"Spica," David Mazza, mild steel.

Solid Ideas

Sculpture has long been one of the specialties of the William Havu Gallery. Typically, there's a piece or two placed outside the front, plus there's a sculpture garden in the back. Right now, there's even more sculpture on display than normal, as the inside exhibition spaces have been outfitted with 3-D works, too. On the expansive main floor, there's the handsome Three Dimensions, a group show by three regionally significant sculptors; on the mezzanine is David Mazza, a small exhibit dedicated to an important young Denver artist.

In a sense, the sculpture-fest begins with Mazza, because his mild steel sculpture, "Spica," is out on the front sidewalk, and "Hathor" is across the street in front of the offices of Christopher Carvell Architects. (Though it's not part of either of the shows inside, there's also an elegant marble-and-steel piece by Michael Clapper.)

Both Mazzas are signature works in which linear elements precariously balance on diagonal posts that root the pieces to the ground. One of the most interesting things about these sculptures is how they are simultaneously constructivist and expressive.


Three Dimensions and David Mazza

Through March 12, William Havu Gallery, 1040 Cherokee Street, 303-893-2360

Mazza has really gotten around during his relatively short career, which began after he graduated from the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design a couple of years ago. While there, he worked with Erick Johnson, who had also been his high school art teacher. Johnson, of course, is one of Colorado's most important sculptors, and his work is in public and private collections throughout the area.

Mazza's Denver debut was in 2002 at Ron Judish Fine Arts, which was one of the city's premier exhibition spaces until its closure. By 2003, Mazza was in Fresh Art's stable -- another gallery that is long gone -- and in 2004 he joined Havu. This show represents his debut exhibition there, and it comes at the same time that Mazza's sculpture made its first network-television appearance as a part of ABC's hit show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

More Mazzas are installed in the Courtyard, which is accessed through an inconspicuous door on the back wall of the gallery. In this section are several pieces that are closely associated with those on the street. Like the ones out front, some of these Mazzas have an arte povera aspect to them. Employing ready-made tubes meant for construction, Mazza leaves the surfaces essentially unfinished, with the welding scars and rust spots standing in for a patina -- and it really works. Other pieces are constructed of scuffed-up stainless steel. In "Set," the two types of material are used together for a gorgeous combination of rusted steel and shiny stainless. Yet another type is finished in airbrushed automotive paint with two layers, a black ground and a puckered metallic paint on top. It is unbelievable.

The last leg of the show is on the mezzanine, and these are mostly smaller works. That makes sense because nobody would want to lug the eleven-foot-tall "Spica" up there. As it is, some of the pieces in this section must have been a nightmare to install. There was surely no problem installing the group of diminutive sculptures displayed on a long shelf at the top of the stairs. These are miniature versions of the large outdoor pieces and actually illustrate Mazza's method, which is to work out his ideas on small sculptures before realizing them on a large scale.

A notable feature of these small tabletop pieces is that they have a luxurious aura. Unlike the pieces out on the street, Mazza painted the miniature sculptures in glossy black automotive paint and then mounted them on rectangular bases made of white marble. They're great.

The three floor sculptures on the mezzanine are also sumptuously finished. Mounted atop truncated pyramid bases are clusters of tubes bent into gentle curves. The first two, "Tefenet" and "Nekhbet," are done in stainless steel, while "Neresger" is painted in a spectacular metallic automotive finish.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: David Mazza is one of the best artists in the state.

While we're on the topic of Colorado's top talents, the downstairs show at Havu, Three Dimensions, starts off with the work of Lawrence Argent. Born in Australia, Argent earned his bachelor's degree Down Under at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and then came to the states to get his master's at the School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore. In 1993, he took a job teaching at the University of Denver, where he still works as head of the sculpture department in the School of Art and Art History. Argent has done a number of public sculptures in the metro area, including "Virere," the giant tuft of grass on South Broadway in Englewood; "Pillow Talk," a stack of stone pillows at 20th Avenue and Pennsylvania Street; and "Whispers" an interactive sculpture and sound installation on the DU campus.

None of these existing Argents are as famous as the one that isn't even here yet: "I see what you mean," the forty-foot-tall blue bear that will be installed in April to peer into the windows of the Colorado Convention Center along 14th Street. I predict this piece will be a favorite of ordinary people, though those in the art crowd will be split over it. I think it was a stroke of brilliance for Argent to think up something as viewer-friendly as a big blue bear, since it will also function well within the established context of his other pieces, especially "Virere." Sure, the kids will love it, but it's also going to be a credible work of contemporary art.

Thinking about the grass and the pillows and the bear, and recalling Argent's installations I've seen over the years at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and the Arvada Center, it's apparent that his oeuvre is not held together aesthetically. The pieces don't look alike; they relate to one another conceptually. Surely that's the only way the works in Three Dimensions at Havu may be understood. The Argents there fall into two categories: blurry, atmospheric photos of baby-bottle nipples in still-life settings, and sculptures based on the shape of the nipples. The photos, which have been effectively framed in white plastic, are really poetic and beautiful. Especially nice are the earth-toned color schemes he uses, which are anchored by the amber color of the nipples.

The sculptures are monumental, and that characteristic is enforced by their overall simplicity. Though based on something mundane -- mass-produced nipples -- they have an unexpected dignity. The smaller sculptures, "NUK-I," made of gray Bardiglio marble, and "MAM-I," in white Rosa Aurora marble, remind me of busts; the floor sculptures, "Untitled," in pierced bronze with a green patina, and another in a dead-white polyurethane that's also untitled, are more reminiscent of standing figures. It's amazing how widely applicable the nipple shape is -- at least in Argent's mind.

Immediately adjacent to the Argents is the first of a two-part display of Mary Bates Neubauer's digital prints and sculptures. Neubauer attended Colorado State University in Fort Collins, where she got her BFA in 1973; she then went to Indiana University to complete her MFA in 1981. Since 1996, she has taught sculpture at Arizona State University in Tempe.

The Neubauers are evocative of natural things like flowers and seeds, but appearances are deceiving -- her works are also based on math. It all begins with computers. For the large sculptures, the forms are taken from microscopic biological and botanical specimens that are turned into digital images. The images are made into prints and then into sculptures. "Starfog" is both an archival inkjet print and a cast-bronze floor sculpture. The same shape -- a bowl within a bowl, with a spike coming out of the center -- is used for both. The print is predominantly red, while the sculpture is done in varying shades of blue.

Back under the mezzanine is the other half of the Neubauer portion of Three Dimensions. Computers also play a part in these much smaller pieces, in which data streams are translated into shapes by a series of custom programs. For one form, Neubauer used a 25-year record of rainfall in Phoenix; for another, 350 years of solar-spot records. The pieces at Havu were done while Neubauer was in residency at Wisconsin's John Michael Kohler Center for the Arts. Kohler, a major manufacturer of toilets, sinks and bathtubs, allows artists who are lucky enough to be accepted to the center full use of the company's state-of-the-art foundry facilities.

The last of the trio in Three Dimensions is Stephen Daly. Like Argent and Neubauer, Daly is an art professor, teaching sculpture at the University of Texas at Austin. According to gallery owner Bill Havu, Daly once shared studio space with artist John Buck. It's an interesting thing to know, since the two artists do very comparable work. Daly starts with a conventionalized head, while Buck employs a conventionalized torso. Both artists then adorn the head and the torso, respectively, with small objects.

The most impressive of the Daly's is "Controller," a large bronze installed in the window gallery. On a table-like construction, Daly has arranged a series of smaller sculptures, including one of his archetypal heads as well as several geometric abstracts. The table form and the smaller sculptural elements have been finished in a beautiful, rich Renaissance brown.

Around the corner, near the information desk, there are a series of individual heads, each on its own pedestal. These heads take the shape of eggs, with the nose being a simple raised ridge. They really remind me of the work of Austria's Hagenauer, and I'd be shocked if Daly wasn't aware of this historically significant decorative-arts studio from the early twentieth century.

Three Dimensions and David Mazza are marvelous together, and there are definitely more than a few things of interest to Denver art audiences in each.


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