This is how some people might feel after a visit to the Denver Art Museum–upside down and all discombobulated.
A recent visit to the Denver Art Museum (DAM) certainly left me perplexed. What to think about this controversial structure? Is it an interesting urban sculpture or tortured mess? The city’s newest White Elephant or a reflection of the “frontier” culture of the Mile High City.
I’m talking about the new wing, opened in 2006 and designed by Daniel Libeskind, winner of the Ground Zero Master Plan competition. Adjoining and connected to a rather strange boxy six story structure built in the 1970s, the new shiny titanium clad addition is characterized by sharp, angular lines, playing off the Rocky Mountains in the distance. From the outside it looks a bit like the bow of a ship, cantilevered above the street, dangling over passers-by.
It is on a plaza with the Denver Library anchoring one end. Designed by Michael Graves in 1995, it is a modern version of a huge medieval castle. Of course, there’s a Calder. No self-respecting Art Museum is complete without one.
Directly across from the museum are condos that have a “me- too- but-not-quite” feeling. The exterior zigzags and attempts to soar like the new DAM structure. Emphasis on “attempts.”
The inside: well, let me say, it is definitely “vertigo inducing.” There’s a four-story staircase that spirals up the four-story canyon like atrium, getting tighter as you go higher. Walls aren’t where you’d think they’d be. And they angle. All of them. Slivers of light come from hidden skylights.
Normally I have very strong reactions to buildings, but this one, well, I’m not so sure what to think. So I went to the Internet to see what other people thought. Holy Macaroni. There I found heated debate. People either love it or hate it. Nothing in-between.
Some thought it was the best architecture designed since Gehry’s Bilboa. Others. Well, think about these comments:
“If you want your museum experience to rival a trip to Six Flags, you are business in Denver.”
“This should be turned into a skateboarder’s play rink. The kids would love the inclined walls.”
“I felt like I was in Hogwarts, with staircases and doors that disappeared and moved.”
Well, there’s some truth to this statement. Nothing in this building seems to be straight or normal. The architect is in love with angled walls, corkscrewing interiors and bold geometrics. Probably pretty hard for hanging art and even harder for the visiter to follow any logical progression through the building.
But maybe that’s the point. It certainly challenged me about what an art museum should be or how to view art. Thrown off center, I looked at everything with a fresh eye, asking myself, “What’s around the next angle? Where does it lead?”
I loved the element of surprise. For example, the sinks in the rest room near the restaurant “sang” to me. Yes, when I stuck my hands under the faucet, water and a lovely voice singing “Row, Row Your Boat” came out. I checked the other sinks, they did too and in different voices. Now this had me smiling.
And the “shoot out” on the roof is a wonderful spoof on the exciting times in the Wild West.
The focus on the children had me most intrigued. I loved seeing kids dressing themselves in King Tut outfits (hopefully having viewed the exhibit with their parents) and small cubby holes just for young visitors to watch videos within the “grown up” exhibits.
The Denver Art Museum (DAM) has clever marketing: DAM Good Friends is the name of their Membership program. DAM Good Art is emblazoned on t-shirts. Some might call the new building a DAM Expansion. What do you think? If you’ve been to this museum, please weigh in. Would love your thoughts.