Denver-Aurora metro cultural clash gives rise to pop-up art


DENVER/AURORA | Trying to explain the myriad ways in which the metro area has changed in recent years is akin to describing Donald Trump’s flaxen mane.

It’s time consuming, complicated and, in the end, the exercise is likely to yield answers that are more unsettling than satisfying.

The seemingly sudden arrival of thirsty Californians, bored New Englanders and every restless soul in between has abruptly shaded the Denver-Aurora-Lakewood corridor with increasingly complex hues.

And the resulting influx of freshman Denverites has sparked a feverish frenzy of construction that could make even the stone-lipped Trump froth with profitable delight. Abysmal vacancy rates and a sizzling housing market have made cranes, Caterpillars and construction hats ubiquitous sights on nearly every one of the region’s high traffic arteries.

Many of the newly erected urban hives are welcome refuges for space-strapped transplants desperately seeking somewhere, anywhere to lay their well-shampooed heads.

But not everyone is on board with the latest residence raising madness.

“Knocking something down and putting something new in is kind of a new manifest destiny, and that’s happening on an almost horrific cultural scale,” said Derrick Velasquez, a Denver-based artist and professor of fine arts at both the University of Denver and the Metropolitan State University of Denver. “I think it’s a violent thing to displace people, knock down old buildings and replace them with others that don’t have a similar structure.”

That tempestuous angst Velasquez feels toward the current construction hysteria is what has fueled his latest, and largest-ever exhibit, slated to be debuted at Aurora’s in-progress Stanley Marketplace at 2501 Dallas St. on Nov. 12. Titled “New Brutal,” Velasquez’ work is a 25-foot-tall absurdist sculpture made of twisted two-by-fours, ornate molding and the general chaos unique, and perhaps exclusive to, a construction site.

Many of the newly erected urban hives are welcome refuges for space-strapped transplants desperately seeking somewhere, anywhere to lay their well-shampooed heads.

“The aesthetics that I’m using are based off of all of the construction going on throughout Denver,” Velasquez said. “All of the condos going up, not only in central Denver, but in Stapleton and out in the greater Denver area as well.”

A graduate of both University of California, Santa Barbara and Ohio State University, Velasquez said that the piece is intended to prod jaded residents into more acutely analyzing the region’s rapidly morphing skyline and understand that newer does not inherently equate to better.

“When you see a fresh, new thing next to a 100-year-old house with crown molding and the only thing separating those is property lines, it just seems strange to me,” he said.

“New Brutal” will be displayed at Stanley through Dec. 10 as a product of Black Cube, a new, mobile gallery concept that was launched earlier this year in Denver. Founded by the same team behind the Red Line gallery in Denver’s RiNo Art District, Black Cube is billed as a “nomadic contemporary art museum” designed to bring art to under-served people and unexpected places.

“We have plenty of cubes and traditional gallery spaces in Denver, both non-profit and for-profit art spaces or museums,” said Cortney Stell, executive director and chief curator of the organization, which had its first pop-up exhibition at Red Rocks just last month. “So we wanted to think of a way to bring art to the public. The metro area has a very tight-knit contemporary art community and we wanted to reach beyond that.”

Velasquez is a Black Cube artist fellow through year’s end, and “New Brutal” will be the organization’s third-ever pop-up exhibit. Velasquez said the freedom and the funding behind Black Cube, which is backed by the David and Laura Merage Foundation, are what set the organization apart.

“In lieu of having to pay taxes on a building to rent or own, we’re able to put money towards the project, so as far as individual projects go, it’s extremely well-funded,” Velasquez said. “And issues with the city can make public art quite difficult, so it’s exciting to do something really ambitious or unfettered by any bureaucracy, really. It’s a really interesting new concept.”

Both Velasquez and Stell touted the massive space at the Stanley building, and trumpeted the rare opportunity to show art at an active construction site. They said the Stanley building was chosen for this particular exhibit for the dual construction themes as well as its unique positioning on the line of both Aurora and Stapleton, two significantly disparate communities.

“You can literally see at the Stanley site the clash or the juxtaposition of the type of development in Stapleton with newly built, cookie-cutter houses, and then the community of Aurora right beside it, it’s like day and night,” Stell said.

The $25-million Stanley project is expected to be open for business this spring.

In an effort to show appreciation to both communities, Velasquez will be giving away the materials used in the construction of “New Brutal” on a first-come-first serve basis to any nearby neighbors who want them.

“If anybody needs two-by-fours or metal sheeting, they can come get it for whatever need,” he said. “Or, if there’s anyone who wants a 25-foot-tall thing that’s not structurally engineered, that would be great, too.”

“New Brutal”

Opening Reception: 6-9 p.m., Nov. 12, Stanley Marketplace, 2501 N. Dallas St.

The exihibit will also be available for viewing from 6-8 p.m. on Thursdays and 12-4 p.m. on Saturdays through Dec. 12. For more information, visit

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Ryan Clapp
Ryan Clapp
6 years ago

As someone who lives right on the E 25th/E 26th divide between Aurora and Stapleton, I appreciate the work of Prof Velasquez in highlighting the surreal neighborhood divide. I don’t think the more bourgeoisie Stapleton developments are inherently a conflict with the existing Aurora community, but there’s definitely an opportunity for more dialogue. As a side note, I’d love some extra 2 x 4’s, and I’ll look forward to waling over and seeing New Brutal!

5 years ago
Reply to  Ryan Clapp

Hey, hopefully you can get this in time. I’m deinstalling today and tomorrow. If you want some material, email me at [email protected]

6 years ago

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