Artist Ira Sherman is a master of metal, but he is a master of contradictions, as well. his expansive home in
Denver's Washington Park neighborhood, Sherman maintains several studios: one devoted to designing
and making jewelry, another to the creation of Judaica and liturgical architectural pieces, and another to
dreaming up kinetic sculpture that can act out anything from the precepts of a morality tale, to devious,
even painful solutions to various unexpected dire situations.
But to Sherman, it all comes down to line, and to metal.
"Look at the lines of these," he says, pointing to a case of jewelry, on which swatches of finely woven gold
mesh accent simple, curved metal neck rings. "It's almost identical to these," and then he walks over to a
rendering of the 20-foot-tall bronze gates he designed and built in 1987 for the Hebrew Educational
Alliance.
"One is mechanical, and one is lyrical."
And then there is the dangerous line, the kind employed in works Sherman has on view as part of a show at
+ Gallery.
There, his "wearable" - for the daring - Cremasteric Reflex Corset stands in one corner, part of his series of
"Anti-Rape Devices" designed to illustrate technical, if fantastic, approaches to stopping sexual assault. (In
this piece, it is a cutting implement.)
Corset appears to guard a row of smaller pieces from his "Panaceas to Persistent Problems" series, which
range from a tool to solve unwanted nose and ear hair (Preening) to solutions to doing emergency surgery
when out in the woods (the downright creepy Waiting for Dr. Dickowski, named after Sherman's dentist
when he was a child in Chicago).
In some cases, Sherman-the-jewelry-maker embellishes what looks like equipment from the torture closet of
Inquisition master Torquemada with semiprecious gems such as garnets or amethysts.
Meanwhile, in his basement and in the former two-car garage behind his home, Sherman, 54, is beginning
to experiment with the circuitry of the Furby, the must-have electronic toy of 1998 that spoke its own breed
of language while occasionally mimicking its human owner.
Sherman encountered Furby when his now-12-year-old twin sons owned them (another studio in the
Sherman home belongs to Nancy Sedar Sherman, an embroidery artist).
"They are the most sophisticated toy I've ever seen," says Sherman, who admits that when the Furby was
still a mere toy, and not components of his work, his sons "were driving me nuts" playing with them. Now,
Sherman buys them on the Internet, incorporating the dome-shaped bodies and electronic guts into kinetic
pieces such as Furby's Frenetic Workout.
There, a silver-skinned Furby squawks as it sits on the handlebars of an exercise bike Sherman has given
the profile of a motorcycle by adding a rear fender made of stainless steel slide joints fastened by a bronze
clip. The contraption will skitter across a parking lot, or, if tied down in a home workshop, rattle wildly up and
down, an exercise machine that runs the program as the hypothetical rider hangs on for dear life.
Frenetic Workout made its debut at the + Gallery show's opening, and has inspired Sherman to continue
his exploration of what the once-popular plaything can do in a series called "Toys at Play."
It's all part of a career that includes picking up honors from the Spertus Museum in Chicago, which
specializes in showing Jewish ceremonial art, to being named the 2004 winner of the Kinetic Art
Organization's International Competition to frequent speaking engagements addressing what has become
known as the kinetic aesthetic.
Sherman comes naturally by his ability to build. "My father was a machinery dealer, and I played with
machines. I love James Bond, and I love science fiction." He began a lengthy student career at Upper Iowa
College as a biology and chemistry major, then shifted to art when he realized "to be creative in science
you had to get a doctorate."
He didn't want that, and didn't finish graduation requirements, instead moving to Denver in 1972 because
he was here during one of those warm, winter Chinook periods. He began to take art classes here and
working with metal, in myriad ways.
"You can make things that are mechanical, and not just by traditional techniques," he says.
The expertise involved in Sherman's pieces attracted + Gallery's Ivar Zeile, who also is a designer, to
exhibit the work. "I work with technology that is fairly contemporary," said Zeile. "But this is something so far
beyond me. It has a machined edge I really like. It is so precise."
And so diverse, though Sherman sees nothing unusual about creating sleek sterling silver liturgical objects
one day, and something like a machine that forces people to talk to each other (The Arbitrator) the next. Or
being featured in books about jewelry making, as well as in Popular Mechanics magazine.
"I'm a compartmentalized person," said Sherman, who was a founder and chairman of the Colorado
Metalsmithing Association, and a guest speaker at past international conferences of the Society of North
American Goldsmiths. "But it's all the same aesthetic. It's a sinuous line, a wiry, lyrical line."
Kinetic Sculpture by Ira Sherman
• What: Work from the "Panaceas to Persistent Problems" series, with paintings by Evan Colbert and
photographs by Patti Hallock
• Where and when: + Gallery, 2350 Lawrence St.; through Jan. 7 (note: the gallery is closed Friday through
Jan. 3)
• Info: 303- 296-0927
Mary Voelz Chandler is the art and architecture critic. Chandlerm@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-892-
2677.
Aesthetics to Kinetics
Artist Sherman tests his metal in eclectic ways
By Mary Voelz Chandler, Rocky Mountain News
December 27, 2004