Cool Off!

Taking in Set in Motion: Tim Prentice at the Robischon Gallery in LoDo is a good way to escape the heat wave.

Prentice's kinetic scupltures are pretty cool, but they're made even cooler (literally) by the multitude of fans the gallery has installed to get them to move. Between the fans and the air-conditioning, the place is positively chilly.

Set in Motion is one of several area exhibits that feature metal art, shown in conjunction with the annual conference of the Society of North American Goldsmiths, which took place in Denver last month. "The group is mostly made up of jewelers," says gallery director Jim Robischon, gesturing upward toward the hovering Prentices, "and we wanted to throw them a curve."

This is the second time Robischon has featured the work of the nationally famous Connecticut artist; the first was in 1999, when Prentice established an artistic beachhead with his multi-part installation titled "Full Fathom Five." The "Fathom" pieces hang in the upper entry lobby of Colorado's Ocean Journey.

Each time Ocean Journey lurched closer to financial ruin earlier this year, the thing I worried about -- after fretting over the fate of the Ron Mason-designed building itself -- was the possible disposition of this monumental and ambitious Prentice creation, which looks great right where it is.

Prentice, who began as a Yale University-trained architect, turned to sculpture in the 1970s and has been awarded commissions around the world.

The Robischon mobiles, both ceiling- and wall-mounted, are closely akin to the "Full Fathom Five" installation. In both, Prentice uses shiny steel wire elaborately hinged into flexible chain mail that is typically accented by grids made of flat metal panels or, less commonly, Lexan or other plastics. The tension between these rigid materials and the flexible sculptures undulating in the fan-driven breezes is intriguing.

The mobiles have been designed in a straightforward way, with a repeated rhythm of simple details that create a curtain-like effect. Nearly all of the sculptures sport bent and joined wire on which metal or plastic plates have been arranged in horizontal and vertical rows.

The use of simple repeated forms, limited materials and the monochrome palette of the materials' natural color all seem to connect Prentice with minimalism -- but with a twist.

One piece, "Judd Mobile," even references the godfather of minimalism, Donald Judd, in its title. But the kinetic feature that Prentice employs doesn't seem so minimal to me. Even though the sculptures are ordered and linear, they lose that sense of order when they move, becoming more organic than geometric. As the folks at Ocean Journey noticed, they sometimes look like schools of fish.

The juxtaposition of Prentice's minimalist ethos with the near-constant alteration of the pieces through movement is smart and successful.

With sixteen sizable sculptures, the Robischon show represents a major display of Prentice's work. This abundance deliciously crowds three of the four ample exhibit spaces up front -- "crowd" being a relative term here, because the floors are bare and the Prentices are hanging from the walls and rafters. Two of the pieces, "Judd Mobile" and "Pequoit Maquette," are so large that each could have been given its own room. Both are spectacular.

The most distinctive feature of "Pequoit Maquette," which meanders between the two front spaces, is its translucent Lexan squares. Combined with the thin skeletal construction of the wire armature, they give the piece an almost vaporous quality, like that of a cloud. "Judd Mobile" does not suggest vapor, but rather Judd's famous metal boxes, with scores of aluminum plates lined up in a row.

The contrast between the two -- the translucency of "Pequoit Maquette" versus the opaqueness of "Judd Mobile" -- is interesting, especially since the pieces were made in precisely the same way using similar materials.

I prefer the translucent works. Among my favorites is the diaphanous "Clear Diamond Curtain," a wall-mounted sculpture in which the wire armature is adorned with an all-over pattern of clear Plexiglas squares set on the diagonal.

All of the Prentices are perfectly balanced, not just in composition, but in terms of the laws of physics, too.

Another show at Robischon, Mark Cesark, was also presented to coincide with the goldsmiths' conference. And if director Robischon was trying to throw a curve at the jewelers with the Prentice show in the front, the Cesark show in the back must have been meant to whiz right by their heads.

These works, which are extremely elegant, are made of reassembled pieces of found-metal signage organized into geometric compositions. But unlike jewelry or the Prentice sculptures, the Cesarks are roughly finished with scuffed paint and rust. In addition, the informal joinery bears scorch marks and gauges that have been left in place for their aesthetic power.