Public art is supposed to spark dialogue and debate. Who would suspect that abstract depictions of dancing figures could stir such intrigue? These two controversial sculptures are a must-see on any public art visit to the Mile High City.
In the early fall of 2019, the City of Denver removed a series of sculptures of dancers that had been installed in the heart of downtown since 1997. The sculptures, named “Ballerinas,” were “an uplifting spirit in exaltation,” according to the artist Ruth Keller Schweiss and as quoted in the Denver-based independent media source, Westword. However, they ended up on journalist Michael Paglia’s list of the Five Ugliest Sculptures in Denver. He described them as “cheap bits of kitsch” and “modeled as little more than stick figures so much so that they could be used as a PSA warning against the dangers of anorexia.”
As part of an $80 million renovation project, the sculptures were moved from their space in front of the Sheraton Hotel to their new location in the Santa Fe Arts District. Travelers searching for this piece of public art will now find the dancers at the Colorado Ballet building.
Another sculpture that explores the intersection of monument and movement is the Jonathon Borofsky piece called “Dancers” that has been permanently installed in front of the Denver Performing Arts Complex since 2003. This 25-ton steel and fiberglass sculpture is mounted on a circular base with five speakers surrounding it. A song called “Let’s Dance” plays on a continuous loop, 24-hours a day. “Let’s Dance” was a joint collaboration between Borofsky and fellow composer Samuel Conlogue.
Like Keller Schweiss’ “Ballerinas,” “Dancers” has seen its share of controversy. It made number five on the Westword list of the “Ten Most Controversial Pieces of Public Art in Denver.” On this list, the piece is described as “a couple of big white weirdos that Denver people love to hate.”
Cover image: "Denver-CBD: Sheraton Downtown'd Ballerinas and Denver World Trade Center" by Wally Gobetz is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.