Jackson Ellis Lecture Review 2 – Lawrence Argent

Jackson Ellis

Lawrence Argent Paper


Artists who create public sculpture are brave people. Above all this was probably the most pertinent realization that I came to during Lawrence Argent’s Logan Lecture at the Denver Art Museum. Revealing to the audience that he is the artist with a blue bear tattooed on his chest, Lawrence Argent began his lecture out on a light note, describing how he strives to bring the magical aspect of art to influence the viewer. To be a public art artist, one must understand and reflect cultural values that appeal to a broad range of viewers, while showing both a mastery of technique and a powerful use of imagination. Argent described his conceptual process as one of wonderment, where his work plays with the way we perceive the visual world around us. As an exploration of consciousness, Lawrence Argent began his work with the sense of smell in Reflections (2000). Using oil and soap, Argent utilized oil for both its amazing reflective qualities and pervasive smell, and soap, a much softer scent. Juxtaposing these contradictory materials, the viewer’s senses are automatically triggered as soon as they enter the gallery space. These materials have a ready-made aspect to them, in that they retain their qualities no matter what form or vessel they are in. The idea of a ready-made object is an important aspect of Laurence Argent’s work, and it would influence the design of his later public sculptures.

One of the most amusing works that Argent showed was a pair of street sweeper brushes, called Cojones (1999). Their comically large size and bright red color were perfect ready-mades, and Argent mentioned how sensual their aesthetic was. His aim with Cojones was to lose the history of the object, while at the same time gaining a universal aesthetic that speaks to all viewers. Lawrence Argent utilizes humor for many of his pieces and this playful approach to art has led to many comical, yet conceptual works of art.

One of his first forays into public art, Argent created a series of massive stone sculptures for the courtyard of an upscale apartment complex for grad students. Referencing the function of the space as being a location of the exchange of dialogue, Lawrence Argent chose the shape of a gourd- one of the earliest known objects that man has exerted his mind to fashion into any number of objects. Then, using computer-imaging software, he mapped out the surface to represent stages of the process of education. Wanting the gourds to be carved from stone, Argent ran into a problem; no machine existed that could cut the stone how his designs had envisioned it. So he hired a company to hand carve and polish the 3 massive boulders, a monumental undertaking. Titled Your Move (2011) the work really demonstrated how public art artists must outsource their idea to experts as well as the sheer amount of work that goes into any work of art placed in the public sphere. With this work in mind, Argent began presenting the work that has made his name a household one in Denver. I See What You Mean (2005) also known as the “Big Blue Bear”` is in Argent’s word, a symbol fit for Colorado. Looking to the history of art in the Midwest, a bear was a suitable choice. Wanting to make a physical connection with the building, the bear was designed to peer into the building, as if just wandering in from the mountains. To fabricate this behemoth, Argent used computer software to create the faceted bear, then working with an outside company to fabricate the huge steel structure and paneled exterior.

After seeing this lecture, I had a much greater appreciation for any art in the public realm as it is clear that a multitude of extremely talented professionals is an absolute must when creating monumental work.

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