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For more than a decade, the Denver Botanic Gardens has incorporated the visual arts into its landscapes in an effort to create stronger connections between visitors and the natural world. “It’s an alternative to the white-box gallery experience; an opportunity to get to know plants as well as art,” says Lisa M.W. Eldred, the Gardens’ director of exhibitions and learning engagement and head curator of art. “Sometimes that juxtaposition addresses concepts related to nature. Other times the art is inspired by nature.”
As of April 28, the art on display throughout the Gardens will take cues from nature and technology. The exhibition is called Pixelated: Sculpture by Mike Whiting, and features large-scale, colorful metal sculptures inspired by the pixelated aesthetic of Pac-Man and other 8-bit, vintage video games—all created by California artist Michael Whiting (you may have noticed his massive, blue “RiNo Rhino” public art sculpture in the River North Arts District).
Don’t expect to see Mario peeking through the trees, though. Whiting hasn’t reproduced actual gaming characters; instead, he’s recasting elements of the gardens in pixelated form—think: giant birds, plants, and even a kitschy garden gnome.
“There’s a playfulness to Mike’s work that encourages a continued conversation about technology versus the natural world,” Eldred says. “It’s a great way to jump between two realms that we all inhabit daily.” Ideal for kids and adults, “it’s also a great intersection of contemporary play—like Minecraft—and the nostalgic quality of Pac-Man and Atari, which appeals to someone like me,” Eldred adds.
The Gardens will supplement the exhibition with specialized programming: A summer camp will guide children as they connect art and plants, and during the school year, guided tours for students will explore the connections between art and nature. There’s also a cactus-based video game installation in the Gardens’ Science Pyramid, plus “plant music,” an opportunity to interact musically with a living plant.
If you go: Pixelated: Sculpture by Mike Whiting, which has been developed in coordination with Denver’s Plus Gallery, will be on display until September 23, and is included with regular admission to the Denver Botanic Gardens. For hours and pricing, visit botanicgardens.org.