The Denver Post
BALL of INCLUSION
Clark Richert’s flashing piece of public art lights up the sky and invites some deep thinking
Clark Richert has long had a way of using art to model complex ideas about math and science. He’s been working out methods for employing line and color to interpret rich concepts of geometry and arithmetic for more than half a century, remaining one of Colorado’s leading voices in abstraction the entire time.
His objects can feel like homework. Understanding them might challenge you to dive into difficult theories about how the world works and to decipher languages that few people, outside of those in academic fields, actually use. If you don’t know what a polyhedron is, then you really don’t even have a starting point.
But the reason Richert’s work is
so effective, popular, pleasing, expensive is that it delivers on a purely visual level, as well. His colorful layouts on canvas and in 3- D form, often large- scale, rely on relentless patterning that is pleasing to the eye.
When I start to get a headache from the background of a Richert piece, I stop reading the written materials that always accompany the work and simply look at it.
That is usually enough reward.
His newest work, Quadrivium, a public sculpture installed this summer on East 20th Street near Glenarm Place in Denver, invites the longest of looks and does so in the most entertaining ways. It’s a wonder of flashing lights and changing colors, a pulsing, surfaceshifting orb that lights up the night sky in a quiet section of downtown. Patterns emerge, converge and disappear at a mesmerizing
At 14 feet in diameter, and with a constant barrage of green, blue, pink and purple constantly coming at the viewer, it’s destined to be a landmark. The piece can be a bit clunky in the daylight when it turns flat, but when darkness falls, Quadrivium goes all Las Vegas on you: blink, blink, whirl, swirl, repeat.
In common language, you could describe the piece as a sphere made from 30 flat, diamondshaped, aluminum panels. You could also call it a triacontahedron with 30 rhombi, if you want to go there.
More important, perhaps, is understanding what Richert hopes it can accomplish.
The title Quadrivium, he explains in his notes, refers to “the Medieval university curriculum involving the mathematical arts of arithmetic, geometry, cosmos and music.” It was a holistic approach to teaching that recognizes how hard science and human creativity connect together.
And so what can we learn from this ball of brilliant things? Like a lot of ideas from Richert, who has consistently weaved together the concepts behind his work in a way that makes them easier to understand, the answer goes back decades.
The concept for Quadrivium has roots in a lecture he attended in 1965 at the University of Colorado Boulder delivered by Buckminster Fuller, the architect/ thinker best known for conceptualizing the geodesic dome. Fuller’s ideas have been a crucial and lasting influence on Richert’s work.
Richert explains: “Bucky talked about a ‘ World Game,’ which would be played on the GeoScope — a 200- foot- diameter geodesic sphere covered with tiny light bulbs that depicted a world globe and its resources and challenges.”
Fuller envisioned hanging the sphere over water in the proximity of the United Nations so world leaders could use it in their attempts to solve international problems. They could play a game that would benefit humanity.
Quadrivium replicates the idea on a smaller scale, and in a more abstract way. There’s a moth- to- a- flame quality to it with the potential to bring people together, and around something built upon science- based, universal principles we all share. Commonality glows in the radiant hues that Quadrivium casts off.
Richert hopes it “lights up and inspires viewers,” as he puts it, “with far- reaching, positive effects in the Denver community and beyond.”
Staring for just a few moments, it’s easy to buy into his vision, as wide- eyed as it sounds. Quadrivium is a meticulously constructed piece of art, sturdy like a spaceship, and alluring with its high- tech LED light patterns.
The piece was engineered and
assembled by the fabrication team at Denver’s Elmendorf Geurts studio, which clearly understood its intentions. They built an object that’s peoplefriendly — there’s a fun and funky, 1960s- era, sci- fi feel to it — but also larger- than- life and confident in its materials and bearing.
It commands attention without trying to over- awe anyone. You can imagine people gathering around it in a fit of curiosity.
Two people, total strangers, stopped to ask me what it was as I was looking at it one recent night. I told them what I knew — avoiding the word “triacontahedron” for their sake and mine — and we shared a few moments taking it in.
Much of Quadrivium’s success is due to its placement, in a parking lot next to a shuttered restaurant building that was last called Bella Vista and next to several other lots that are, for now, unused.
It’s a dark place, without a lot of architectural or commercial context, and there’s little competition for attention, making it a good venue for the work’s public introduction.
The piece was commissioned by local developer Amy Harmon, who is putting together a mixeduse complex. Harmon takes her lumps as a developer infiltrating neighborhoods that don’t always want what she wants, but her track record on completed projects is solid.
She’s a philanthropist who respects quality design, livability, urban character and the role that art and culture can play in community- building. She plans to keep any construction relatively low- rise and peoplefriendly.
No matter where Quadrivium ends up in the completed project, it’s easy to see it as a centerpiece for some sort of common space where people will be invited to come together, formally or informally. It will have plenty of opportunities to work any magic that’s built into it.
Viewers can get into its arithmetics or they can just get into its rhythms. Both options, like this one- of- a- kind piece of public art, promise to be enduring.