Logan Lecture: Lawrence Argent by Danielle Mulein

Many may not know, but at least recognize, the big blue bear outside of the Denver Convention Center. Also known as “I See What You Mean”, this influential piece is one of many inspired sculptures by Lawrence Argent. Argent was born in England, studied sculpture at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and then went to the Maryland Institute of Technology where he received a Masters in Fine Art from the Rhinehart School of Sculpture. Argent, best known for his public art sculptures, is very interested in the research process of each piece and the representation of the sculptures in the space they reside.

Argent began the lecture on April 18 at the Denver Art Museum with some of his earlier works that were confined to the gallery setting. In each image he discussed, Argent was intent on divulging his inspiration and conceptual thoughts that aided to the creative process. One of his earlier works “Waiting” incorporated many different aspects all based around the idea of perception. It is a simple chair with a white box painted on the seat, mounted on a table. To the right is a ladder with a fishing pole secured to the top. Hanging from the pole is a metal bucket that is projecting images of different people, young and old, clothed and nude, onto the white portion of the chair. Argent though, is quickly to state he is not an artist who likes to impose his thoughts onto an audience, but rather allow each individual to perceive and understand his works they way it makes sense to them. And to me the piece, very abstract in nature, conveys a very interesting message. It is a relation between object and its subject, or a chair and it’s sitters. This piece incorporates together time with objects and Argents considerable fascination of space.

Argent then moved from his early gallery works, into the beginning of his public art career. “Whisper” was his first large-scale public art piece commissioned for the south entrance to the Ritchie Wellness Center at the University of Denver. This piece is exceptionally unique for many reasons, but particularly because it integrates public art with education, a topic Argent was very interested in pursuing. Five limestone columns are all topped with bronze boxes faced with a set of lips. Each set was casted from actual students from the University of Denver. Then, four limestone benches, all with the similar lip detail, are placed around the pillars. When someone sits on any of the four benches, prerecorded lectures on a range of topics begins to play. Based on the electronic sensory system, the longer someone sits on the bench the louder the lecture begins to play. Argent was very dedicated in creating a piece that can alter the perception of learning. Through his art, one can listen to a lecture and learn about a plethora of topics outside the classroom format.

The final piece I will discuss from Lawrence Argent’s lecture is “Your Move”. Completed in 2011, this 3-piece set was placed in the courtyard of the International Graduate Student Housing Complex at the University of Huston.  Three large gourds are positioned around one another in the center of the complex, two stone, grey granite and Indian red granite, and the other cast in bronze. Again, Argent works with the idea of creating a conversation between art, the space it is in, and education. As this piece is also on a university campus, similar to “Whisper”, Argent wanted to create a more interactive sculpture. Each gourd is designed differently with the surfaces manipulated into stairs, weaving and patchwork, which to Argent represents the beginning of an educational journey. I really enjoy this piece because of its nurturing-like qualities. Gourds have been around since the pre-historic era and signify, along with humans, this mentality of survival. In countries all over the world, for millions upon millions of years, gourds have survived and now they represent a collective unity. It seems only fit for these gourds to be displayed in a location where people assemble intellectually, mentally and physically.

As much as I do enjoy Lawrence Argent’s art, I am somewhat perplexed by him as an artist. He works with big budgets and employs professional architects and engineers to construct his sculptures. It just brings up the question of who an artist is when others are physically molding their work. 

One Response

  1. The question of authenticity was also a problem for me before seeing Argent speak at the Logan lecture. I had a similar problem with land art, and with minimalism in that artists were often creating art through employment of people rather than ideas. I now realize, however, that Argent’s work could not possibly be completed by one man. I reserve a high respect for Argent, despite this fact, because he is mainly a perpetrator of ideas, and despite the fact that his large projects may not be entirely his own creations, they reach a large audience and garner a lot of attention, which is appropriately directed at the idea-maker. In reality, employees of Argent are just another form of liminal space between artist and artwork–in the same way that a brush and paint come between a painter and a canvass, Argent’s laborists could be seen as tools to a final product that is nonetheless worthy of aesthetic critique, despite the means at which it came to existence.

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