Lawrence Argent

Kara Gordon

Lawrence Argent Logan Lecture Review

I have always loved Lawrence Argent’s work at the Denver Performing Arts Center, I See What You Mean. I find it fascinating because of how well it fits into the environment surrounding it. However, it was not until I went to the DAM Logan Lecture with Lawrence Argent that I realized how much he invests in creating perfect site specific pieces.

His earlier works focused on materials and materiality, especially how we perceive things, semiotics and symbols. His goal was to ignite a reaction or trigger something within his viewers questioning what art can exhibit in the unconscious mind. To ignite this unconscious awareness of artwork, Argent would create situations of extreme contrasts. He would take found objects and recreate them to lose their function but become something more powerful. So although he appreciated the history and nature of what the objects were, he also saw potential to recreate them. For example his work Cojones was a pair of street sweepers cut down into oblong shapes. He then hung them at unequal heights from the ceiling creating a more sensual, decontextualized view of the street sweepers.

One of the most important aspects of Argent’s public works is site. He always begins a project with an understanding of the location, researching its history and then creates a piece that fits within this context. For example, his work at the University of Denver addresses the issue of what is education, what does a professor do and share, and how do we listen to the education we are offered. He created four oversized benches in the shape of lips that begin to emanate sound when a student sits upon them. The sound is a lecture from a classroom, something you normally don’t expect to hear outside. This upsets the equilibrium of prewired knowledge and forces the audience to question what education is and what it could be. The lips on the benches are also site-specific as Argent molded the lips of students and then used laser technology to sculpt them into stone. There is a slight abstraction of reality as the texture and facets on the lips was altered due to the technology.

I See What You Mean is arguably Argent’s best known works. His goal in the piece was to have his audience leave with the idea of where they are. There are a lot of kitschy ideas about what Colorado is and where we have come from; and Argent wanted to play with yet derail these misconceptions. He chose a bear because he knew that the piece had to be fauna and a bear can engage children and adults alike. As the Denver Performing Arts Center is a large building, Argent hoped to create something that was impactive enough for viewers to engage with and not just be a decoration. His large scale bear forms a symbiotic relationship with the building forcing the viewer to think about our own symbiotic connection with nature.

As Argent is trying to get people to engage with the artwork and create new ideas, it is not surprising the he enjoys how the bear has been inspiration for other pieces as well. He calls his piece “entry level art,” which allows viewers from all backgrounds to engage and interact. Viewers easily find a sense of familiarity with the work; something which much art does not allow thus instilling hesitance on the viewer’s part to engage with it. There is a fine line between amusement and disney-esque comedy and what Argent is trying to achieve. However he does achieve engagement with a viewer in this work which is why I think it is one of the more successful pieces of public art in Denver.

His other famous fauna sculpture is Leap, the rabbit at the Sacramento Airport. Originally I did not enjoy Leap at all. I thought that Argent had fallen into kitsch and did not understand how the piece was site-specific at all. I also highly disliked the black lines across the rabbit’s body, feeling the disjunction looked unfinished. However, after hearing Argent speak about the piece, all of my problems with the work were clarified and my feelings for the rabbit now almost rival the bear. Argent was attempting to address the issue what is baggage and why it is that when you get your suitcase at baggage claim you feel complete in his work. He decided to begin with a suitcase and then added the rabbit jumping into the suitcase to draw viewers. He felt that the rabbit was an easily identifiable creature due to its history in fables and stories. The building is also very open being constructed of glass that looks out onto fields and a garden. What is amazing about the piece is that it was constructed over months within the airport itself because of its scale. The amount of time and effort that went into the rabbit is staggering. The rabbit itself is multiple layers and the “black lines” that I hated so much are actually negative space. Just hearing the intentions and the process of creating the rabbit has given me such a great appreciation for it.

Argent continually emphasized the cooperative process of his pieces. It is amazing the amount of people that he recruits to create these pieces. Although I knew that Argent could not have created theses pieces alone, I was amazed that he was so open about the help that he got on his works and was so willing to give credit to them. The collaborative aspect of his works was so fascinating to me because a lot of time we tend to forget those who do not get their name put on the piece.

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