Denver is filled with public art. Although a large portion of it is due to the Denver Public Art department under Denver Arts & Venues, a lot of other organizations are contributing commissions for public art. When you think about it, public art is one of the most generous ways to share culture — it’s accessible, free and usually comes with its own informational plaque in case you want to learn more about it. But what about when a piece of public art is more mercurial than that? We’ve rounded up a list of nine pieces of public art in Denver that may have gone by unnoticed — but should be given a second look. From the concourse trains at Denver International Airport to the pedestrian bridge on Delgany Street near Speer Boulevard, this list will make you look at Denver in a whole new way.
Kinetic Light Air Curtain
Location: Concourse Trains at Denver International Airport
Artist: Toni Rosato and William Maxwell
The Lowdown: If you’ve ever spent your northbound train ride between concourses at the airport not on your phone, then you’ve noticed the propellers inside the tunnels. There are 5,280 of them — representing the Mile High City — and they move and change appearance with the wind and lights of the passing trains. These propellers span the entire length of the tunnel system, which according to Denver Public Art is a mile long. Made of reflective stainless steel, the propellers are 12 inches in diameter and if you add each blade together, you get the elevation of Colorado’s tallest 14er Mount Elbert (14,440 feet). Designed by husband and wife duo Antonette “Toni” Rosato and William Maxwell, Kinetic Light Air Curtain synthesizes their individual crafts into a harmonious creation. Rosato passed away in 2006, leaving behind a legacy of public art projects that sought to enliven ordinary places.
Location: McNichols Building, 144 W. Colfax Ave.
Artist: Miki Iwasaki
The Lowdown: The Denver Public Art department is headquartered inside the McNichols Building on West Colfax, so it only makes sense that the building is often adorned with seriously good public art. This piece called Mine Craft, created by California-based artist Miki Iwasaki, might not immediately stand out as art — especially if you’ve never seen the building without it over the entrance — but the care and consideration Iwasaki delivered it with are worth noticing. Iwasaki originally pursued a career in architecture, receiving a Masters from Harvard and building experience around the globe with a variety of projects. Regardless of how prestigious Iwasaki’s architectural prowess has grown, he’s always left time for himself to also work on personal art projects that inevitably find inspiration in architectural elements. Mine Craft is crafted from individual panes of printed glass louvers, stacked a few inches apart from each other at an angle. The resulting pattern is reminiscent of the layers in sandstone, the currents of a river, or the elongated topography as seen from a plane. No matter what you see, there’s undoubtedly a natural ease to it, as if the building is in the way of Mine Craft rather than the truth that Mine Craft was added onto the front as an appendage.
Location: Convention Center
Artist: Jim Green
The Lowdown: Descending an escalator into the ballroom pre-function area in the Colorado Convention Center, you might hear something unusual. Recorded laughs spill through the gaps between the steps, causing an auditory experience that is both creepy and calming. Every eight feet you descend, a different voice comes out. This piece of public art was created by Colorado-based artist Jim Green in 2004 and is aptly named Laughing Escalator. Green dedicated his artistic practice to sound installations over 30 years ago in the hopes of interacting with the public more. He believes that “public art functions best when it humanizes public space” — and adding a chorus of laughter on an otherwise monotonous piece of equipment certainly does the trick.
Tumbleweeds Really Do Exist
Location: Various RTD Light Rail Stations, check here.
Artist: Sandra Fettingis
The Lowdown: At eight different stations along the RTD light rail system, you’ll encounter windscreens created by Chicago-born, Denver-based artist Sandra Fettingis. These are part of the Art-n-Transit program that was adopted by RTD in 1994, with a mission to enhance the design and user-friendliness of public transportation. Fettingis completed the windscreens in 2016, and since then she’s made a big name for herself in and beyond Denver as a world-class muralist. One set of them (like the one pictured above) are called Tumbleweeds Really Do Exist and feature circular geometric patterns in varying color palettes at five stops along the A-Line. The other series is called All is Well Under the Trees and appears at three stops along the E, F and R Lines. Next time you take the light rail, take a peep out the window for a little art tour of more than just these windscreens, thanks to that Art-n-Transit program that was started over 20 years ago.
Location: Carla Madison Recreation Center, 2401 E. Colfax Ave.
Artist: Area C Projects
The Lowdown: Every time a construction budget for a capital improvement project in the city goes over $1 million, one percent must be set aside for the inclusion of art according to the Public Art One Percent program started in the 1980s. The Carla Madison Recreation Center on East Colfax, which opened at the beginning of 2018, was one of those projects. In total, the recreation center was adorned with $200,000 worth of commissioned public art, including two large sculptural pieces on the exterior and a painting by Thomas “Detour” Evans dedicated to the woman the building is named after on the interior. The exterior sculpture, which might not seem like public art at first, is the circular light display called Circuit created by Rhode Island art duo Erik Carlson and Erica Carpenter, or Area C Projects. When exercisers work on certain cardio machines inside, the lights of Circuit change color, pattern and frequency. Of course, this piece is best viewed once the sun goes down.
Location: Delgany St. pedestrian bridge
Artist: Patrick Marold
The Lowdown: Virga is subtle on purpose. The ethereal strands hang down and shoot up from the rafters of an old bridge that is used to capacity when there is an event at the Pepsi Center or during high commuter hours, which usually means the passers-by are preoccupied or intoxicated. But catch a glimpse of Virga in the right light or in the right mind and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. There is movement portrayed in the straight rods, an action that is best compared to reaching up through your arms while standing on your feet. In some ways, Virga reminds me of the perfect yoga position. During installation, Marold ensured to deliver the piece in a limited time window so as to not disturb the pedestrians who use the bridge.
Leaves of Grass
Location: Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Artist: Tyler Aiello
The Lowdown: Next time you’re at Red Rocks, head into the amphitheater via the ramp on the south end and you’ll encounter an unexpected piece of public art by the Denver-based artist and sculptor Tyler Aiello. Created 10 years ago, Leaves of Grass calls to mind the sharp but graceful grasses and plants in Colorado’s non-mountainous climates — the prairie and the mesas. Three hand-forged and stamped steel blades rise from the ground and the patina used to finish them nearly blends into the surrounding landscape. Since everyone who visits Red Rocks is already in awe of the natural splendor, adding a complementary sculpture that highlights the existing ecosystems rather than taking away from them was a good choice.
Location: City Park
Artist: Patrick Marold
The Lowdown: Avian Front is another public artwork by the Colorado-based artist Patrick Marold (he also is responsible for Virga on this list). Although it may pass as a fence and no more to some, this remarkable work speaks to Marold’s love affair with juxtapositions. Using hard and cold materials, Marold bends the shapes and creates patterns that feel intimate or organic. Made of salvaged steel, this arty fence is over 400 feet in length and marks the border between Denver’s City Park and the Denver Zoo. It fits into Marold’s oeuvre of work as it plays with light and shadow without asking too much from the onlooker. At one angle it’s simply a fence, at another angle it’s a sculpture that calls forth the imagery and sensory experience of wind tunnels and reedy wetlands.
Untitled (Wooden Arch)
Location: Ross-University Hills Branch Library, 4310 E. Amherst Ave.
Artist: Po Shu Wang
The Lowdown: These two wooden arches set slightly askew from one another are, in fact, a unified piece of public art. This untitled geometric artwork was created over two decades ago when the landscape of art and culture in Denver was very different than today. The artist, Po Shu Wang, and his studio partner Louise Bertelsen created these wooden arches in tandem as a way to symbolize gateways. No matter which way you approach this piece (and the other wooden arch pieces they created in other places around the world) it looks identical. Wang was born in Hong Kong and educated in Italy while Bertelsen was born in Denmark, which meant that the work they produced together was always an act of synthesizing opposing backgrounds, styles and approaches to life. You can Find this on the corner of Birch Street and Amherst Avenue on the Ross-University Hills Branch Library campus.
To discover more pieces of Denver public art, visit this website.