Long before the expansion of the Denver Art Museum had taken shape, we had identified a location for an outdoor sculpture in relation to the iconic existing museum building designed by the Italian architect Gio Ponti. Knowing that the environment would change radically, we nevertheless made notes – for example, determining an axis perpendicular to Mark di Suvero’s sculpture Lao Tzu, and observing the curved roof on a Philip Johnson skyscraper in the downtown area and the view west of the Rocky Mountains’ Front Range.
Riding a free city bus, we glimpsed sanitation workers demonstratively sweeping trash into dustpans as part of a campaign to keep Denver clean. The sight connected with a theme we had been working on, “The Dustbin of History,” which featured brooms and pans in action. As we talked over lunch, the clear blue sky combined with the characteristic browns of the Denver cityscape to elicit the image of a colossal broom and dustpan, which had appeared in a drawing in that color scheme.
We visualized slits placed in the pan to restate the tall, narrow apertures of the Ponti building. The tilt of the pan might represent the slope of the mountain range and the broom the wind at its foothills. We chose to represent the moment of contact, when the bristles strike the pan, adding some debris as well.
The architect Daniel Libeskind had been commissioned to design the museum’s expansion, which included a huge jutting structure of pointed planes that overshadowed our original site. Coosje opted to stay close to the Libeskind building in order to reassert the site-specific nature and preserve the scale of the sculpture.
In its shifting forms the Big Sweep mediates between the Ponti building and the new addition. Its tilting planes offer a counterpoint to the structure hovering over it, while its rounded bristles provide contrast to the angular backdrop.