Denver Art Museum

8 May

I’ll be perfectly honest.  I love the Denver Art Museum.  I’ve never been to another art museum that is as welcoming and open as the DAM.  From the first time I went there I was impressed and I still am.  You see, most art museums in the United States, with the exception of the majors such as the Met and the Art Institute of Chicago, tend to focus on impressing with the names of their artists and their ties to local society.  You walk into the Denver Art Museum and it’s obvious from the friendly greeting you get from the docent handing out museum maps that it’s something different.

I realize that if you’re a visitor to Denver odds are you’re going to be going on to the mountains or at least the microbreweries, but it’s worth it to pay a visit to the Denver Art Museum.  If you live in the Denver area, though, go, and go often.  One of the things that sets the DAM apart is their obvious committment to the local community.  Colorado residents are given a discount on admission, and it doesn’t stop there.

One of the strengths of the Denver Art Museum’s collections, and part of what makes it such a great part of the Colorado community, is the emphasis on American Indian and Western art.  The new American Indian galleries are especially fascinating.  They display the importance of the arts in American Indian culture but they do so in a way that is neither pandering nor overly ethnographic and seamlessly combines the old and new in one constant narrative.  The emphasis on individual artists in various cultures is particularly impressive.  It helps frame what you’re seeing in terms of fine art, something which is often lacking from galleries devoted to anything but European and American art.

Additionally, the museum features an important collection of Western American art.  Fans of old Western movies won’t be disappointed by the Remingtons and Russels on display in the seventh floor Historic gallery.  Equally interesting, however, is the second gallery for Western Art in the new part of the museum.  Even if you’re not a fan of modern art, the various works present a fascinating view of what the American West has become through the eyes of some of the most influential artists of the region.  If you think art is just for people in New York who think grass is a drug, this gallery should change your mind.

Another thing that stands out about the Denver Art Museum is that it’s truly interactive.  The offerings for children are probably the best I’ve ever seen in an art museum, but adults aren’t left out.  The labeling is informative, yet isn’t the dense list of art terms you often find in museums.  Look, I study art, I know about these things, but even I find reading about how Mary Cassat was accepted by her fellow artists during her life much more interesting than how her style reflects a French influence.  The reading areas are spectacular, as well.  Not only do they provide a comfortable place to sit, but the books and activities give you a chance to go beyond what’s hanging on the walls to find out more about art.  Even one of the museum’s signature works is interactive in its own way – Sandy Skoglund’s Fox Games.  Walking through the work (yes, you read that right) is guaranteed to bring a smile to anyone’s face.

Overall the impression you get from the Denver Art Museum is that art’s supposed to be fun.  Interesting, yes.  Informative, absolutely.  But also fun.  It’s an art museum that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and in doing so it creates an environment that connects you to the art and local culture better than many other museums do.  You

Suggested Plan: The DAM is divided into two buildings.  If you’re really concerned about seeing everything, it’s easiest to work your way down one and up the other.  Otherwise, just wander and see what looks interesting to you.

Don’t Miss: Reading about the process of collaboration with Denver locals on Miyajima’s ENGI (the flashing numbers on the walls of the Hamilton Building) provides an interesting glimpse into what people think is important in life.  Be sure to check out Red Groom’s sculpture Shootout, located on the roof of the restaurant.  It can be seen from the bridge connecting the two buildings of the museum, where it was placed after Native groups demanded it be moved from public for its subject matter.

Dining: The local chain Mad Greens has a cafe across the plaza from the museum if you want something quick.  They also have a coffee shop & wine bar in the same location if you need a libation before or after your visit.  While there I went for lunch at Palettes Restaurant, which made for a nice break and was genuinely good.  People watching from the restaurant is like watching an art exhibition in itself, too.  If neither option sounds good to you, try the pub one block west of the museum on 13th Avenue.  Good ales, and a nice break from art.

Other Tips:

  • Take a tour.  They’re short, and very interesting.  I did a 45-minute Collection Highlights tour, during which the docent showed off some of her favorite works in the museum.  You get a fresh perspective, see some things you probably would otherwise miss, and you’re not made to feel like an idiot if you don’t know as much about art.
  • Admire the architecture.  The buildings of the Denver Art Museum are very different, but they both offer a striking profile and an interesting take on what a museum should be like.
  • The DAM is one of the best museums around for giving children an introduction to art.  Look for brochures that explain what programs are for families that day.  Even adults will want to join in the fun.
  • If you only want to spend a few hours, go in the afternoon.  More school groups are there in the morning.



3 Responses to “Denver Art Museum”

  1. Aaron Mulligan May 18, 2011 at 6:51 am #

    DAM is open free every first Saturday and I still try to go every time. Their Blink and Embrace exhibits were my favorites and emphasized exactly what you were describing in your post: incorporating the visitor (Embrace also incorporated the artist by allowing artists to create works as part of the building’s design).

    • K. Burnett May 20, 2011 at 2:52 pm #

      I loved Blink! I thought it was fantastic. The docent I had described it perfectly, “It’s new. It’s different. You might not like it at first, but it really does make you think about the future of art.” I do have one question, though – what did you think of the fish? I can’t wait to go back later this year to see all the ceramics they’re putting on display!

  2. Charlie Boots May 20, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    The singing fish near the entrance? To be honest I didn’t know what to think! It was hard to critique that piece like I would other pieces. The best way to describe my reaction was I stared at it for a couple of moments, confused, then I just started laughing. I still don’t know what to think.

    My favorite was Still Men Out there by Bjørn Melhus. I never sat so long to look at one work of art.

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