Art News

Artist Derrick Velasquez Talks Displacement, Black Cube and New Brutal 2

Black Cube artist fellow Derrick Velasquez is standing in the middle of his workspace at TANK Studios — a piece of foam trim in one hand, a picture of Patrick Swayze in the other — and talking about why a giant medallion-shaped dartboard measuring 96 inches by 78 inches is hanging above his Black Cube and Doors Open Denver exhibition mockup, New Brutal 2.

“There are a lot of metaphors and even phrases that can be said about having a dartboard — like if you’re just throwing darts for randomness,” Velasquez says of the creation, which is studded with at least fifty darts. “I started seeing all of these darts as a sort of vandalism, asking, ‘How many of these can I throw before they become a part of the piece?’ Throwing darts at something is a game version of aiming and hunting without using a gun; it’s literally a target. I got to thinking of the ornateness of something that needed to be pushed into or shot at in some ways.”

Glancing around the room, Velasquez turns his focus to a pile of foam crown moldings on the floor, white embellishments that resemble those seen in his original Black Cube pop-up exhibition, New Brutal. Across the room, plywood is stacked from floor to ceiling; he's using that common building material, along with Tyvek sheeting, in his architecturally inspired sculpture in La Alma/Lincoln Park, New Brutal 2.
“This OSB particle board will balloon in the rain because it wants to expand, but to me it’s more about using cheap materials,” Velasquez says, noting that this project differs from New Brutal in that it is an outdoor sculpture. “I can’t imagine that within two weeks the whole thing will fall apart, but if it does, I don’t have a problem with it at all. I think it makes sense with what the foundation of these projects has been; it’s actually a direct correlation.”

With New Brutal, Velasquez called out the architectural plainness of Denver’s architecture, and in New Brutal 2 he plans to demonstrate the “modern” aesthetic that the Mariposa District, a mixed-used and affordable-housing project directly south of La Alma/Lincoln Park between 10th Avenue and Mariposa Street, has gone through. He's focusing specifically on capturing economic, architectural and social ideas of the building process.

In January 2010, the Denver Housing Authority launched the South Lincoln Redevelopment Plan in the hopes of creating an “energized transit community” in addition to a spectrum of housing options. In the one-for-one program replacing existing housing with mixed-income housing, approximately 278 affordable-housing units were cleared for 900 units of the Mariposa District. Velasquez is using New Brutal 2 to focus on how the “general social populations” of this housing development exist in this gathering and living space. 

“In both of these New Brutal projects, through the aesthetics I’ve always mixed the lowbrow and the highbrow,” Velasquez says, referring to combining the cheaper OSB particle board with the custom crown molding on his sculptures. “They’re even doing that in the Mariposa neighborhood, saying some of these are 'luxury' apartments, but they’re building them the same way.”

In fact, Velasquez questions whether the redevelopment in the Mariposa District has the “same motif” as the Palace of Versailles in France. “Versailles is one of the pinnacles of money, wealth and decadence, but you have to wonder if [developers] are doing this in a crap way and stamping 'luxury' on it,” Velasquez explains. “Through aesthetics, I hope some of these issues of money and class and displacement come to the surface. Seeing these motifs will displace somebody, because you don’t see them in Denver architecture.”

New Brutal 2 debuts from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, April 23, as part of Doors Open Denver and a grant from the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation; Velasquez will speak at 5 p.m. New Brutal 2 will remain on display at La Alma/Lincoln Park amphitheater, between East 11th Avenue and Osage Street, through May 16; it's open to the public on Thursdays and Fridays from 1 to 5 p.m. Visit for more information.