A battleship has overturned and dropped to land in Denver, Colorado’s Civic Center. The sloping titanium shingles jut sideways at off angles, cutting into the skyline. I stare at it, hands on hips, hoping to glean some understanding. Nothing comes. I scowl at the edifice and, arms crossed, walk under its deconstructivist design. The Denver Art Museum’s Hamilton building baffles me. I have never encountered geometry like this, and I cannot wrap my head around its symbolism. Gazing at the works placed inside the oblique galleries is equally disconcerting. No whiff of comprehension emanates from this housing to enlighten me. The city’s sculptural landscape is complex and nuanced, none of it willing to be quantified. I realize this as I am repeatedly accosted by pieces which evade my need to file them neatly into objects I like or dislike. I am unable to render a verdict on the fifty-foot pair of chalk-white dancers on Speer Boulevard. The rusted metal looped line in front of the convention center confuses me. The writhing tower of cherry toned epoxy globules in the Highlands neighborhood befuddles me.
“I have always struggled to comprehend modern art.”
It does not have any aesthetic ease. Present me with a nineteenth century bucolic watercolor and I know where I am. Oil portraits of Dutch maidens and French monarchs I can handle. Bronze statesmen on horseback, pensive soldiers, Charity as a mournful gowned goddess I appreciate. On a superficial level their appeal is simple. They speak to me while I stand in front and listen. Contemporary art has never done this for me. Instead it disturbs me, posing unanswerable questions about meaning, about life… about me. Denver is so replete with modern carvings and architecture that I cannot ignore it here. These puzzling pieces form an integral part of this metropolis; they make up Denver’s personality so I cannot pass them by, hoping for something unchallenging to soothe my tastes. I take refuge, though, at the botanic gardens. Among the laburnums and asters I pass. Inside this natural world I hide, believing I will not be troubled by the unruffled plainness of the lily pond. I do not want to think so hard. I am a flaneur; I want the overwhelming content of the world to fall like rain, unabsorbed by me. I want to only partially be inspired by my environment. Yet even in this straightforward setting I am prodded out of my laziness. The tangled vines mock my complacency. The bromeliad trichomes wave at me in derision.
I walk deliberately to a funnel-shaped bamboo tower at the crossroads of two paved walkways. I study its smooth texture, its raveled rise. It murmurs about tempests and whirlwinds, urging me to do more than stand and look. In its craggy tumult I am borne up into higher currents of rumination. I think about cyclone storms, black holes, and energy vortexes. I am unsure whether I understand this sculpture any better or whether I am pleased with it, but that seems unimportant now.
“Too often I am influenced by binary choice —yes or no, like or dislike, this or that —thereby constraining any tangential rendering.”
Facing these public sculptures, attending to them, I ask myself, “What is the worth in finalizing everything?” There is value in the ability to perplex. Though I may not grasp the meaning of these bamboo swirls, they challenge me to consider new ideas, open other mediums… they inspire me. Mystification is no assurance of quality, but it has its purpose.
“While I know what I like, does it follow that I must always like everything I know?”
I rely on words to glean meaning which makes my relationship with artwork complicated. I grapple to extricate ideas that are mine from it. I know that this can only happen with practice, with concerted effort from me to apprehend the truth and beauty from another’s creation. So I head to the Lao Tzu figurine in Acoma Plaza and puzzle over its interlocked swaying pieces. I contemplate its size, its ocherous hue, and its composition of i-beams. I evaluate its title: Lao Tzu is father of Taosim, a philosophy that emphasizes living in harmony with nature. This work, however, seems in contrast to its environment. Its vibrant tones are in fiery opposition to the spacious Denver ultramarine sky. I reflect on other concepts the structure kindles like space and abstraction. I dither with these postulations and realize that I may never fancy this work, nevertheless, it has given me food for thought. This tension is something I battle with in my work as well. There is a continuous tug-of-war between my desire to create substantiality and my need to be part of the incessant loop of approval. I understand now that, similar to approaching modern art, the only way to slip out of this noose is to practice my craft, to attend to it. Denver’s bold aesthetics urge me to pursue nuances that delve beyond platitudes, to hone ideas that beg reexamination, to forge material that captures the reader long after the sound bites have faded.
Denver locals and its government are passionate about arts culture. During the annual “Arts Week” the city promotes local artists and galleries on its “Know Your Arts First Friday,” while museums, the botanic gardens, and history center host free nights for the public. The Colorado Ballet Company and various theater productions also give special shows during this time and allow behind-the-scenes access.
Has a modern art work caught your attention? Have a favorite work of art? Thoughts on Denver? Let us know in the comments section.
The dancers sculpture stood out to me
They are huge and rather mesmerizing.
You don’t necessarily have to understand something to be drawn to it? I particularly like tactile things but I also like to be stopped in my tracks and just gawp! I wish I had that spark of originality that would allow me to stop people in their tracks 🙂
Yes! There are several works of art I don’t completely understand, yet they manage to ensnare my imagination. Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” and Van Gogh’s “Church at Auvers” are two examples. Since you like tactile art, you would love the public sculptures in Denver!
Hello there, I must say you blog is refreshing to read because of its unique style in which drew me into reading further. I am really consumed with enjoyment of reading your posts and consider myself a new follower of your blog. Thank you for sharing those wonderful pictures and your own insight on them.
Glad you discovered us and thank you for your kind words.
Indeed, a city of fascinating contemporary art amidst beautiful natural sceneries.
Can’t say I’m enthralled by the sculpture
😏 Art is so subjective, isn’t it? Though I can’t say I “liked” any of the sculptures, I was still inspired by them.
My approach with modern art is to just try to enjoy what appeals to the eye rather than figuring it out. Less brain pain. 🙂
Interesting, I lived in Denver for 4 years. Modern art is not for everyone, but until you’ve been to LAMCA (Los Angeles), you haven’t seen piss poor art. Denver recruited some pretty big names in art and executed ambitious plan. They are very far ahead in terms of public funded arts, maybe instead of being cankerous about art that is obvious, we should take time and Think*, let the art take the lead.
Art is definitely a subjective experience, whether modern or otherwise. I have heard from some of the museum curators while in Denver that many of the public sculptures weren’t initially as loved by locals as they are today, but the city is very progressive in its adoption of modern art. Thanks for your comment!