Shaping Up

A new piece of public sculpture planned for the Denver Performing Arts Complex may yet displace the goofy entrance canopy at the Denver Art Museum as the most reviled object in the local art world. If the winning entry in a recent competition--Jonathan Borofsky's as-yet-untitled monumental six-story-tall sculpture of conventionalized dancers made of white fiberglass-coated steel--is ever actually erected on the DPAC lawn, the only question left will be whether to laugh or cry. Here's a hint: The final selection of the Borofsky is said to have been made by First Lady Wilma Webb. Hey, that's funny all by itself.

Officials at the DAM, though, shouldn't breathe a sigh of relief just yet about getting their canopy off the hot seat. The more than $1 million needed to build the Borofsky hasn't been raised, and DPAC head Donald Seawell may eventually decide he doesn't even like it. Should that happen, count on the Borofsky not to materialize at all. After all, the last time Seawell encountered a work of art he didn't like, he oversaw its neglect and eventual removal. That would be 1983's "Solar Fountain," by highly regarded artists Larry Bell and Eric Orr, which was unceremoniously demolished and thrown into a dumpster just over a year ago.

Interestingly, the "Solar Fountain" occupied the Speer Boulevard site on which the proposed Borofsky is to be placed. Since the fountain's removal, the area has been redesigned; it now sports a poorly done staircase, along with a ridiculous clutter of curly-cue planters and dozens of never-to-be-used benches all lined up in a row.

One good thing did come out of the DPAC's selection process, though. Former DAM curator Nancy Tieken, who was on the panel charged with choosing a piece, became smitten with the work of one of the runners-up--Donald Lipski. Using the considerable resources of her NBT Foundation, Tieken purchased Lipski's "Yearling," a sculpture of a chair with a horse on top, and donated it to the city. "Yearling" will be sited on the lawn of the Denver Public Library, not far from another of Tieken's gifts, Mark di Suvero's magnificent "Lao Tzu," one of the finest pieces of public sculpture in the region.

Getting back to the Borofsky, another strike against it is its tremendous size. The city has a poor track record of getting monumental sculptures built. In fact, the only other gigantic sculpture on the local art agenda, Luis Jimenez's "Denver Mustang," a mammoth blue fiberglass horse meant to be placed outside the Jeppesen Terminal at Denver International Airport, is now several years past due, with no arrival time in sight.

Equally slow in coming was the promised removal of a public statue: Veryl Goodnight's "The Day the Wall Came Down," which until recently sat a few blocks from the DPAC in front of Currigan Exhibition Hall. On loan to the city for the past few years, the piece was finally carted away last week for its eventual installation in Germany (it memorializes the fall of the Berlin Wall). The sculpture, an identical version of which graces the George Bush Library in Texas, is made up of galloping horses charging through a graffiti covered wall--all of it made of bronze.

Another major sculpture that will soon disappear from downtown is Harry Bertoia's 1976 "Sounding Sculpture." Like the 17th Street building in front of which it's displayed (the former Colorado National Bank tower of 1972 by world-famous architect Minoru Yamasaki), the sculpture has been badly damaged. In the case of the sculpture, the problem was repeated vandalism. The building itself has succumbed to an architectural dumbing-down by none other than the Denver firm of C.W. Fentress J. H. Bradburn and Associates. As part of the sorry redo, in which the white Yule marble is being replaced with gray granite, the Bertoia has been deemed dispensable. One hopes "Sounding Sculpture" will find another local home, but there's no word yet on its ultimate fate.

Across town, it's the opposite story: A missing sculpture has reappeared. The three up-ended red cubes in Burns Park at Colorado Boulevard and East Alameda Avenue, created by Roger Kotoske in 1968, have been reinstalled after a first-rate restoration. You may recall that the Kotoske was badly damaged by vandals last year and has been in the repair shop ever since. But don't give credit for this rebirth to the group called "Friends of Burns Park"; that bunch is actually considering a plan to eventually deaccession all four of the sculptures in the park (in addition to the newly refurbished Kotoske, there are works by Wilbert Verhelst, Angelo di Benedetto, and Anthony Magar). With "Friends" like these, Burns Park doesn't need any enemies.

What should be done about the sculptures, whose condition has declined over the years? How about restoring the three that remain in their original states and preserving them--along with the smartly redone Kotoske--and maintaining them permanently? Doesn't that sound like the kind of thing we might expect "Friends" to do?

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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