It's hard not to notice all the public sculpture that's come on line in the past few years. As I drive around, it seems like I'm always spotting something new. That's what happened when I found myself out in Lakewood the other day. I was looking for an important mid-century modernist house by architect Alan Gass, but also found "Aspen Grove," a new public sculpture by Jonathan Stiles.
I located the gorgeous Gass house sitting on a cul-de-sac, its collection of windowless abstract shapes assembled in such a way as to have a decidedly sculptural presence. There's even a walled forecourt, if you can believe it. This is definitely one of the great houses in Colorado. However, there was an absurdity to the location since this extremely urbane creation was sited among some very ordinary houses that were, to say the least, more suburbane.
This same incongruity between art and context is seen in "Aspen Grove," which is not far from the Gass-terpiece. The sculpture, a row of scuffed metal poles each surmounted by a rectilinear construction, is not bad, but its location is terrible!
The Stiles is perched atop a concrete median that runs down the middle of Alameda Avenue just west of Sheridan Boulevard. Don't misunderstand me: This is not a parkway green that could accommodate a sculpture; it's a block of cement so narrow that some of the multi-part sculpture's individual bases hang over it. Ridiculous.
This bad location problem is not, of course, the fault of Stiles, but rather represents just one of the flaws common to publicly funded art: People who know nothing about art call the shots. From my point of view, those who thought it was a good idea to put a work of art on top of a curb in the middle of a busy street ought to lose their jobs — even if they're volunteers. Particularly because only a few blocks away from Alameda is Meadowlark Park, which has acres of open space. The Stiles would look just great there.
The following day, I was out in Arvada to see the two sculptures by Bryan Andrews that recently went on long-term display at the Arvada Center. "The Audience" and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" are made of powder-coated metal, which is a change for Andrews, who more typically works with wood.
The two pieces, which are spindly and diminutive, are thematically related to the artist's wooden "Fetem" sculptures. (The word "fetem" is Andrews's contraction of "fetish" and "totem.") But the wooden fetems, which are simultaneously primitive and modernist, are completely unrelated formally to these newer metal works. "The Audience" and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" have an almost graphic two-dimensionality and a highly refined finish, whereas the signature wooden pieces are more fully in the round and have a more engaging tactile quality. I think it's great that Andrews has stepped out of his expected aesthetic; however, these metal pieces, though they show promise, are not as fully realized as his carved-wood sculptures.
After two harrowing days in Jefferson County, I stayed in the more familiar surroundings of Denver the next day and made my way to the Golden Triangle neighborhood and the William Havu Gallery. Unlike most of the other top galleries, where significant solos reign, Havu took the tried-and-true summer routine of presenting a group show. Three 2D/Three 3D features three painters and three sculptors, including Denver's Emilio Lobato, whose dark geometric abstractions are showcased up front in the window space and on the mezzanine level.
For the fabulous oil-and-collage "Andaluz," Lobato used strips of paper and created three vertical stacks that read like a weaving (a tip of the hat to his Southern Colorado roots in the San Luis Valley). Whenever I look at Lobato's assembled constructivism, I can't help but think of the work of his great teacher at Colorado College, Mary Chenoweth, because Lobato's oeuvre, though distinctive, pays homage to hers.
The other two painters are Aaron Karp, from New Mexico, and Melanie Parke, from Michigan. Karp's painterly geometry and Parke's neo-abstract expressionism work well with Lobato's approach and complement the abstract sculptures presented in the other half of the show.
If Lobato is the standout among the painters, there's no question who has the dominant presence among the sculptors: David Mazza. Havu not only includes a group of his smaller pieces inside, but also larger things on view outdoors, both on the street and in the private sculpture garden behind the gallery.
Astoundingly, Mazza's in his mere twenties but is as accomplished as any sculptor in the state. Part of a group of promising young artists to have emerged from the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design over the past several years, he has always stood out.
The first Mazza piece you're likely to see at Havu is "Mitnal," installed just outside the front door. This linear creation of zigzagging steel is powder-coated red and is an eye-dazzler. The collection of asymmetrically balanced bars cantilevers over the ground, held up in mid-air by a single diagonally mounted mast. "Mitnal," like most of the sculptures in Mazza's classic style, is a sort of three-dimensional, non-objective drawing carried out in tubular metal rods instead of pencil. On the other hand, "Spica," which is across the street, is so subtly hued and partly hidden among the trees that you might miss it — but the sculpture is worth seeking out.
There are several more Mazzas in the sculpture garden, but these are done on a smaller scale than the monumental "Mitnal" or "Spica." They bear a strong compositional relationship to the larger pieces and, consequently, are light and airy, with delicate detailing. Smaller still are the ones inside, meant to sit on pedestals or pieces of furniture. One of the most traditional of Mazza's practices is doing the same kind of work in widely varied sizes.
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One revelation of the Havu show is a change in style for the young artist. Whereas Mazza has built his reputation on linearity, the newest pieces are volumetric. He's still experimenting with this new formal language, so not every piece is great, but "Nacon II" and "Metztli" are.
The other two sculptors filling out the exhibit are Arizona's Mary Bates Neubauer, and Bernice Strawn, a well-known artist from Salida. Neubauer's works, installed in the entry gallery, are primitive, vaguely organic shapes in patinaed cast iron. Strawn continues her interest in skeletal suspension sculptures made of wood.
You'd think having six artists on view for Three 2D/Three 3D would have been enough for gallery owner Bill Havu, but he squeezed in one more, ceramicist Joy Fox. If you ask me, that was one artist too many.