Michael Singer knows all about how air travel has changed; he’s frequently jetting around the world to discuss his work, including another possible commission in Denver. We caught up with him on a recent visit to the Mile High City to talk about his “Interior Garden” at Denver International Airport, the airport's interest in removing it, and the Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs voting against the deaccession request.
Westword: What has the response been to “Interior Garden” over the past two decades?
Michael Singer: I receive e-mails all the time about this project, as do my colleagues. Everybody is delighted by the project, especially when they just happen to find it during their travels. Just a few months ago, someone contacted my studio about donating a palm tree to the project. One of my favorite e-mails came from an associate professor of art at the American University in Cairo, Marrin Robinson, which states: “As someone who frequently travels internationally, I can assure you that this sculpture and garden is one of the most humanizing aspects of any airport I have traveled through...a piece that distinguishes your airport from any other and raises Colorado’s image in terms of the Arts.”
About five years ago, a book on my work, The Re-Enchantment of Nature and Urban Space — Michael Singer Projects in Art, Design and Environmental Regeneration, was published in Denmark; the Denver airport’s “Garden” is on the cover of this book, with the McDonald’s food court in the background. This book is also the catalogue for two one-person shows I had in Denmark, one at the Utzon Center in Aalborg and the other at the Danish Architectural Center in Copenhagen.
How did you feel when you heard that the airport was going to request that “Interior Garden” be deaccessioned?
I was surprised. I know there are some maintenance challenges, and I am certain they can be resolved with a collaborative effort. I had no idea that there was a plan for deaccession until I received a formal letter from the airport informing me of the request and the process…. I wrote several letters to the Commission on Cultural Affairs expressing my belief that there are many ways of addressing the airport’s issues while keeping and enhancing the garden. I was very pleased to hear the commission voted fifteen to three to decline the request for deaccession. “Garden” is a very special piece, and it’s reassuring to know that the commission values this piece as much as I do.
Are you willing to collaborate with the airport to deal with the maintenance issues, perhaps making some modifications that would alleviate concerns about leaks? Or replacing tropical plants with xeriscaping?
Absolutely. In my letters to the airport and the Commission on Cultural Affairs, I suggested several ways the garden can be restored and enhanced. I am confident we can all work together on some creative solutions to the airport’s concerns, and I look forward to collaborating with the airport staff.
Given the airport’s deaccession request, do you have concerns about accepting another Denver commission?
Not at all. The Denver Public Art Program has a very capable and professional team; they recognize that the airport matter is completely separate from any new commissions.
Stacey Stegman, Denver International Airport vice president of global marketing, presented the airport's request to deaccession the Michael Singer piece to the Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs. We caught up with her after the most recent meeting to ask a few additional questions.
Westword: Since the commission voted against deaccessioning the Singer, what's the next move for the airport?
Stacey Stegman: Right now we are just waiting to get through the public comment period and will continue to maintain the piece as we've been doing.
Will you reach out to Singer to see if you can arrive at some kind of collaboration? (He says he's willing.)
We have not made a decision on this.
Will you also work on defining exactly what you'd need that space for? The vagueness seemed a concern of the committee.
Yes. We are in the visioning phase and as soon as we have a defined plan we can share, we will present that to the commission.
Would it be possible to build something over the Singer, as in the B Concourse?
We don't yet know but will explore many options.
Michael Chavez of Denver Arts & Venues mentioned the floor by the train is part of the artwork, so if the Garden goes, the floor below goes? How would that change the estimated demolition costs?
We have not estimated the floor and that is something we would need to discuss with the artist as to what his wishes would be.
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And finally, do you know why the airport Arts and Culture Program is under the airport, rather than Chavez's office at Arts & Venues?
I don't know why we would change something that works. The Art team at DEN is an extension of the downtown Art and Culture team and we work collaboratively. We have a very robust art program at the airport with much going on at any given time. This requires in-house staff who stay incredibly busy. Having dedicated badged aviation staff fully understanding the operations of an airport environment is critically important and the art team at DEN is professional and more than qualified to select and maintain artwork. This is similar at many other airports with incredible art programs and is a standard practice that works well.
Want to comment on the deaccession request? You can do so here. The deadline is May 16.