Though the twenty-something Collin Parson — son of prominent Colorado sculptor Chuck Parson — has the official title of Gallery Exhibition Designer at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, he's really the de facto director of the fine-art program. He's filled a vacuum at Arvada because the position of Gallery/Museum Manager, a person who would be Parson's boss in theory, has been vacant for years.
That means that Parson lays out the shows as well as organizing them. In the process, he's emerged as one of the best curators in the region, as is revealed with Time, Space and Motion: Robert Mangold Retrospective. If that top art position at Arvada is ever filled, let's hope Parson gets it, because he can obviously do the job.
The Mangold show is part of a plan by Parson to make the Arvada Center the place to see the work of the state's most noteworthy contemporary artists. Also part of this strategy are the exhibits upstairs, which feature local legends Homare Ikeda and Monroe Hodder in a painting duet, and, in the Theater Gallery, the work of the great Carl Reed is seen in a separate show. As good as those shows are, Time, Space and Motion is definitely the main event — not just in Arvada, but statewide.
The exhibit begins outside, in the vicinity of the center's forecourt, where a small group of pieces are installed, but it starts in earnest in the entry space, where Parson has created a context area laying out a timeline of Mangold's life. From it, we learn that Mangold was born in 1930 in Indiana, enlisted in the Air Force in 1949, and later enrolled at Indiana University, where he earned a bachelor's degree and a Master of Fine Arts. The rest of the space features the artist's earliest surviving works, which were done while he was a student. Among the surprises are a set of abstract-expressionist drawings and a remarkable painting that shows the path not taken by Mangold, who would later focus exclusively on sculpture. Also included are several of Mangold's first efforts at creating kinetic sculpture, most of which were done in Colorado.
Walking through the show, I asked Mangold when he first came to Colorado and why. It turns out that he was initially interested in design as opposed to sculpture, and while a student in 1955, he attended the International Design Conference in Aspen, which is still held every summer. Mangold immediately fell in love with Colorado and moved here permanently in 1960. He was hired at the University of Denver by painter Jack Ball, who was standing in for his colleague, Vance Kirkland, then the head of the department. Mangold remained there through 1964.
Viewers are meant to proceed to the left, where Parson has displayed Mangold's most famous series, the "Anemotive Kinetics." These are often spherical in overall shape but are made up of individual conical forms mounted on skeletal armatures that are meant to catch the wind and rotate. Parson put them near the start of the show in an attempt to be chronological, since the earliest ones were done while Mangold was still at Indiana University. The oldest, "Paper Anemotive Model," from 1957-58, is stunning. In fact, it's so unforgettable that I remembered it from the last time I had seen it, more than a decade ago.
Other "Anemotives" are scattered throughout the room and cover a range of variations on the same theme: a whirligig or pinwheel mounted on a shaft. Some are done in the classic polychrome, using a different bright color for each of the conical scoops, while others are monochromes done in automotive lacquer or in scuffed-up stainless steel left in its natural state.
Unlike his other sets of series, Mangold continued to make the "Anemotives" over the years, so a strict date-order for the show was impossible to achieve unless the newer ones had been left out. In this "Anemotive" gallery, nearly all the works were made after Mangold moved to Colorado. Parson installed two more of them outside across the drive near the entrance, providing a teaser for the show.
The next section is given over to the "I-beam" series, which was first exhibited at the Friends of Contemporary Art Gallery in 1970. Mangold was one of the founders of FoCA, which is the spiritual ancestor of both DAM Contemporaries and the MCA Denver. The shapes of the minimalist "I-beam" pieces refer to the I-beams out of which they were fabricated. They are quite different from the "Anemotive" works, but the relatively simple shapes anticipate Mangold's later compositions.
The "I-beams" give way to the "Tetrahedralhypersphere" sculptures on view in the gallery beyond. In these works, which Mangold did in the late '70s and early '80s, a cylindrical shape has been cut and manipulated to form standing pieces; they are principally finished in natural patinas. But unlike the "I-beams," which have a less-is-more character, the overall shapes of the "Tetrahedralhyperspheres" have organic — and at times even anthropomorphic — references. And though most of them don't move, their forms suggest movement, which links them conceptually to the "Anemotive" works.
In a sense, this progression leads directly to Mangold's most recent series, the "PTTSAAES." These geometric compositions link all the others together and share at least some attributes with just about everything that Mangold had done before them.
The sci-fi-ish moniker of the series stands for a "Point Traveling Through Space at an Erratic Speed," with the overall shape of the linear and tubular forms meant to suggest movement in a static way. These sculptures are Mangold's solid, three-dimensional renditions of the imaginary trajectories of particles moving freely through the air. The pieces are reminiscent of scribbled but straight lines (not unlike those early works on paper) that zigzag from anchors in the floors or walls. The viewer is meant to imagine that the paths of the particles continue on forever in both directions.
The "PTTSAAES" are installed in the small gallery in the back and in the soaring atrium gallery in the center. The enormous "PTTSAAES 8/09" takes control of the space and rises up more than a story above our heads. It's finished in a shiny red, like a race car, and it lays out the preposterous journey of some speck of the imagination, culminating at the top in a point like a pyramid. Also in the atrium is a piece done about a year ago, extending along the east wall for many yards. It's made of stainless tubes that have been scratched into a Florentine-like finish. It was important for Parson to include something Mangold had just completed to demonstrate that after more than fifty years, he's still got it. Case closed: Parson proved it.
As is the case with the "Anemotives," there is a "PTTSAAES" outside, as well, but this one has been there for some time and has simply been drafted into duty as part of the show. It's also in a natural stainless finish that's covered with scratches.
Parson has also included Mangold's sketches, presentation drawings, press clippings, awards, citations and, last but not least, his study models in this show. These maquettes, some of which were never realized, are among the most beautiful and interesting pieces here. All of these elements enrich the show immensely and are just the tip of the iceberg, with Parson hauling out for me several portfolios and boxes filled with other drawings, posters and presentation photos that there just wasn't enough room for.
From my point of view, in the hierarchy of art exhibitions, the top rank is given over to the career retrospective, the apotheosis of the artist solo, which is what Time, Space and Motion: Robert Mangold Retrospective is. Oh, sure, the sweeping group show, organized along historical or topical lines, is often eye-dazzling and chock-full of insights — think of Blink! or Overthrown at the Denver Art Museum. But what could be more satisfying than seeing a mature artist's stylistic development laid bare in a sequence of aesthetic and intellectual moves that cover a span of decades?
Surely one of the top shows this season was the Birger Sandzén retrospective at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center that only recently closed. And the spectacular Dale Chisman fete at RedLine is still vivid in our collective memory. Let's add to this distinguished list the Mangold show at the Arvada Center. Let me put a fine point on it: If you plan to see one show in the next year, make it this one.