The Contour of Feeling at the Denver Botanic Gardens introduces Colorado audiences to immense, organic cedar sculptures and other large-scale works by artist Ursula von Rydingsvard.
Ursula von Rydingsvard: The Contour of Feeling
April 30–September 11, 2022
Denver Botanic Gardens
Despite the towering, ceiling-high scale of many of her cedar sculptures, Ursula von Rydingsvard doesn’t intend for the viewer to be intimidated. In fact, viewing the work is like getting a front-row seat to her process. The incisions, the nail indentations, the subtle addition of graphite, the piecing together of hundreds of wood blocks—much of the physicality of creating such massive pieces is made evident upon close inspection. It can take months, even years for von Rydingsvard to complete one of her pieces—and the viewer can imagine why.
The Freyer-Newman Center utilizes three galleries to showcase the cedar monoliths amid similarly immense works, meaning there’s ample room for viewers to circle the pieces and take them in. Also on hand are large wall pieces as well as smaller-scale works using contrasting materials. Thin cedar planks, linen handmade paper, and dried cow intestines are examples.
Although von Rydingsvard is internationally known for her outdoor sculptures in bronze and resin, The Contour of Feeling ably explores the impact of her work in an indoor setting; this is the artist’s first solo exhibition in Denver. Perhaps the most striking gallery pairs the ceiling-high sculptures For Natasha (2015) and COŚ (2017). Drawing from nature, they let their stacked wood pieces conjure thoughts about canyons, cliffs, sedimentary rocks, tree bark, and the sea floor. It’s even not too far-fetched to anthropomorphize some of the works.
For instance, BIG COŚ (2015-22), inhabiting its own gallery, seems to approximate a crouching dinosaur thanks to its jagged, reptilian surface. In any case, the artist’s oeuvre reflects her strong belief in the fluid boundaries between abstraction and figuration.
The Contour of Feeling—the title is a line from Rainer Maria Rilke—is wonderful to see in all its sprawling, organic glory, right next to a sprawling botanic garden. It’s also a chance to appreciate sculptors who think big yet sweat the details.