Gary Sweeney's Villa Park

Although he moved away ten years ago, Gary Sweeney has a long and committed relationship with Denver. Sweeney is a conceptual artist with a taste for pop imagery, as seen in his best-known local creation, the pair of decorated maps titled "America, Why I Love Her" at Denver International Airport. Those whimsical pieces, which were both a critical and popular success, include text and images, Sweeney's signature combo.

"America, Why I Love Her," done in the 1990s, is essentially a pair of indoor informational signs you might have found at a visitors' center or a history museum up until just a few years ago, when they were ripped out and replaced with digital displays. Obsolete signage is a key source for Sweeney's aesthetic inspiration, and he's even gone so far as to make pieces from cut-up fragments of the old signs themselves.

Sweeney's latest piece, "Villa Park" (pictured), is installed near the intersection of West 8th Avenue and Grove Street and looks like nothing other than a sign promoting the Villa Park neighborhood. The area is predominantly Latino, so Sweeney based his design on papel picado, the Mexican art of paper-cutting. The pierced, doily-like shape is best known to most of us because it's commonly used in decorating those ubiquitous Day of the Dead altars on display all over town each fall.

But there's more to it than that. "Villa Park" reflects Sweeney's love of nostalgia, and the piece -- despite the Mexican references -- brings to mind the work of the New Deal at first blush. It looks sort of like an old welcome sign for a park, a vintage effect that's heightened by the use of a retro-style flagstone base. And the piercing has the same flavor, with silhouettes of cottages cut into the steel.

At the dedication of "Villa Park," Sweeney was joined by Denver City Councilman Paul Lopez and former councilmembers Rosemary Rodriguez and Ramona Martinez. The heavy political contingent demonstrates the electoral importance of this area, and also what it means for a place like Villa Park to get a work of public art to call its own.


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