Visiting Artist 2: Lawrence Argent

Denver Art Museum Logan Lecture: Lawrence Argent

            I was particularly excited to hear Lawrence Argent lecture at the Denver Art Museum because it was my first time hearing a local artist speak. Being from Colorado, most his large-scale installation works that he covered are accessible for me to visit within a relatively short drive. This is important to me because it is an entirely different experience viewing an artwork in person rather than on a Powerpoint slide; whenever I am near the University of Denver, Colorado Springs, Aurora, or Vail again, I plan to make a side trip to see his works.

Argent began his lecture talking about some of his smaller-scale works. I laughed when he said, “I collect things… it’s a problem,” because that’s definitely a problem I can relate to. One of the random objects he couldn’t resist taking home was a pair of bright red street sweepers. After spending a long stint of time crowding up his garage, he finally put them to use around the time of the birth of his first son. He explained his tedious process of trimming the thick material down to the proper shape before hanging them in an installation. He called our attention to the fact that one was just slightly higher than the other before revealing the title: “Cojones.” I can always appreciate an artist with a good sense of humor.

Argent’s first major public art piece was done at the University of Denver, where he is currently a professor. In his planning, he expressed that he wanted to focus on the nature of education. The piece consists of four large stone benches and five tall posts. The benches, a light grey/beige color, each have a single pair of lips protruding from the front. The posts are also topped with lips, in black stone, all of which were cast from DU students varying in gender, size, race/ethnicity, etc. Beneath each bench lies a grate, from which a speaker begins to play recordings from lectures around campus slowly and in increasing volume based off of a pressure sensor that is activated when the bench is sat upon. Argent explained that his intention with the recording was to pull learning and education out of the classroom and inject it into an environment where we would not normally expect to encounter it. I think the artwork is very beautiful and creates a refreshingly aesthetic place to be on campus. However, as a current college student, I had to chuckle to myself; once I’m outside of the classroom, more lectures are the absolute last thing I want to hear.

Perhaps the most well known piece of Argent’s in this area is the giant blue bear peering into the Convention Center in Downtown Denver, humorously titled, “I See What You Mean.” With this piece in particular, Argent spoke about wanting to integrate the piece with the building, rather than having it be merely a decorative element. For me, he was extremely successful in achieving this notion. Every time I pass it, I smile, and can’t help but wondering, “what’s so interesting in there?” He flipped through a few fan mail photos sent to his email of people hugging the bear, doing the classic “Leaning Tower of Pisa” pose, and more. I genuinely appreciated his comments about how there is no reason public art must always be serious; as an artist he was glad to have brought smiles and fun to his audience.

For me, the most interesting part of Argent’s presentation was the sheer scale and immense amount of specialized workers required to produce some of his large-scale installation designs. He spoke specifically about this in terms of his “Solaris Project” in Vail, Colorado. One piece in the plaza, which I describe as looking tree-like, is constructed of a metal frame that is actually one piece, replicated four times to complete the full circle. Attached to this frame are “molecules,” made from 270 separate molds, which were made and assembled by Argent’s partners at Chrysler in Napa Valley. Each small segment has individually computerized LED lights placed inside of it, coordinated to run seamless color changes along with the rest of the molecules. The complexity of this project was fascinating to me due to the large collaboration of multiple people making the projects. At the end, Argent recalled that the installation was problematic, time-consuming, and extremely nerve-wracking, and I can only imagine how true that it.

I’m incredibly glad that I chose to see Lawrence Argent at the Denver Art Museum Logan Lectures this spring. I’ve had very little experience learning about public art, and what exactly that entails, so it was interesting to learn about the grand scale and the collaboration of so many teams of people to make one work of art. I greatly appreciated Argent’s sense of humor and his welcoming at people’s interaction with his art, which is so different from the “do not touch” aura of museums and galleries.

One Response

  1. Niki –

    Like you, I saw Mr. Argent speak at the DAM, and I too will always appreciate an artist with a good sense of humor. In fact, I think humor is a trait common to many artists, and a central theme of Argent’s work, as you also mentioned. Another aspect of this artist that I too, appreciate is his use of technologically advanced methods for designing, producing, and animating his pieces. I think it is obvious that computers, automated manufacturing technology, and economical electronic solutions, which are all becoming more and more available today, will be a major part of art in the coming years, and it is inspiring to hear someone on the forefront of such a movement talk about it in such a non-serious tone. Cheers, Good Write-Up.

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