle of it all. And a stunning memorial it is.
2011 "The Red Forest," by Konstantin Dimopoulos "The Red Forest" sprouted up last year near the west steps of the Millennium Bridge in the Platte Valley, adding another exemplary piece of public art to Denver's collection. Using synthetic rods colored red, Egypt-born Australian artist Konstantin Dimopoulos mounted clusters that look like clumps of reeds to create "The Red Forest." When the air is still, the clustered rods soar above our heads, but when the wind kicks up, they sway and move. Since spotlights are an integral feature, the view also changes drastically at night, when the red rods catch the rays in such a way that they seem internally lit. The work, funded by the Riverfront Park Community Foundation, was selected by the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs, and in this case, DOCA made an illuminating choice.
2010 "Un Corrido Para la Gente," by Carlos Frésquez Carlos Frésquez was part of this city's burgeoning Chicano artists' movement of the '70s and '80s, creating works that specifically referred to the Mexican-American experience. In the '90s, he started to conflate the dreams of Aztlán with postmodernism, and his paintings grew into installations, setting the stage for his latest triumph, "Un Corrido Para la Gente." This funky piece, the title of which means "A Ballad for the People," consists of a giant guitar, a huge bicycle wheel topped by a crown, and a string of papel picado banners running between the guitar and a monumental shovel handle. Installed this past year at the intersection of Morrison Road and Sheridan Boulevard, it serves as an entry marker to the Westwood neighborhood, and its imagery fits the surrounding Mercado district like a glove.
2009 "National Velvet," by John McEnroe Like "Mustang" at DIA, John McEnroe's "National Velvet" has elicited a lot of public comment. But here the jokes have been accompanied by sniggers and smirks rather than shock and awe. Some have suggested that the piece, a contemporary take on an obelisk cast from piled-up sandbags -- in the Platte River floodplain, no less -- suggests either a penis or a stack of breasts. What really makes this sculpture fun, though, is the way McEnroe parodies traditional monumental sculpture by placing a glow-in-the-dark red plastic spire in the middle of an old-fashioned-looking town square.
2008 "Mustang," by Luis Jimenez Even though it's been widely ridiculed -- and hated -- it's hard to deny the power of Luis Jimenez's "Mustang" on the approach to Jeppesen Terminal at DIA. The 32-foot-high outdoor piece is a perfect example of the artist's sensibility, bridging the gap between the high art of classic Western imagery and the low brow of the carnival's garishly painted fiberglass ornaments. The gigantic rearing stallion, with its luridly blue coat, bulging black veins and glowing reddish-orange eyes, is pointedly disturbing, and the story of its creation matches that mood. Thirteen years overdue when it was delivered in February, "Mustang" was also over budget and the subject of lawsuits between Denver and Jimenez. And in June 2006, a piece of the sculpture fell on the artist and killed him. Nonetheless, Jimenez's final work may have been his best.
2007 "Denver Monoliths," by Beverly Pepper "Denver Monoliths," the enormous abstract sculpture in front of the Denver Art Museum's outrageous Frederic C. Hamilton Building, looks like the Flintstones meeting the Jetsons. The primitive forms of Beverly Pepper's charcoal-gray concrete sculpture provide a mighty contrast to the futuristic zigzags of Daniel Libeskind's shimmering silver building. An interesting fact in Pepper's bio is her age: The international art-world hipster is in her eighties! That's yet another reason her piece is one of the best things to see in this otherwise Real World kind of town.
2006 "I See What You Mean," by Lawrence Argent The title of Lawrence Argent's sculpture isn't very catchy, and most people will draw a blank when hearing "I See What You Mean," but if we say "The Big Blue Bear" at the Colorado Convention Center, you see what we mean. The piece was an instant hit with the public, and it has become a nationally known icon for Denver. Even the normally artless business boosters hijacked it, sending out a guy in a cheesy blue bear suit to promote the hotel tax during last year's election. For all the love, however, it's the fact that the sculpture is sophisticated, contemporary and by a hometown artist that makes it one of the best things downtown.
2005 "Indeterminate Line," by Bernar Venet The Colorado Convention Center has bigger fins than a '57 DeSoto and is lit up like a laundromat at night. So it can be hard to notice the fabulous rusted-steel sculpture sitting out front, "Indeterminate Line," by international art star Bernar Venet, that's situated on the lawn along Speer Boulevard at the Stout Street tunnel. It's a large, elegant twenty-ton scribble depicting an oval that's been rendered organic and geometric at the same time. Venet, who was born in France, has lived for decades in New York, and his work has been installed throughout Europe and the United States. We're lucky to have "Indeterminate Line," one of the best outdoor sculptures in the city.
2004 "Fire House," by Dennis Oppenheim, Denver Fire Station No. 9 Denver has spent a fortune on public art, but it hasn't always gotten its money's worth -- with the latest sorry example being Jonathan Borofsky's "The Dancers," which cost more than $1.5 million. Once in a while, though, the city picks up a bargain such as "Fire House," which internationally renowned New York conceptual artist Dennis Oppenheim created for just over $40,000. The aluminum-and-acrylic sculpture depicts a house held aloft by ladders; a lighting system conveys the idea that it's on fire. The conflagration of imagery is unusual, but perfect for such a site-specific piece.
2003 "East2West Source Point," by Larry Kirkland The Wellington E. Webb building in the Denver Civic Center complex is so lavish, it's been dubbed the "Webb Mahal" and, in honor of its prow-like shape, the "good ship Welly-pop." But the building has undeniable appeal, a large part of it due to public art -- especially Larry Kirkland's untitled sculpture, which has its own nickname: "Big Giant Head." The marble sculpture in the form of a two-faced Janus has generated national attention, even showing up on CNN -- not because it's good (which it is), but because its two noses created a hazard for the blind. It's not easy for a new sculpture to match the best the Civic Center already has to offer, but Kirkland's stands a head above the rest of the city's new public art.
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