Georgescu-Lecture Review 2

Dora Georgescu

ARTH3539

Lecture Review 2

Visiting Artist Lecture at the Denver Art Museum: Lawrence Argent

Known for the big blue bear outside of the Denver Convention Center, Lawrence Argent is an artist who speaks of his works with both humor and conviction. Although he is lighthearted in his approach to speaking of his art, it was clear from his lecture, at the Denver Art Museum on April 18th, that there are at least two very strong interests he incorporates into his pieces. First, he searches for a historical understanding of each place in which he is to display a piece. He uses this understanding to create harmony between his art and the space it occupies. Second, he is interested in how humans perceive reality and he attempts to explore this question with his works and the process of their creation. Argent’s lecture was introduced with an explanation of five elements that make a public artist, like Argent, great. In this review, these elements, along with Argent’s interests will be explored in relation to several of his earliest and most recent works.

1: The work reflects the values of the culture:

Perhaps Denver’s most well known public art piece is Argent’s blue bear I See What you Mean leaning inquisitively on the Denver Convention Center.  True to his desire to incorporate historical meaning into his works, Argent looked to Colorado’s history and image when deciding what to design for the Convention Center. Colorado has a rather “wild west” history and although Denver hardly conveys this history today, it is still very much a part of Colorado’s image. Argent claimed that he wanted to “derail the kitsch ideas” of the wild west by integrating its typical image with the modern home of global exchanges that is the Convention Center.

2: The work has a sense of emotion or feeling:

While I See What you Mean evokes a smile tied perhaps to childhood memories of a cuddly stuffed animal, Argent’s works certainly tie to other emotions and even tangible feelings. Several of his earliest works, before he began his career in public art, struck me as both emotive and connected to Argent’s interest in history and human perception of reality. Argent’s chair with a video projection of many different people sitting upon it, titled Waiting, is humorous at first glance, yet it has the capacity to evoke in its viewers Argent’s own interest in history. Looking at this video installation made me think of how everything around us has a story and that everyone is connected through the objects they touch, the places they go, and the emotions universally experienced at one point or another in life. His more tangible piece Reflections consists of a washstand with a soap carved cowboy hat resting on a bed of soap on one side and oil reflecting a pair of suspended weathered boxing gloves on the other. I call this piece tangible because of its distinct play on the senses with the juxtaposing softness of the white, pleasantly fragrant soap and the slick, black pool of foreboding oil. It is with these juxtapositions that Argent explores how we perceive reality.

3: The work uses imagination:

While all of Argent’s works are imaginative, there are two that particularly stood out to me during his lecture. Whispers is a series of benches and five columns at the University of Denver that interact with their surroundings through a sound system that is activated whenever someone sits on the benches. Argent discussed that the purpose of these interactive sound elements is to expose people to an unexpected and unusual new perception of reality. The sounds emitted by the benches are pre-recorded lectures varying in subject matter; lectures that many of the sitters might not be exposed to, were it not for their chance encounter with a bench.  An interesting fact about these benches is that the fronts of the benches are carved lips, lips whose striking realism lies in the fact that they are created from molds of DU students’ lips. By using students’ lips, Argent not only created individualized benches, he documented history by leaving in stone the unique marks of a select group of students (perhaps some of which will go on to be great names in America).

Another piece that I found especially creative is Leap, a massive red rabbit suspended, to appear as if leaping, from the third floor of the Sacramento Airport. The rabbit is aimed toward a stone-made suitcase on the bottom floor that has something close to a vortex carved in the middle, inviting the rabbit inside. According to Argent, the airport is a place where we come with our baggage, both physical and literal and it is something so personal that makes up who we are in many regards. It is this concept of baggage and personal connection that inspired him to create the captivating red rabbit jumping into his own baggage.

4: There is a mastery of technique and use of material exhibited by the work:

The way in which the red rabbit was created is especially unique. Aside from the enormous undertaking of suspending such a large sculpture in a public space that was successful achieved, Argent also impresses with his unique technique of attaching red panels to the black rabbit. He did this so as to create an extra dimension to the rabbit and in doing so, once again he raises the questions of how we perceive reality. The rabbit is multi-dimensional but this is not necessarily visible from every angle. Rather, its appearance changes depending on each individual perception.  

5: The artist understands the value of the work:

At the end of the lecture, a member of the audience asked Argent how his works have been received by the general public. He talked about how the people of Sacramento were outraged by the enormous cost of Leap and how he believed that, while the expense was great, it is the value of what this piece adds to the city long term that outweighs the short term cost of constructing it.  As we discussed in class, not everyone will be happy with art, especially public art, which everyone is exposed to weather they chose to be or not. Argent accepts this with grace and speaks of the criticism he has received with humor and understanding. He understands that public art is not always accepted but he also understands the true value of his work that will endure criticism and continue to impact those who interact with it.

Lawrence Argent was an engaging speaker and his lecture was not only interesting but entertaining. His passion was palpable and I found myself being pulled in by his explanations. I especially enjoyed the fact that while it was clear he put a lot of thought into his works and tried to draw deeper connections between pieces, their environment, and what they represent, he did not come off as condescending. That is to say, he treated his audience as if we would understand exactly what he meant and this, in my opinion, actually did help me understand him.

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