Albert Paley: The Path to Syncline

On June 20, Breckenridge cuts the ribbon on the latest addition to its public art collection—a 24-foot-tall, azure blue, fabricated steel sculpture by the renowned American artist Albert Paley. Called Syncline, the iconic work incorporates folds and curves that make up the geological feature from which it takes its name, and its color from the blue reflected by light projected deep into snow.

One of the foremost metalsmiths in contemporary art, Paley’s works grace cultural arts centers from the Smithsonian Institution to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Breckenridge will be the first Colorado town to own one. The project is five years in the making, from planning to installation. It will occupy a prominent downtown space adjacent to the Riverwalk Center.

Syncline is an abstract or “nonliteral” artwork, despite the symbolic dimensions that inspired Paley to design his site-specific piece to occupy a prominent public arena in Breckenridge. The fact that it is nonliteral “opens it up to each individual’s interpretation,” said the artist, noting the diversity of the Breckenridge community, from snow-sliding locals to guests from around the world. “In doing so it gives you the broadest possible interpretation.”

Paley believes his work will engage people on many different levels. “A community isn’t one thing; it’s a diverse spectrum of people,” he said. “The sculpture is creating a unique experience. People bring to it what they can bring to it.”

That said, he designed the sculpture specifically for Breckenridge—its irregular contours creating “a play of drama with light and shade” as the sun makes its way across the sky, evocative of the ephemeral nature of mountain light, and its scale a humbling reminder of the towering magnificence of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

Beyond that, there’s an emotional energy Paley tried to capture. “Whenever anybody talks about Breckenridge, by and large it’s the skiing and the activity involved around that,” the artist said. “The only thing that allows skiing to happen is its downhill slope—its syncline. When a skier goes down the slopes there’s a sense of energy, a sense of dynamism, a sense of lyricism. That aspect of excitement, engagement, physicality of sport—all of that is reflected in the sculpture.”

It’s similar to the way music can be nonliteral, he explained, but still articulate emotion. “If you are in an elated state, you might respond to a certain type of music,” he said. “Hopefully there’s a sense of identity—they have that feeling, and when they see the sculpture, it’s what they’re seeing. That’s what good public art can do— create a sense of place, a sense of identity, a personal experience.”

Photos: Artist maquette and renderings of Syncline