Denver's tallest office tower is transformed into an art gallery

By Richard White, April 30, 2014

"Scrounge" is a great name for an art exhibition, as most artists I know love to explore thrift and second hand stores, as well as rummage and garage sales "scrounging" for artifacts. I even know one artist who regularly roams the back alleys of his inner city community to see what he can find. Society's new mantra of "recycle, reuse and repurpose" is just beginning to catch-up with what visual artists have been doing for centuries.  

The Arts Brookfield's exhibition "Scrounge"  in the lobby and lower level of the 56-floor Republic Plaza office tower in downtown Denver is a very ambitious project.  Yes, lots of office building lobbies have public art and yes some even host exhibitions from time to time, but rarely do they have a curated exhibition with 26 different artists and over 100 works of art.  

The diversity and creativity of the art in this exhibition is impressive - everything from recycled clothing fabricated into weird and wacky figurative sculptures to robots made of household appliances.  While some of the works are modest, folk art-like pieces, several are major works of art. "Scrounge" is a fun, thought-provoking exhibition. 

One of the unique things about the visual arts is that you can take the experience home with you and live with it for years.  Too often public and private galleries make it very difficult find out if it is for sale and if so, the price.  Most of the art in "Scrounge" is for sale and a copy of the price list are easy to obtain from the office lobby. 

Unfortunately, the Republic Plaza's walls and lighting are not ideal for art. I don't understand why the interior design of office lobbies (and for that matter, public buildings like libraries, hospitals and courthouses too) aren't designed so they can better accommodate art exhibitions. In most cases, I expect it would be cheaper than the cost of fountains, gardens, trees and living walls. 

Here are some of our favourite artworks from "Scrounge," the exhibition continues until June 5, 2014 (8am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday).

The main floor lobby is filled with whimsical assemblages like this piece by Mark Friday that blur the boundaries between folk art, still life and sculpture.

The main floor lobby is filled with whimsical assemblages like this piece by Mark Friday that blur the boundaries between folk art, still life and sculpture.

Jimmy Descant is famous for his robots and spacemen made from household appliance parts.

Owen Gordon's "Waisting Time" is a quirky artwork that incorporates lots of pants, belts and a chair. 

Close-up of "Waisting Time."

The integration of numerials, mathematics and space travel is a recurring theme in the exhibition.

One of the highlights of the exhibition is a huge "Scrounge" exhibition title artwork in the lobby entrance with eight artists from the exhibition each creating one 4-foot letter. The letter "S" by Deborah Jang using an old traffic sign, spindles from a staircase and recycled wood. It employs a playful sense of line, pattern and shape. 

"Ducks in a Row" by Mario Rivoli is a very fun piece, but suffers from too much reflection off the glass and the distractions of the mottled wall.  Below is Rivoli's artist statement which is a fun read, capturing the spirit of many artists, not just those who work with recycled materials. 

artist's statement

I love the simplicity of Craig Robb's "Second Twilight" made of steel and rubber tubing. 

Bernice Strawn had several of these wood and metal simple figurative pieces (each piece had a hint of colour, either red or blue). I was very tempted to purchase one of these to add to my collection. 


Scrounge was a wonderful surprise as we flaneured the streets and buildings of downtown Denver.  We were just walking by on our way to Denver's Cultural Zone and the Art Museum when Brenda spotted the art though the lobby's large glass walls.  It turned out to be the highlight of our downtown Denver walkabout.

Kudos to Arts Brookfield for facilitating the exhibition.  I wish more Brookfield-owned offices would enlist in the program. (Arts Brookfield is a global initiative which engages communities by invigorating their public spaces through free, world-class cultural experiences.)

Let's hope Brookfield's new office tower, Brookfield Place in Calgary will have a purpose-built gallery at street level that will accommodate ongoing art exhibitions like "Scrounge."   I would also hope that Telus' new Sky Tower, also in Calgary would have a gallery/lobby space for exhibitions to animate the building and street seven days a week.

Kudos to Calgary's Eight Avenue Place which is currently using its lobby and +15 (second floor) retail spaces as an art gallery and event space in the same way as Denver's Republic Plaza.

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