Lawrence Argent

Having Lawrence Argent speak at the Logan Lectures at the DAM had a nice circularity about it for me.  Growing up in Colorado, he was one of the only artists that I knew of before coming to Denver, mainly because of his Blue Bear, but also because there was a large controversy surrounding the choosing of his work for the “Solaris Project” in Vail, which is very near my hometown.  Also, my dad is a pilot, and though I have never been to the Sacremento Airport since the opening of “Leap,” my dad often mentioned the piece as a cue into a never-ending argument about the hilarity and inaccessibility of “modern art.”  Following his visit, I was able to visit some of the pieces that I was not formerly aware of, and also to revisit those that I already knew existed.  

The thing I found most interesting and problematic about Argent’s work, and find to be problematic with most public art in general, was its tendency to malfunction (not only technologically, but purposefully as well).  To elaborate on this notion, I offer the pieces “Whispers” at the University of Denver, and “Confluence” in Ft. Collins as examples.  I visited both pieces for the first time this weekend, and my experience there was not a very profound one, though I’m not sure that I expected it to be.  On Friday, at DU, I found the piece “Whispers” to meet the disappointing expectations that Argent had himself placed on the piece, and I quote: “I don’t think the voices are even working at this point.”  I do not disrespect Argent as an artist–in fact, I find him to be quite inspirational.  It is this tendency for public art to fall out of order, in a way, that I find to be a problem.  Furthermore, I am hypercritical in general of art that is placed in a place where it will go unnoticed or under appreciated.  I find it to be self-insulting for the artist him/herself and demeaning to the art world as a whole.  “Confluence” had a similar effect on me.  Despite the artists claims that water would spew from rock to rock, in visiting the piece and talking to locals, it has been a while since the piece has performed such a feat.  The notion of under appreciation is amplified in Ft. Collins, since the rocks are often seen as jungle-gyms rather than art works.  Such notions of misuse and misappropriation should be considered by the artist before undertaking such tasks.

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In his speech, I especially liked Argent’s reference to semiotics, and the study of symbols and signage.  As an English student, it was nice to see some literary theory surrounding an artwork.  Argent’s discussion of what I would label [S]objectivity in his pieces–“through my placing them, they take on a new meaning”–was extremely interesting.  Of the work done by Argent, I found the pieces that were either not public works or rather “outside of Colorado” to be the most interesting, perhaps because I have never seen them in person.  I especially enjoyed his piece entitled “Cojones” which re-appropriated two street-sweeping brushes into hanging seminal objects.  It was not the piece itself that interested me as much as the theory surrounding it.  Argent’s claim that “there is a fine line between amusement and art” was a nice circular address of my former constraints in regards to Public Art.  I appreciate, at least, that Argent is in tune with the problems surrounding what his artwork is and the space that it holds, and in that way, I respect and admire his artistic talent.  

One Response

  1. Kevin –

    I too struggle with the problem of art changing, or malfunctioning as you suggest. Some are of the attitude that change in a work is not a real problem, as it really only represents the work’s response to its environment, and is therefore part of the natural evolution of the work. Like you, I find the problem with that argument lies in the possibility for change to alter the meaning of works to something not originally intended by the artist, which is important when it comes to issues of authorship and ownership. I disagree with you, though, on the necessity of conspicuousness for a successful work. Phenomenologically, I think it a pleasure to encounter “hidden” works of art, especially in lonely or otherwise deserted places, I tend to think they might have more of a transformative effect on their environments when suddenly and unexpectedly encountered. I do not think that all public art needs to be showcased or somehow juxtaposed against its environment, a piece can be successful in an inconspicuous setting as well.

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