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Denver’s iconic “Articulated Wall” sculpture at Broadway Park just got a brightly colored companion: a 16-foot recreation of the late Herbert Bayer’s “Four Chromatic Gates.”
The newly unveiled structure marks the first time in 35 years that one of Bayer’s works has been brought to life at this scale—the last one being the aforementioned “Articulated Wall,” an 85-foot-tall yellow concrete sculpture near the intersection of I-25 and Broadway. It was completed in 1985 and has been one of the most recognizable public pieces of art in the Mile High City ever since.
Bayer, who was born in Austria and lived in Colorado from 1946 to 1974, was an internationally renowned artist and master of the Bauhaus movement—an influential German design and art school that was popular in the early 20th century and aimed to fuse fine art, functional design, and principles of mass production. Bayer was known for his multidisciplinary genius and brought many of those influences to Colorado’s art, architecture, and design scene. His most notable contribution remains his imprint on the town of Aspen via his conception of the Aspen Institute campus and restoration of the Wheeler Opera House.
The new steel structure, which stands at the Alameda Station light rail stop at Cherokee Street and Alaska Place, is a life-size rendering of an original “maquette” (a small wooden model) created by Bayer for possible future construction. The maquette currently sits on view at Denver’s Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art and was inspired by Bayer’s travels to Morocco, where he once came across a similar “gate” structure in the middle of the desert and was taken by how the physical form framed nature and the idea that you could also pass through it.
“It’s really the perfect spot to put a gate, right at this entrance to Broadway Park and then, also in the other direction, to the light rail—and also kind of Colorado,” Koko Bayer, Herbert Bayer’s step-granddaughter says, noting that the colorful, nesting rectangles also frame the mountains in the background. Koko, a well-known local artist herself, has been working for years to honor her grandfather’s creative impact, including through her own “hope” heart installations, which can be spotted all around the metro area and feature Herbert’s famous Universal Alphabet typography. She has been collaborating with Dan Cohen—a partner with D4 Urban, the master developer behind Broadway Park—to ensure Herbert’s vision is reflected in the ongoing projects.
“The amazing thing about Herbert is he was a master of so many different types of media—graphic design, architecture, sculpture,” Cohen says. “He’s kind of a perfect artist to use as an inspiration for design in general as you approach a development like this.”
Broadway Park, formerly known as the Denver Design District, is a 75-acre, ongoing mixed-use development just north of Broadway and I-25 , which is bookended by the Alameda and Broadway light rail stations. It is home to the Denizen apartments—as well as the “Articulated Wall” to the south—and will feature upcoming residential, retail, and office spaces with a pedestrian-friendly focus. Cohen says his team has been challenging everyone on the project—from the landscape and building architects to the engineers, artists, and designers—to forge the development based on Bauhaus principles and the fundamentals of Bayer’s work. (Bayer believed that “the total environment should be the focus of art”.)
“It’s just nice to see the longevity of a design school, really have a such a far reach so many years later,” Renée Albiston, associate museum director for the Kirkland says. Koko was similarly impressed with D4 Urban’s commitment to bringing her grandfather’s vision to life in a contemporary form. “When I first saw the master plans, [I knew] this wasn’t just a branding exercise,” she says.
And the proof is in the planning: The group already has another one of Bayer’s original sculptures slated for an urban plaza currently under construction at the former Alameda Avenue K-Mart that will feature surrounding housing and retail spaces. The artwork is currently in the approval process with the city.
As for the “Four Chromatic Gates,” the real-life installation was a long time coming. “We have the maquette in our collection, and we see it all the time, and to actually be able to put your foot in it and be surrounded by it does feel a little surreal,” Albiston says. Koko agrees: “To see this thing, go from three inches to like 17 feet is such a cool thing. It’s like a really cool magic trick that took a long time to do.”
Creating a sense of interactivity played a major part in pulling off that magic trick, and Koko and Cohen both note that the artwork presents a unique perspective from every different angle at which you engage with it. “The gates are really the most interactive, I think, of any of the sculptures that [Herbert] designed” Koko adds. “We really wanted something that was not going to be an impediment to that movement [at the station], and that was going to enhance people’s experience in that space.”
More than anything, though, Koko and her counterparts on the project want the sculpture to serve as a reminder of Herbert’s creative influence.“For me, it’s just bringing that awareness to Herbert’s work, and to the ‘Gates,’ but also to the ‘Articulated Wall’ being there, is really a great function of this,” Koko says. “Everyone in Denver knows the ‘Articulated Wall,’ but people don’t tend to know what it is actually called or the artist who designed it. It has a lot of different nicknames. I would love for people to stop calling it the ‘French fries,'” Koko laughs.
Cohen also hopes Broadway Park can offer a proper nod to Herbert’s impact in the Centennial State and abroad. “We originally approached this as an idea of kind of how we can add some depth to the work that we’re doing within the redevelopment area. And that’s kind of turned into us really caring about the legacy of the of the artist,” Cohen says. “We’re really lucky that he lived in Colorado, and that we get to celebrate that legacy.”