Taken for Granite

This has not been a great year for sculpture in Denver. First, the Solar Fountain by Larry Bell and Eric Orr that had graced the never-landscaped lawn of the Denver Performing Arts Complex was unceremoniously bulldozed off its foundation and tossed into dumpsters. (Would it have killed the Denver Center for the Performing Arts or the city to dismantle and then store the piece in anticipation of a more civilized future in which some civic use could be made of it?)

This significant sculpture by important artists had to go in order to make room for--no kidding--a sculpture park! Little is known about plans for this park; the designer's name is not even posted at the site. But there is one thing we can be sure of--the sculpture park won't be any good. How could it be, when the first thing on its agenda was the destruction of the Solar Fountain?

Perhaps more understandable than the civic vandalism committed against the Solar Fountain was the more expected, garden-variety vandalism that seriously damaged Roger Kotoske's untitled minimalist sculpture of three red-painted cubes set on end in Burns Park. Nine pieces made up the Denver Sculpture Symposium of 1968; by this year, only four remained in the park. And last month, person or persons unknown set Kotoske's fiberglass-coated plywood sculpture on fire. Word is that the sculpture is to be removed--although, unlike the Solar Fountain, the Kotoske won't require a bulldozer.

Isn't it strange that the possibility of fixing Kotoske's piece hasn't even been discussed, much less seriously considered? Since the sculpture is made of very cheap materials--plywood and paint--how much would it cost to replace the damaged portions and repaint the piece? A few thousand dollars? With all the money the Mayor's Office of Art, Culture and Film has wasted on nonsense, couldn't some be found to repair the Kotoske?

But not all the news on the Denver sculpture front is bad. Recently restored--after having been draped in volleyball netting for five years to protect passersby from falling pieces of the crumbling concrete from which it was made--is the seemingly good-as-new Sullivan Gateway on the Esplanade at City Park, created by New York sculptor Leo Lentelli in 1917. Lentelli's Beaux Arts-style piece is made up of two simple colonnades, each surmounted by a pair of figures. Topping one set of columns are two miners; on the other, two frontier women. Brought back from the brink of destruction, the Sullivan Gateway reclaims its place as one of the city's best examples of public sculpture.

There's also good news for fans of contemporary sculpture--although the glad tidings are only temporary--delivered in the form of Jesus Bautista Moroles, an exhibition of granite sculptures divided between three locales. Small sculptures by Moroles are featured both inside and out at the Artyard Gallery; closely associated mid-sized pieces are on display at the Madden Gallery of the Museum of Outdoor Arts. And last but far from least, large, multi-ton outdoor pieces are installed in MOA's Samson Park.

Taken together, the three parts of this exhibit add up to the most important sculpture show in the region in years--one that's well worth the hours, including travel time, it takes to see everything.

The exhibition was several years in the making. "It was two years ago that I approached Cynthia Madden at the Museum of Outdoor Arts with the idea of presenting a joint exhibit of Jesus's work," says Peggy Mangold, Artyard's well-known director. This is not the first time Artyard and MOA--both of which focus primarily on sculpture--have joined forces; previous outings have included showcases for such noteworthy Denver sculptors as Chuck Parson and Carol Braaksma.

This is the second time Artyard has presented Moroles's sculpture. In 1993 Mangold mounted a much smaller show of the artist's work that, like the current exhibit, was eponymously titled. One reason for cooperating on the much larger Jesus Bautista Moroles is that such a massive exhibition is an expensive proposition; by sharing the show, Artyard and MOA could also share expenses. But another motivation may have been the fact that there is virtually no venue in the region that is large enough to accommodate this major three-part show alone.

Jesus Moroles was born in Corpus Christi in 1950 and studied art at El Centro College in Dallas and at the University of North Texas in Denton. After graduation in 1978, he went to Pietrasanta, Italy, to study the classic techniques of the Italian masters; he remained there through 1980. When he returned to Texas with many lessons learned, he was already well on his way to becoming a major force in contemporary sculpture in the Southwest. Today the sculptor is internationally famous. His stature is so great that in addition to working in his home state, Moroles maintains a studio and gallery in Cerrillos, New Mexico, and he's currently in Barcelona opening yet another studio.

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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