Denver’s public art collection boasts outstanding examples of monumental outdoor sculptures and includes works by Hebert Bayer, Sol LeWitt, Anthony Magar, Beverly Pepper, Bernar Venet, and more.
Public art, quite often, disappoints. While attempting to placate the lowest common denominator, producing an artwork that will not offend the general public, and promoting a project that foregrounds messaging over aesthetics, government officials and selection committees face the difficult task of choosing and shepherding into existence a large-scale work of art that, hopefully, will demonstrate a city’s refined artistic sensibilities and stand the test of time. As anyone who has traversed an urban setting with attention paid to its public art knows, such an endeavor is not particularly easy.
Like any city, Denver has its fair share of misses when it comes to public art. But thankfully, its public art collection boasts several exceptional examples of monumental outdoor artworks. Here’s a brief overview of some sculptural highlights that can be found around the Mile High City.
Anthony Magar, Untitled: a dedication to Martin Luther King (1968) and Untitled (1965)
The recently deceased, United Kingdom-born artist Anthony Magar moved to Denver for a brief period during the 1960s before settling in New Mexico, then southeast Texas.
While in Denver, he participated in the much-ballyhooed Denver Sculpture Symposium of 1968. The symposium consisted of a stellar lineup of then-contemporary sculptors designing and fabricating monumental, (primarily) plywood sculptures for display at Burns Park at the intersection of Colorado and Alameda. After a few years, the artworks fell into disrepair, and many were remade from metal or concrete.
Magar’s Untitled: a dedication to Martin Luther King, which was part of the exhibition, is a torqued black arch constructed of hard-edged angles. Minimalist in design and color, the piece is austere in construction and somber in messaging—a posthumous tribute to its murdered namesake.
Just down the road at the triangular intersection of University, Josephine, and Second is another untitled Magar sculpture. The steel artwork, whose red paint has now faded to dull orange, is a masterful minimalist construction. Two curved lines arranged in perpendicular fashion to one another and mirroring each other on their vertical axes provide viewers with radically different perspectives as they circle the piece.
Bernar Venet, Indeterminate Line (2004) and 222.5◦ Arc x 5 (2006)
Bernar Venet is quite the international sensation, having spent the past six decades creating conceptual art rooted in a minimalist aesthetic. While the French artist began his career painting with tar and building ephemeral objects out of coal, he transitioned into corten steel sculptures during the 1980s. His two serial projects—Indeterminate Line and Arc—are both represented in downtown Denver.
One of the crown jewels of Denver’s public art collection, the tilted spiral of Indeterminate Line imposes its hulking mass upon passing drivers at the corner of Speer and Stout outside the Colorado Convention Center. Its terminal ends create abstract lines that project into the surrounding space, producing an “indeterminate” trajectory. The much smaller, human-sized 222.5◦ Arc x 5 sits on the edge of Commons Park near 15th and Little Raven; it was purchased for the city following a 2007 exhibition of Venet’s work in downtown Denver.
Sol LeWitt, Irregular Form (2004)
Several Sol LeWitt artworks can be found around the city of Denver. The largest and most striking of these pieces, though, is Irregular Form, which is affixed to the east-facing, outer wall of the Alfred A. Arraji Federal Courthouse on Champa between 19th and 20th streets. Famous as an early adopter and promoter of conceptual art, LeWitt became known for his systematic wall drawings: reproducible designs that challenge notions of creativity, subjectivity, and technique in art.
Irregular Form plays with the concept of the wall drawing, employing large slabs of gray slate attached in relief to the side of the courthouse. The grid pattern within the sculpture contrasts with the undulating surfaces and the wavering outer edges of the piece, producing a compelling tension between the natural and synthetic, the organic and the ordered.
Beverly Pepper, Denver Monoliths (2005-06)
The Denver Art Museum’s Hamilton Building opened to the public in 2006. Created by Polish architect Daniel Libeskind, the angular structure offers a unique and jagged profile to the city’s skyline. In order to complement the building’s daring contours, museum trustees Jana and Fred Bartlit commissioned world-renowned sculptor Beverly Pepper to design a massive artwork in front of the museum’s main entrance.
The resulting Denver Monoliths, two curved structures made from “composite cementitious material,” jut from the ground and ascend into the air. The seemingly primitive, geological formations are daunting in their scale and heft, reaching a height of forty-two feet and weighing 155,000 pounds. But, conversely, their curvatures provide a womb-like envelopment for viewers to nestle within while also providing shade from the sun’s glare. In this way, Denver Monoliths both intimidates and comforts.
Herbert Bayer, Articulated Wall (1985) and Four Chromatic Gates (2021)
Articulated Wall is an eighty-five-foot-tall sculpture made of concrete painted yellow and located in Denver’s Design District on South Broadway. It is viewable from Interstate 25 as drivers enter and leave the city from the south.
Perhaps the most iconic sculpture in Denver proper, famed Bauhaus artist turned Aspen resident Herbert Bayer—the inspiration for Aspen’s Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies—first designed the artwork for Mexico City when it hosted the 1968 Summer Olympics. The Mile High City commissioned a second edition of the piece, which was completed shortly before Bayer’s death in 1985.
Thirty-five years later, Four Chromatic Gates was fabricated and installed at Alameda Station just blocks away from Articulated Wall. The new sculpture is a rendering of a small maquette that Bayer created, which art lovers can view at the Kirkland Museum. Bayer encountered a similar structure in the deserts of Morocco, and it acted as inspiration for the artwork.
More Impressive Public Artworks in Denver
There are, of course, many more public and outdoor works of art throughout the city of Denver worth checking out. Course by artist Pard Morrison, Blue Mustang by the late and perhaps underknown Luis Jiménez, Alfredo Halegua’s Statute of Limitations, Mike Whiting’s Lucky Rabbit Head and Little Green Man, Joe Riché’s Trade Deficit, DeWitt Godfrey’s Eastgate, Robert Mangold’s Untitled (Trees I), Roger Kotoske’s Untitled, Wilbert Verhelst’s Untitled, Joel Shapiro’s For Jennifer, and Sebastián’s Three Movements are just a few others worth mentioning and viewing in real life.