Denver Botanic Gardens showcasing 13 sculptures

Posted at 1:16 PM, May 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-02 11:18:26-04

The Denver Botanic Gardens is showcasing 13 sculptures this spring and summer. The masterworks are on loan from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

"Every year, we refresh the gardens with an art exhibit," said Denver Botanic Gardens CEO Brian Vogt.

Vogt said this year's exhibit is special because it, "brings together so many masterworks."

The "Stories in Sculpture: Selections from the Walker Art Center Collection" exhibit features sculptures placed throughout the gardens -- some in water features, some in plant gardens. Like 2014's Chihuly exhibit, many of the pieces look like they've been in place for years, not days.

"The sculptures are narrative and abstract," Vogt said. "They challenge you and promote conversation in your own mind and with the people around you."

The first sculpture is the largest.

Reuben Nakian's Goddess with the Golden Thighs

As you enter the Denver Botanic Gardens, the first sculpture you'll come to is Nakian's abstract.

While this one invites interpretation, one curator suggested enjoying this piece in the round, seeing it from all sides.

"Many of the sculptures have more space here," said Siri Engberg, senior curator of visual arts at Walker Art Center.

Engberg suggested you look for the mythology influences in this 1960s sculpture.

Turn left and head along the path. As you walk south, you may notice a bright, orange Chihuly sculpture in the distance.

However, before you reach the Chihuly, you'll see a figure of a man in front of a waterfall.

George Segal's Walking Man

This sculpture is actually the reason this exhibit is at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

Gardens' officials had approached the Walker Art Center about a loan of Walking Man when they learned the Walker Art Center was partially closing for renovations. That's when negotiations began to create a traveling exhibit for the Denver gardens.

Segal was known for basing his sculptures on human figures, Engberg said.

"He cast his figures from friends and family members," Engberg explained. "He would coat his models with plaster during the process."

Look at Walking Man from different angles. You'll get a different feel if you look at him with the waterfall behind him, or if you stand in a different place and put the corner of the fence behind him.

For the next sculpture, pull out your map and head to:

Deborah Butterfield's Woodrow

Butterfield's horse sculpture may look familiar to visitors of the gardens, as the sculpture was the subject of a solo show at the gardens last year.

This 1988 work by Butterfield was the first time she worked in bronze and created an outdoor piece. She had done work in the past for indoor galleries. The Walker Art Center actually commissioned this work.

While the patina looks like wood, it is bronze, Engberg said.

Denver Botanic Gardens director of exhibitions, art and interpretation Lisa Eldred explained that Butterfield begins her works in wood. Actually scrap wood.

Butterfield creates her art work, then every piece is labeled and numbered and taken apart.

"The pieces are cast in bronze, then welded, so an exact replica of the wood design is created," Eldred said. "Then Deborah paints and patinas."

Giacomo Manzu's La Grande Chiave (the Large Key)

To find this piece, carefully follow your map, otherwise you might not spot it.

The English name of this piece may help you determine what it is -- It looks like a large key.

Look carefully at the top of the piece. Eldred points out that those are Cardinals.

While Manzu was not particularly religious, religion is a recurring theme in his work, Eldred said.

Manzu may be most famous for his work at St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City. Manzu created the Door of the Dead, also known as the Door of Death, a bronze door commissioned by Pope John XXIII. It is called the Door of the Dead because it was traditionally used as an exit for funeral processions.

Saul Baizerman's Nike

This next sculpture is one of the few pieces in the exhibit not made of bronze. Instead it is copper.

However, "the patina looks bronze," Engberg said of this figure.

Baizerman used hammering technique and you'll notice that the sides of this sculpture look almost wing-like, Engberg said.

The Nike is attached to a large, upright, stone base making the sculpture appear even larger.

George Kolbe's Junge Frau (Young Woman)

The Kolbe work is the first one you'll see in a water garden.

"Waterways give a new way to enjoy the art work," said Eldred.

Many of Kolbe's work were focused on the human form and this one certainly is.

This is the oldest sculpture in the exhibit. It was created in 1926.

The next two sculptures also focus on the human body, but are more abstract.

Henry Moore's Standing Figure: Knife Edge

If this sculpture looks familiar, it's because it has been at the Denver Botanic Gardens before -- kind of.

In 2010, a version of this sculpture was included during a Moore exhibit at the gardens. Now, the Walker Art Center has loaned the Denver Botanic Gardens the bronze version.

Engberg said Moore had a deep affinity for landscape and forms.

Engberg recommends not just looking at this sculpture in the front, but viewing it from the side where you can see the "knife edge" of the title.

"Sculpture is meant to be viewed in the round," Eldred explained. "The sculptor thinks in 3D."

"It looks one way as you approach it, but you get a fuller picture as you walk around it," Eldred said.

Engberg said Moore was inspired by bones.

"He studied bones and collected them," Engberg said.

Jonathan Silver's Wounded Amazon

The wounded Amazon sculpture is another abstract figure.

In this case, it's a headless, woman figure, Eldred said.

Like the Moore sculpture, as you walk around this sculpture and see it from different sides, you'll notice more of the wounded Amazon's features.

Louise Nevelson's Dawn Tree

Like Butterfield, Nevelson is best known for her work in wood, Engberg said.

While Nevelson also works with bits of wood, she then paints them white, black or another monochromatic color, Engberg said.

"Later in her career, she moved to more fanciful works and this is an example of her late work," Engberg said of this aluminum sculpture that reflects that monochromatic color-style.

Eldred described Dawn tree as a figurative landscape -- an abstract tree.

Engberg especially likes the location of this sculpture at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

"All this space and seeing it in the round -- it's a treat," Engberg said. "I love that it's on water here."

As you wander the main path back toward the front of the gardens, there are still four sculptures left.

The first is Marino Marini's Horseman - set in a background of green trees, near a plaza.

Marino Marini's Cavaliere (Horseman)

Marini used the theme of horse and rider often in his career, Engberg said.

"As his career continued, he elongated the forms," Engberg explained.

This sculpture from 1949 has the more elongated style for the rider and the horse.

Eldred explained that was used to represent the "unsettled nature of the time -- that the rider was not in control of horse."

Walk through the plaza behind Cavaliere to another sculpture in the trees and maybe the most fanciful sculpture of the exhibit --

Barry Flanagan's Hare on Bell on Portland Stone Piers

Is this a nursery rhyme? A children's story? Something else?

Engberg describes it as a fanciful sculpture, but says it fits in with this show's theme because it is a figurative work.

The rabbit has an "almost human-like quality because it's elongated," Engberg explained.

Flanagan was known for using rabbits throughout his work, Eldred said.

"You see something is happening," Eldred said. However, "The artist has one idea [of what is happening] and the visitor creates their own version."

Eldred said the narrative varies based on who is looking at it.

Judith Shea's Without Words

"It's contemporary, ruins, a fragment, a deconstructed person," Engberg said.

The sculpture shows what appears to be a man, a woman and a partial face.

"It almost looks like a stage set, or a play," Engberg said.

If the coat has a fashion design-like feel, it's because Shea came from fashion design, Engberg said.

Isamu Noguchi's theatre set element from Judith (1950)

The final sculpture is a former set piece. Noguchi was a landscape and furniture designer who also sculpted, Engberg said.

He created this wooden set piece for a Martha Graham dance performance in 1950. It was bronzed in 1978.

Interestingly, it's been installed at the Denver Botanic Gardens in a place where performances are currently held -- the amphitheater.

More on the exhibit

The 13 pieces in Denver are the largest collection of outdoor works from the Walker Art Center has ever loaned. A total of 18 pieces were loaned out, the other five went to three places in Minnesota.

Some of the pieces at the Walker Art Center were too massive to move, others were in the ground and couldn't be moved, including the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry.

Vogt said the Denver Botanic Gardens requested that sculpture, but it stayed put.

The Stories in Sculpture exhibit at the gardens will run through October 2. The Walker Art Center’s sculpture garden will reopen in June 2017.

"You may never see these works together like this," Eldred said. "They likely won't travel again."

The exhibit is included in the regular price of admission at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

There are several ways to see the exhibit:

  • Use the gardens map and explore on your own
  • Use the "garden tool" -- a mobile app to create a self-guided tour
  • Guided tours
  • Curator tours
  • Children's programs
  • Photography programs
  • Talks

Learn more on the Denver Botanic Gardens' website.

About the author: Deb Stanley is an Emmy award winning journalist who has worked at Denver7 and for more than a decade covering breaking news, the Broncos, her Colorado hiking and traveling adventures and writing a consumer blog that saves readers money called, Debbie's Deals. Email Deb at


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