Visual Arts

A giant Avocado at DU was a study of public art

Public art has always been vigorously controversial Denver.

Whether it's the blue devil "Mustang" at Denver International Airport, the (naked alien?) Borovsky "Dancers" in front of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, the Big Blue Bear or "National Velvet" -- a sculpture that some say looks like a stack of saggy red boobs built into the shape of the penis -- public art inspires lots of talk.

It can also change the environment around it, either because of its aesthetic impact alone or because of the way people react to it: just take a look at Gonzalo Lebrija's "Entre La Vida y La Muerte," in a dingy parking lot outside MCA Denver for an example of how public art will make you see things differently.

Terrie Taziri noticed that too.

"I really hated that mustang," she says about the airport art. "Which is part of what spurred me on to do this."

So the University of Denver masters candidate decided to study how controversial public art can change or enhance the environment around it and then write a paper on it for her Visual Art and Design program. She also wrote about it on her blog.

But Taziri and her adviser decided to take the study even further, so in July, Taziri designed and built a giant avocado out of a block of Styrofoam and installed it in two different places on the DU campus -- a pool in the Humanities Garden and a lawn near the Penrose Library -- so she could observe changes to the environment around it. What did she observe? Taziri will save that for her paper (she's now in her third revision), but it has nothing to do with guacamole -- although she got plenty of jokes on that subject. After all, the piece, "Avo Maria," is an eight-foot-by-four-foot green half of an avocado, complete with a brown pit and black skin.

"It was so fun. It was a great experience," she says. Originally she was going to do an abstract piece involving foam shooting through a liquid tube. But after technical problems and a thoughtful lunch one day (yes, she was eating an avocado), Taziri decided to do something that was the opposite of abstract.

"People loved it. Everybody loves avocados," she says. "But if it had been abstract, would they have taken as much ownership of it?"

And she's learned a lot more about other public art as well, including "Mustang."

"It's not just about the placement, but also the communication," she says. "There are really good reasons behind why [the city] chose that artist and placed it where they did. But people don't really know that. I want to do a re-branding of the mustang. It needs a makeover -- maybe pink eyes. Sometimes you can't communicate enough."

As for Avo Maria, Taziri is trying to figure out what to do with it next. She's had at least one request from an organization that wanted to install it out front, but isn't sure. "It was planned as a temporary installation, to live on only through pictures and your memory. Art supposedly makes a bigger impact that way."