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Formal Fun

Untitled sculpture from the "Vertical Garden" series, by Chuck Parson, mixed media.

Artyard, Denver's premier sculpture gallery, turns sweet sixteen this year, and director Peggy Mangold is quietly celebrating with Sixteen Years at Artyard, a small show devoted to the gallery's two biggest attractions over those years: her husband, Bob Mangold, and Chuck Parson.

Bob Mangold holds a distinguished position in the very top ranks of Denver artists. He's currently being feted at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 5 Abstract alongside painters Al Wynne, Bev Rosen, Clark Richert and Dale Chisman; Mangold is represented by a group of sculptures in MCA's courtyard. Repeat visitors there may have noticed that one of these, "Anemotive Tower," is gone. It wasn't stolen; it would have taken a crane to do that. Almost as bad, though, it was substantially damaged a few weeks ago when high winds blew a big chunk of metal off the roof of Sakura Square and onto the top of the sculpture. It's now undergoing repairs in the back room at Artyard.

When I went to Artyard to check out Sixteen Years, the whir of a grinder was deafening, and it lured me back into Mangold's studio, where his assistant, Reven Swanson, was working on "Anemotive Tower." (Artyard began as an extension of the studio, and to some extent, it still is.) Swanson held up a mangled chunk of the piece, made of heavy sheet steel and heavier tubular steel, and pointed out that if the flying debris did this kind of damage to a steel sculpture, it would have been devastating if it had hit a person. "It would have killed them," she says. She's right.

For whatever reason, Sixteen Years doesn't include any of Mangold's signature anemotives, other than the broken one in the back. Instead, it begins outside on the walk with a garden-sized example of Mangold's "Tetrahedral Hypersphere" sculptures. The piece is made of rusted mild steel in a form that is both organic and geometric; it's only later that visitors realize the sculpture is not on the exhibition list and, therefore, not officially part of the show. Nevertheless, the sculpture provides a pretty good segue to the first Mangold that is: "PTTSAAES 01/02."

This sculpture is from the artist's "PTTSAAES" series, which purportedly records in metal tubes the trajectory of a "point traveling through space at an erratic speed." The example here is a zigzagging thunderbolt of polished steel that fits into the corner immediately to the left of the entrance. The sculpture, which doesn't touch the ground and is mounted on the adjacent walls, appears to be floating.

A second gravity-defying feat is shown off in a large, untitled presentation drawing done collaboratively by Mangold and Parson, another of the state's most distinguished sculptors. The drawing -- an unusual one for several reasons, not the least of which is the collaboration itself, since both Mangold and Parson typically work alone -- records a rejected proposal the two made for the art component of the Broadway Viaduct Replacement project in the Platte Valley. They suggested a monumental skeletal tower topped off with laser beams. The most compelling part was the idea of using the materials from the then to-be-demolished original viaduct for the artwork. This would have allowed Mangold and Parson to put together an enormous piece. The concept is wild, and that attribute is fully conveyed in the outrageous drawing.

The rest of the show is mostly devoted to wall relief and freestanding sculptures from Parson's "Vertical Garden" series. In these pieces, made of industrial materials -- hardware, sheets of plastic and glass, concrete blocks -- Parson refers to the figure in the landscape. He doesn't do this by means of any literal association, but rather by having the works themselves interact with the viewer. For instance, humanity is conjured up by the human scale and size of the sculpture and by the visible connectors used to hold them together. The landscape is hinted at by the verticality of the sculptures, which stand, as the viewer does, in opposition to the horizontal land. The three sculptures are displayed in the center of the gallery.

Parson's style is constructivist and is related to minimalism. Given that his sculptures are almost completely composed of ready-made industrial materials, they could hardly be considered expressionistic, yet he somehow orchestrates them in very expressive ways. The tension between the transparent and fragile sheets of glass and the heavy and durable steel plates, chrome bolts and concrete blocks is very effective, and the visual and conceptual aspects of the sculptures are really something else. The relationship between the delicate and the sturdy is another of the multitude of Parson's hidden references to the figure in the landscape.

Sixteen Years is by any measure a modest endeavor, with only a handful of pieces by each artist -- too few, if you ask me. But there's good news ahead, because Artyard is planning a number of promising shows in the coming year, including a couple of proper solos: one to be given over to Mangold, and one to Parson.  


Artyard is one of the longtime standard-bearers of sculpture around here, as is the Foothills Art Center in Golden, which has presented the North American Sculpture Exhibition for over twenty years. During that time, the character of the exhibit has drastically changed: It used to be a showcase for neo-traditional-style sculpture, but for the last several years, it's been more obviously in the non-traditional camp. Carol Dickinson, director of Foothills, is chiefly responsible for this welcome change.

The show, as usual, is a juried exhibit, and this year's celebrity juror was Donald Lipski. A New York sculptor, Lipski is well known here for "Yearling," which depicts a horse perched on a giant red chair and is prominently sited on the lawn of the Denver Public Library. Lipski recently got a commission to create another public sculpture in Denver, a set of giant tools that will be installed on a wall in the atrium space of the now-under-construction Civic Center Office Building.

Giant chairs and giant tools suggest the childlike wonder with which Lipski sometimes (but not always) approaches sculpture, and this same thing has also informed (again, sometimes, but not always) his choices for inclusion in NASE. And this is why I have a problem with artists like Lipski serving as jurors: They inevitably make choices based on their established points of view. Nothing brings this home better than Joe Ventura's "Forward Mano a Mano #1," which is the first thing in NASE and which received a prize, the Foothills Art Center Award. The sculpture shows two nude men standing on a table. Hmmm. What does that remind me of? Oh, wait, I know: a horse standing on a chair.

Not surprisingly, this year's exhibition has a whimsical theme -- which is inappropriate, since this is a national survey that should sport many themes -- and several of the pieces include the figure, animals or furniture, just as Lipski's work often does. This limitation aside, the exhibit is very good, and there's plenty of interesting work here.

One incredible piece is a bronze bondage scene by Megan Baumer that puts quite a twist on the normally conservative neo-traditional style. Using old-fashioned techniques, Baumer accurately conveys a scene in which a woman is sitting on a bound-and-gagged man. Bill Cordiner's "Untitled Figure," made of sumptuous carved walnut, is part man and part rabbit. Martha Russo and Rokko Aoyama both make tables, but Russo's are ceramic miniatures, while Aoyama's altar-like piece, made of wood, wax and stone, is full-sized. (Looking through the show, I realized that if doctrinaire modernists like Mangold and Parson had entered, Lipski would likely have rejected both. This should cheer up everyone who did enter NASE but didn't get in.)

About half of the more than fifty artists in the show are from Colorado, including some very prominent ones like John McEnroe and Lawrence Argent. I really wouldn't have expected either to enter, but perhaps Lipski's draw (the upside of the famous artist-juror situation) enticed them to do so.

McEnroe had two pieces accepted: "Red Oak," a wall-mounted installation, and "Voyage," a ceiling-hung installation. Neither is whimsical, exactly, but they are wryly humorous -- or at least sarcastic. In "Red Oak," McEnroe places a natural stump and a red acrylic copy of it on a shelf. Hanging below is a clear plastic box that has been lined with printed wood-grain vinyl sheeting. The simulation of wood with synthetic materials seems to mock nature, and McEnroe delivers the joke of the visual clash between the dignity of the real wood and the mockery of the fake wood in a totally deadpan way -- and to an undeniably elegant effect. "Voyage" is essentially given its own gallery. In it, McEnroe has suspended from the ceiling many stacks of brightly colored plastic plates on heavy ropes. The stacked plates form cylinders, and the colors McEnroe uses -- bright red, green, yellow and white -- form bands of color on the cylinders.

Argent, who heads the sculpture department at the University of Denver and exhibits internationally, also shows a ceiling-hung installation, "Cojones," which isn't exactly whimsical, either, but rather a sight gag. "Cojones" is a pair of street-sweeper brushes that have been carved into two, er, testicle shapes. Evoking the body in an abstract or even conceptual way is typical of Argent, who also uses suitcases, oars and pillows to do so. "Cojones" is very cool, and although it hovers above the ground, it's monumental and has a substantial presence. The piece is part of a group of sculptures made of found street-sweeper brushes, which, by the way, are very hard to carve.  

Many of the pieces in NASE have been exhibited before, but seeing them together changes the experience, and the relationship of one to another is very nice. This is especially true of Andy Miller's remarkable and somewhat funny "Bathroom People," which ends the show. "Bathroom People" is an enormous pair of figures made of steel partly covered in pigskin. The forms were suggested by the universal signage on restrooms. The sculptures had been exhibited outside the MCA this fall (they were not, I repeat, not hit by airborne aluminum), where they looked great, but they look even better at Foothills. Miller may not be as well known as McEnroe or Argent, but with work like "Bathroom People," he soon will be.

This year's Lipski-organized NASE has its faults, but it's also filled with things worth seeing. The clock is running out, though: The show closes this Sunday.


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