Lawrence Argent Logan Lecture

Kevin O’Hara


Logan Lecture Review

Lawrence Argent is an artist who creates site-specific public works of art.  Argent’s large scale work is meant to reflect the location it is placed in and inspire viewers.  Each location is researched and Argent creates work that is appropriate and relevant to the location it is being placed in.  Argent challenges himself to engage his space by incorporating regional culture, history, and cultural aesthetic into each work and then  injecting his own imagination.  Public works are unique in there need to appeal to a wide audience and be very accessible to accommodate the public viewing.  Due to the scale, materials, and large budgets of Argent’s work the physical work of creating the pieces is usually carried out by a third-party of engineers, fabricators, and artisans.  Argent’s sculptures combine formalism with dynamism in a public space in an attempt to bring a little magic to each location.

One of the most impressive works Argent discussed was Your Move (2011).  The location of the installation was to be in a courtyard of university housing for graduate students attending the University of Houston.  Argent chose the abstracted forms of three monumental gourds, two carved from granite and the other cast in bronze.  The gourd was widely used throughout the ancient world for a variety of purposes and Argent selected the form to reflect the universal importance of the exchange of knowledge and information.  Each of the structures represented a different part of the educational process.  The first carved red granite gourd represents the “steps” of learning and the building of new knowledge on top of what has previously been learned.  The second carved gourd represents the interlacing of knowledge within our own minds as we make connections between disparate pieces of information.  And finally, the last gourd is representative of the piecing and patching together of knowledge to form a cohesive understanding of our world.  Argent designed the forms using computer software and then contracted the construction out.  However, no machine existed to create the forms Argent had designed and as a result the stone was cut and polished by hand.  The title Your Move is meant to inspire students to consider what they can do with the knowledge and skills that they have learned.  Additionally the title refers to the structures resemblance to game tokens and challenges viewers to consider themselves the masters of their own destiny in the game of life.

Argent also discussed one of his most well-known works the giant blue bear that peers into the Colorado Convention Center officially titled I See What You Mean.  Completed in 2005 Argent wanted the piece transform the banal corporate nature of convention centers.  The bear is a logical choice for any western state but especially for Colorado, a place that is known for its wildlife and natural environment.  Argent wanted the structure to engage the building and did this by designing the bear to playfully peer into the windows in a playful gesture.  This was my favorite of the pieces Argent discussed, I appreciated the way he created something that was reflective of the location but also subverted the nature of convention centers in a playful way.

One of Argent’s more humors works was his piece provocatively titled Cojones (1999) the piece was created by suspending to large bright red brushes originally designed as part of a street sweeper.  This work was displayed in a gallery instead of being a public work and I found it to be much more edgy and interesting than the public installations.  Even without the title the symbolism is obvious as a pair of testicles.  The humor of the piece is immediate but Argent also meant the piece to comment on gender roles and the power conferred by testosterone.  All though I enjoy the piece I worry that it is simply a one-liner and does not convey much other than a visual gag.

The lecture game me an appreciation for the struggle involved in creating work for public spaces.  Creating a successful public art piece requires researching the location, engaging the site, selecting appropriate imagery, deciding on relevant materials, and coordinating with third parties to fabricate the colossal works.  I personally dislike the level of removal between Argent and his finished work.  As an artist myself it is important for me to perfect and control every aspect of the process to preserve the integrity of my vision.  Of course it would be impossible to Argent to manufacture these monumental works himself but if I were in a similar position I would want to be more directly involved in the fabrication of the work.

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