Visiting Artist Lawrence Argent – Anna Cook

On April 18th, I went to the Denver Art Museum to see Lawrence Argent. Many know this public artist as the man who created the giant blue bear outside of the Denver Convention Center. His work has been mostly centered in Denver, Aspen, and Fort Collins. Though, within recent years as Argent as fallen under the public eye, he has created pieces in Houston and Sacramento. Argent was significantly different than the other visiting artist I saw, Janine Antoni. His approach to creating art is using other workers, more so than himself. He comes up with the concepts and the designs behind his pieces, but uses teams of workers to create them. In some ways, his work is conceptual but he is, in my opinion, far more aesthetic based than conceptual and the reason for this is the concepts he means to create are our own.

Argent said that he was most “interested in the study of symbols and connotative meanings.” In the first work he showed us, Reflections (2000), he used two tubs of liquid. One tub was filled with ivory soap, the other with motor oil. Hanging above the motor oil was a boxing glove, while a 10-gallon hat, made of soap, rested on top of the ivory pile. When we initially look at these pieces, it seems rather nonsensical. Argent forces us to ask ourselves what they mean, providing little direction of his own. In that sense, we are then forced to provide our own connotative meaning to it. I myself see the pieces as a whole to be something masculine. We rarely associate women with boxing gloves, motor oil, and 10-gallon hats.

In Waiting (1998), Argent discusses how objects tell stories to us. These three common day items are positioned together to create a scene with no actors. The narrative of the picture comes from our own imagination. Why are these objects placed together like this, perhaps because it is a trap, perhaps because someone was sitting in the chair while taking a break from work? It all depends on us as viewers, which led me to consider the minimalist aspect to his work. Argent forces the viewer to have a relationship to the work, intimate and narrative, the pieces can speak for themselves aesthetically, but conceptually, they are our own.

It wasn’t until later on in his career that Argent began to be recognized as a public space artist. According to Pauline Fanning, who introduced Argent, “public artists have a more difficult time of getting noticed than other ones.” It wasn’t until I See What You Mean (2005), that Argent began to catch the public eye. Argent entered a contest and created this project as his design was selected. The project was all about making Denver a scene for modern art, and what we wanted to represent Denver. Surely enough, Argent came up with the giant blue polygon bear, peeping into the event center. Though the title explains the position of the bear, once again we must ask ourselves what this piece means. Connotatively, bears are understood to be both dangerous and kind. The color blue is a cool color, but the electric blue brings vivacity to the piece. The position in of it is endearing, personifying the bear as humanlike; therefore making him more relatable to us. The title eludes to a mystery, what is the bear looking at? In this, Argent intends to “ignite the possibilities of exploring the unconscious mind.”

Relating to the blue bear, Argent later created a red cubic rabbit at the Sacramento airport titled Leap (2010-2011). The piece was composed of 760 different panels all aligned in a calculated manner. Underneath the panels was black plastic, composing the basic form of the rabbit. The team connected the red panels onto the black plastic by using Velcro. Argent considered this basic black element to be a fascinating use of space. His concept for this piece related to “airport tension,” and asking, “what is the element that is our baggage?” The giant red rabbit was seen as hopping into a giant swirling stone, as if to represent a suitcase. His concept played on what rabbits are to us, a symbol of good luck and well wishing. This piece seemed more directed than some of Argent’s other works, which were meant to be connotative. His statements regarding the tension and the intention lead me to believe he had a more defined direction.

As Argent has gone on with his work, his pieces have become grander and more directed. The symbolic and connotative nature of his pieces are always a relevant issue to the constructive nature of the object. At times, his public pieces give off a minimalist edge, often drawing in the viewer and creating a relationship with the piece. It is because of the relationship he builds with the viewer, the grand scale of the pieces, and the aesthetic value of his work that Argent has become noticed under the public eye.

Bibliography

“Lawrence Argent :: Home.” Lawrence Argent. 2012. Web. 28 Apr. 2012. <http://www.lawrenceargent.com/&gt;.

One Response

  1. I largely agree with your assessment of Argent in that his conceptual nature is aimed at the viewer, and he attempts to make them removed from himself – at least the public art projects. I am curious to know what you thought of the light-based pieces in Vail, and the viewer’s relationship to these pieces?

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