Formal Fun

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.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia

Latest Stories