Ten Notable Pieces of Colorado Public Art
Colorado’s most unusual pieces of public art are also, in large part, its best-loved ones – a strange but striking amalgamation of horses and chairs and horses on chairs and other things that aren’t horses or chairs spread all across the Front Range. As you read through our list (and brainstorm your own choices), consider the sheer size of some of these projects. This could one day be the stuff of nightmares: If Denver’s time-space continuum ever ripped, allowing all of its public art to come to life, Indian in the Cupboard style, King Kong would have nothing on our Rocky Mountain mayhem. Food for thought.
In the meantime, here are the ten weirdest pieces of public art that aren’t “Mustang”:
10. “101 Faces”
Artist: Jerry Boyle
Longmont‘s 2004 installation gave the city just what we’re sure all of its residents wanted: scores of strange faces staring at their every move. Crafted by Colorado artist Jerry Boyle, whose specialty is the human form, the concrete series stretches across the Left Hand Greenway while leaving lasting glances in the foliage, on the trail and even in the water. Their eyes never blink, but the expressions change frequently between pieces as passersby make their way though the art. The array is impressive, but it leaves the question: What if they were dalmatians instead?
9. “Big Sweep”
This oversized Denver staple even comes with its own Yelp reviews, one of which begins simply: “Dude, I don’t know.” Neither do we, but we love it anyway. According to the artists, the enormous broom and dustpan were inspired by a trip across the city via bus, during which time they spotted city employees sweeping (normal-sized) trash into (completely average) dustpans – et voilà. Today positioned in front of the Denver Art Museum, the piece lies notably close to Civic Center Park. Were it a functioning replica, it might have proven the saving grace in the city’s attempts to clean up Occupy Denver around this time last year.
Erected in 2007, Aurora’s enormous chair appears to be built for a perfectly planned Three Stooges joke. Thanks to one leg broken and removed from the rest of the body – “unglued” – it’s perpetually ready for an inhabitant to settle in and immediately fall out. The bright-blue chair is built from powder-coated steel, and its creation came at the culmination of a long-term public-art project the city termed the “Chair Affair.” For the series, Aurora residents put together and auctioned off more than 200 chairs, the proceeds of which funded Weed’s permanent piece at the entrance of the Aurora Arts District.
7. “Articulated Wall”
This striking yellow spiral is what it might look like if a giant grew bored after a trip to McDonald’s and stacked his unnaturally yellow french fries into the heavens. Installed in 1985, the year its creator died, the fifty-foot-plus piece is connected by an internal steel post, which allows its yellow bars, composed from concrete, to swivel with the elements around the center. A clever match for the nearby Denver Design Center, the enormous stacked design is visible all the way from I-25. How many drivers have fallen prey to its subtle fast-food suggestion?
6. “Zig Zing”
Artist: Robert Ellison
Located outside the Aurora Senior Center, Robert Ellison’s sizable sculpture was intended to “symbolize the center’s unifying and active environment for adults age 50 and older,” according to Aurora’s guide to public art. Fair enough. The combination of teal-and-red tadpole shape and teal circle might very well do that, but it also serves another purpose: It looks like a giant sperm and egg. No reading glasses required to capture that subliminal message.
5. “National Velvet”
Artist: John McEnroe
The vague discomfort associated with this well-known piece of public art is hard to get a grip on. There’s something not quite right here, but any further explanation enters awkward territory, accompanied by an eventual change of subject. “That looks kinda like…” This is what makes its nickname, “Saggy Boob Electric Penis,” so perfect: It does the summary for you, combining all of the installation’s subtle suggestions into one horrifying pseudonym without necessitating any extra time in front of the mass of glowing red…well, yeah.
Artist: Jonathan Borofsky
Installed in front of the Denver Performing Arts Complex in 2003, the Dancers originally fled to Denver from whatever town Footloose takes place in. Okay, so that might not be true, but the “aliens,” as they’re colloquially known, definitely kicked off their Sunday shoes. As nude, smooth and genital-free as Barbie and Ken, the pair resembles an even whiter hybrid of Mattel‘s creations and the statues on Easter Island. They beat both, however, in the soundtrack department: “Let’s Dance,” a tune composed by Borofsky and Samuel Conlogue, is piped into the air around the piece on a constant loop. It is the song that never ends.
3. “The Yearling”
Artist: Donald Lipski
Coloradans must like their public art really heavy on the chairs and horses. This one has both, though the argument over whether it’s a tiny horse on a giant chair or a totally average horse on a bizarrely large chair could last almost as long as any meditation over the resulting question: Or am I just really small? Regardless, “The Yearling” is way more interesting than the children’s book of the same name, and no one has ever died in it.
2. “I See What You Mean”
Installed in June 2005 as part of a nine-piece series of art erected throughout the city, the Big Blue Bear’s real backstory is fairly straightforward. So let’s instead imagine what might have been: Driven wild by the shortage of toilet paper in whatever animated world the Charmin commercial bears inhabit, the community’s largest (and therefore most hygiene-deficient) member gained a third dimension and struck out on his own. While we all slept, he tiptoed his way to Denver, barefoot (bearfoot?), where he became so transfixed by the Colorado Convention Center and so bothered by the elevation’s effect on his lungs that he took a break – and immediately got stuck. Here, he waits in perpetual stalkerdom, staring down tourists and concert-goers until someone eventually sets him free with a roll of TP. Or something like that.
1. Silt’s naked climber
Artist: Blaine Peters
This five-ton statue makes it to the head of the class despite the loss of its own – head, that is. Unveiled in small-town Silt in 2009, the naked climber became the butt of some brief drama when offended residents decided to cover up the piece’s fairly bootylicious form, which draws attention from its post overlooking traffic. (Seriously, though, where is this statue from? Only a Texan would go climbing without the proper gear.) The arguments about its buttcrack being wack lasted only so long, however, and in 2011, another issue rose head and shoulders over the first one. The statue was mysteriously beheaded, though its tush, of course, survived.