Denver's public-art program — which requires that 1 percent of all capital-improvement projects over $1 million undertaken by the city go to public art — turns thirty this year. Over the past three decades, that program has been responsible for placing an amazing collection of artworks around the Mile High City. None have been as controversial as "Mustang," our Best Public Art honoree in the Best of Denver 2008, but over the past decade, a few other winners have had their own neighsayers. Still, they all continue to make the Denver landscape a lot more interesting. Here are the past ten winners (with the descriptions that accompanied their awards), concluding with the Best Public Art in 2018, a second win for the artist:
"National Velvet," 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.
"Un Corrido Para la Gente," 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.
"The Red Forest," 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.
"For Jennifer," Joel Shapiro
Denver Art Museum
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.
"Bridge," by Stephen Shachtman
South Sheridan Boulevard at Lehigh Street
In remote southwest Denver, art of any kind has been hard to find. But this part of town has finally gotten its first piece of public sculpture: "Bridge," an elegant minimalist gateway by Stephen Shachtman. Constructed of two Corten steel upright forms connected by a heavy horizontal element made of polished black granite and sheets of laminated glass, the piece looks like an open doorway. "Bridge" is handsomely situated in the median of South Sheridan Boulevard near Lehigh Street, next to Fort Logan National Cemetery. The association of the Shachtman piece with the vast graveyard lends "Bridge" an otherworldly quality, which was apparently the artist's intention.
"I know You Know That I Know," Sandra Fettingis
Colorado Convention Center
The impressive "I Know You Know That I Know" is a public commission granted to Denver artist Sandra Fettingis, who was asked by the Colorado Convention Center to cover an astounding 160 feet of wall space with murals. What she came up with is a highly sophisticated and complex set of triangular patterns that look something like trellises. These patterns — painted or in the form of cut acrylic panels — are essentially the same save for size and color (though all of them are black, white or red). The piece is meant to demonstrate how things change over time yet remain the same in some way — and it enlivens a corridor that had an unwelcome gloominess to it before.
"Iridescent Cloud," Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan
Denver Museum of Nature & Science
The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is growing like a weed, most recently with an elegant if enormous klipp architects-designed addition. With it came the lyrical "Iridescent Cloud," by Seattle's Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan. The piece, constructed by Demiurge Design, is a canopy of sorts, supported by three canted pillars that hold a woven mesh of stainless-steel cable that's been adorned with transparent tetrahedral prisms made of acrylic. As the sun passes over — or when artificial light hits them at night — the prisms sparkle with iridescent reflections.
"Shadow Array," Patrick Marold
Denver International Airport
The art collection at DIA is simultaneously famous and infamous, as exemplified by the best-known piece there, Luis Jiménez's "Mustang," which is both. Now the airport has added one of the region's most epic works of public art ever, Patrick Marold's "Shadow Array," an enormous environmental installation with a footprint the size of a building. The magnitude was necessary for the piece to even get noticed where it is, just south of the new Westin Denver International Airport and on either side of the adjacent RTD rail line flanking the station's long platform. The RTD tracks run in a valley, and Marold's creation lines its slopes with angled linear forms made out of joined logs from beetle-killed trees. The log elements have been arranged like a set of ribs, a pair of mirror-image radiating curves. "Shadow Array" takes advantage of its site, perfectly fitting the topography of the symmetrical slopes. The ribs create shadows when lit by the sun and via a lighting system at night, and those seemingly insubstantial reflections become as emphatic as the logs themselves. It's smart, sensitive and gorgeous.
"Balloon Man Running," Sean O'Meallie
Central Park Station
The train to DIA — the University of Colorado A Line — has had its share of troubles, including intermittent stalls and malfunctioning crossing barricades. The least troubling aspect of the RTD project has been the public-art component, with each of the stations along the route augmented by a piece of public art. The best of the batch — in fact, the best new piece of public art commissioned in metro Denver this past year — is Sean O'Meallie's "Balloon Man Running," at the Central Park Station at Stapleton. The Manitou Springs-based artist typically creates whimsical pieces that have a childlike sense of wonder; O'Meallie is a successful toy inventor. With "Balloon Man Running," he tips his hat to both Casper the Friendly Ghost and to the related balloon-animal sculptures of Jeff Koons. And somehow, the piece also manages to convey the idea of hurrying to catch a train. The twelve-foot-tall piece can be seen for blocks, as it stands on a two-story-tall plinth that brings a humorous touch to a boring parking lot.
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"Sun Silo," Patrick Marold
Community Park, East Lowry Boulevard and Pontiac Street
Patrick Marold is one of Colorado's most accomplished conceptual artists, and he was tapped to create "Sun Silo" for Community Park at Boulevard One, an extension of Lowry. The sculpture is a multi-story cylinder made of rings of steel with a bronze-like patina; the overall shape accounts for the "Silo" part of the title, while concave sections of the rings that allow light to reflect and shine through account for the "Sun." Marold is well known for his interest in manipulating natural light, but right now, "Sun Silo" could use a little time in the spotlight, since the surrounding park has yet to be landscaped and the adjacent town center is under construction. But if you can make your way to the piece, you'll find it illuminating.
See all the winners of the Best of Denver 2018 at westword.com/best-of.