Archive | Museum Guides RSS feed for this section

The Alte Pinakothek

28 Nov

If I’m honest the Alte Pinakothek is my favorite of the three galleries in Munich.  It’s not that I particularly like the artwork, which of course I do; it’s that the Alte Pinakothek just feels the way an art museum should, all high ceilings, parquet floors, and rich colors on the wall.  Leo von Klenze, the architect responsible for the Alte Pinakothek and indeed much of Munich’s city center, created something truly outstanding when he was commissioned by the King in 1826 to build a building for the royal family’s art collection.  Even despite the fact that the building was severely damaged in World War II and redone without some of its more ornate features, it’s still an architectural gem.

At this point I should be encouraging you to see all the great masterpieces in the galleries.  You should, yes, but the Alte Pinakothek is also filled with a number of hidden treasures.  When visiting for the first time you’re likely to spend more time with the big names, but look around a bit.  The museum is rarely crowded to the point that you can’t simply peruse at your own pace, and given its size you can still accomplish a thorough tour in three hours.  Some of the easily-overlooked highlights include the 18th Century Italian paintings in room XIIb upstairs (just be aware you’ll probably want to book a trip to Venice afterwards) and the portraits in room IIb upstairs.

Despite the grandeur of the main rooms, some of the most interesting works can be found in the smaller Cabinets along the length of the building.  There are smaller, more intimate works from many of the acclaimed artists found in the galleries as well as earlier pieces from artists such as Giotto di Bondone and Fra Angelico.  There’s also a collection of tavern scenes by Adriaen Brouwer among others in room 11 that’s quite entertaining.

There are some other interesting stories in the Alte Pinakothek.  The self-portrait of Albrech Dürer on display was essentially stolen from the city of Nuremberg some time ago.  The artist the city hired to make a reproduction took the original to Munich and sold it for a handsome sum while the reproduction was put on display in Nuremberg.  It adds an interesting twist to what is already a fascinating painting.  Also, when you’re in the middle of the main galleries take a look to your right and left.  One one side you can see Dürer’s Four Apostles on the wall, all religious fervor and serious contemplation.  On the other is Francois Boucher’s portrait of the Maquise de Pompadour, perhaps the most famous royal mistress in history.  They are both fine works of art to be sure, but the juxtaposition of the two with such varying subject matters on either side of the gallery always makes me giggle.

All of this together gives the Alte Pinakothek its unique character and makes it one of the best museums in Europe to spend an afternoon in.  The works on display are of the highest quality, but the small space and lack of crowds allow the visitor the unique chance to spend time with the art, develop their own opinions, and find a surprise or two.  Slow down and take a look.

Suggested Plan:  The gallery’s layout makes for a pretty self-explanatory route, but you still need to be somewhat aware of where you’re going.  Be sure not to miss the galleries on the ground floor, which feature great examples German and Flemish painting.  The biggest challenge, however, is seeing the cabinets upstairs.  I find the best way to do is to see a few at a time, 1-12 for example, and then go back and wander through the main galleries.  This keeps the historical and geographic layout of the museum somewhat together.

Don’t Miss:  For once I won’t immediately say Dürer.  It’s kind of hard to miss, but room VII, featuring the work of Peter Paul Rubens, showcases some of the artist’s best works.  The most impressive is without a doubt his Last Judgement.  The sheer size of it is enough to give anyone pause, but the color and the characteristic figures make it a Baroque masterpiece and worth a good amount of your time.  Also tucked away in a corner in room IV is da Vinci’s Madonna of the Carnation, the only work of the master on permanent display in Germany.

Dining:  Café Klenze on the ground floor makes for a nice respite while seeing the Alte Pinakothek.  It’s operated by The Victorian House, a local restaurant group that features English specialties as well as more Continental fare.  The entrees are good, if a bit pricy, and there is a nice selection of pastries available.  Whether you prefer an English-style tea and scone break or the more German coffee and cake, it’s a nice place to stop.  It’s best to visit in the afternoon when the sun is streaming in, giving the whole place a warm, comfortable glow.

Audio Guide:  The audio guide is free with admission and is helpful as there is very little labeling on the artworks.  On Sundays it costs €4.50, worth it if you’re curious about the art.  It’s still perfectly possible to enjoy the Alte Pinakothek without the audio guide, however, especially if you visit often.

Other Tips:

  • If you’d like to avoid a crowd, don’t go on Sunday.  The €1 admission charge brings in plenty of locals.
  • It’s possible to combine the Alte Pinakothek with the Neue Pinakothek for a day, but it makes for a long day of art.
  • Be aware that there are no restrooms on the upper floor.  At the risk of sounding like your mother, make sure you use the facilities before you go up there.
  • Take some time to look around the outside of the building, as well.  The brick work on the facade betrays which parts of the building are original and which were destroyed during World War II.
  • The grounds of the Alte Pinakothek are popular with locals for football, frisbee, and simply sitting on the grass reading a book.  If the weather’s nice stop on the grass or on a bench and enjoy.



An Introduction to the Pinakotheken

19 Nov

Most European art museums started off as the personal collections of the royal families, and the Pinakotheken in Munich are certainly no different.  Throughout the centuries the Wittelsbachs amassed masterpieces from the greatest names in European art:  Dürer, da Vinci, Rembrandt, Rubens, and many more that can be seen in the Alte Pinakothek.  What makes Munich unique, however, is that King Ludwig I continued to collect “contemporary” art during his reign, eventually being able to open a second gallery, the Neue Pinakothek, which now has works from nineteenth century masters such as Goya, Manet, and van Gogh.  As the twentieth century progressed and the collection grew to include the dramatically new art being produced a third gallery was added, the Pinakothek der Moderne, where one can go to see works from such diverse artists as Max Ernst and Andy Warhol.  Altogether they constitute the bulk of the Bavarian State Painting Collections, although there are galleries located throughout Bavaria.

Seeing the collection divided in such a way infuses each gallery with its own unique character and spirit of the eras represented within its walls.  The architecture of each gallery creates an atmosphere fitting of the artworks.  But let’s not get too poetic.  Practically speaking the arrangement has its good sides and its bad sides.  Having the entire collection divided into three easy to cover segments makes them much less daunting.  Or if you’re majorly opposed to Old Masters or abstract art you can avoid them entirely.

There is one major problem with the Pinakotheken, however – the admission prices.  By themselves they’re not bad.  It’s the lack of a good comprehensive ticket that’s frustrating.  You can purchase entry into each gallery separately, of course, but if you want to see all three during your visit to Munich your options are limited.  There is a day ticket for €12 that covers all three galleries, but trying to see all three in one day is just too much.  The only other option is a ticket for €29 that covers five visits to the various galleries.  If you want to do something logical, like seeing one gallery each on three different days, or even seeing two in one day and the third the next, you’re out of luck.

Don’t let that stop you, though.  The Pinakotheken showcase incredible works of art and have the added benefit of often being without the huge crowds to be found at museums such as the Louvre or National Gallery in London.  They also offer admission for €1 on Sundays, giving you a great opportunity to take them in.

Suggested Plan: The logical thing is to go through the Piankotheken chronologically, but that’s by no means necessary.  See whichever one looks good to you.

Don’t Miss: OK, if I had to pick one thing in the whole collection to see, it would have to be room II in the Alte Pinakothek.  Much like seeing Michelangelo in Rome and Monet in Paris, one should really see the masterpieces by Albrecht Dürer while in Munich.

Dining: Each gallery has its own restaurant or cafe, but feel free to explore the neighborhood, as well.  Right across Barer Straße from the Neue Pinakothek is a trio of nice options.  Brasserie Tresznjewski is a great place for breakfast or an afternoon snack.  If you just want a quick coffee there’s Batty Baristas right next door.  If you’re in the mood for something more exotic, Deeba, a Pakistani restaurant, gets consistently good reviews.  Bear in mind it’s a small restaurant so it’s best to make a reservation if you want to go for a post-museum dinner.  If you have a sweet tooth don’t miss Ballabeni Icecream, home of perhaps the best gelato in Munich.  It’s located about a block away from the Pinakotheken across from the Museum Brandhorst.

Other Tips:

  • If you’ve never tried listening to music while visiting a museum, they can provide a great opportunity to do so.  My advice is to listen to something appropriate for the era – Baroque classics at the Alte Pinakothek, in the Neue Pinakothek bit of Saint-Saëns, and jazz and rock, boundary-pushing music of the twentieth century, in the Pinakothek der Moderne.
  • For planning purposes, assume you’ll need three hours in each gallery.
  • If you get tired of paintings there are several other museums in the area, including the city’s collections of Greek and Roman art at the Antikensammlung and Glypthotek.


In Praise of Your Local Art Museum

29 Jun

You might have noticed that I haven’t written anything recently.  The truth is that I’ve succumbed to one of the great pitfalls of art museums:  you put off going because you assume you can go whenever.  You see, I decided that I wanted to finally write guides for the art museums in Munich.  Made sense, since I live here.  But I got busy with other things and put it off, thinking that as soon as I had a spare moment I could go.

We all do that, though.  We tend to overlook the great things about our local cultural institutions even when we can’t wait to visit those in other cities.  As soon as I step off the plane in London I head straight for the museums there, yet here in Munich I can’t seem to make time.  Obviously traveling does something to us, makes us feel like we have to see as much as we can while we’re there, but we seldom have the same pressing feeling whine we’re at home.

In doing so we miss out on the truly great relationship we can have with our local museums.  There are special advantages for visiting museums in your city on a regular basis that we lose when our exposure to art consists of a few hours while we’re on vacation.  For one thing, we often approach our vacations as one big to-do list.  We dutifully march around Rome, Paris, or wherever checking off the sights we feel we need to see and the experiences we feel we need to have.  Rarely do we give ourselves time to simply sit and enjoy our surroundings.  Visiting your local museums allows you to do exactly that.

In fact, I’d venture to say time is the single greatest advantage that local museums have.  You can go back week in and week out and see whatever parts of the museums interest you on that day without feeling like you have to see the whole thing.  There have been times when I’ve gone to Munich’s Alte Pinakothek and not even bothered to look at half the museum; I just wanted to stop in and see the fabulous Dürers on display and maybe spend some time with da Vinci’s Madonna of the Carnation.  That’s the beauty of local art museums – you can spend as much time with your favorite works as possible because you can always come back.  You can really appreciate the complexity of your average work of art only when you look at it for longer than 2 minutes.

There’s a certain intimacy that comes with visiting the same museum frequently.  You get to know the paintings and the artists in a way that allows you to feel comfortable with them as you do old friends.  You’re surprised by something you hadn’t noticed before every time you go in.  As human beings we take special delight with being around things that are familiar to us, and art museums are no different if we give them a chance.  We can make every visit unique and interesting by how we approach the works of art and make our way through the galleries all the while enjoying our favorite works of art.

The other great thing about local museums is that they are a reflection of the cities in which they’re located.  The more you visit the more you’re aware of the exhibitions, film screenings, concerts, and other events that museums offer to serve their communities.  You begin to really see the museum as a living, breathing community center instead of a collection of lifeless hallways.  You can try new activities such as specialized tours and after-hours events.  You might event want to become a member so you can be up to date on what’s going on and stop by whenever you want.

But we have to start by going.  I wish I could say I was some sort of great example for this, but I haven’t been recently.  I shall try to do better.  Like most people I find myself sitting on the couch watching Four Weddings and a Funeral for the 12th time rather than going to do something truly interesting, which is especially sad since some of the world’s greatest art museums happen to be located where I live.  The thing is, I don’t know how long I’ll be living in Munich, and when the time comes to leave I hope I don’t find myself thinking longingly of everything I should have done while I was here.  Besides, I really should write about them eventually.

Admission Charges – A Necessary Evil

5 Jun

Lying in bed this morning I was contemplating museum admission charges (What, you mean you don’t do that, too?).  My traditional stance is that I hate any and all museum admission fees.  I think it’s pointless to have to pay to see the great works which belong to our shared heritage.  They should be available for everyone free of charge.  I’ve applauded things such as free days and think London is the greatest city in the world because you can see just about everything without paying one Pence.

The only problem is that like any other organization museums need money to operate.  Like most non-profits, they have been hurting since the financial crisis and are having trouble bouncing back.  At a time when people (myself included) are clamoring for lower admission fees, most museums are having to charge more to make up for the money they’re not receiving from their endowments or wealthy donors.  As much as it goes against my principles, it’s now up to those of us who enjoy art to step up.

The Metropolitan Museum in New York recently raised their suggested admission fee from $20 to $25.  People are outraged, understandably.  I personally think that paying that much money for an art museum is insane.  Unfortunately the money has to come from somewhere, and since American art museums get far less money from the government as those in Europe (which is in itself an entire post topic) we have to pay higher admission fees.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is rather unique, though.  It’s not quite like Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, which announced that it will raise its mandatory admission fee to $22.  The Met has an agreement with the city of New York that stipulates that they officially can’t charge for admission since the building is officially city property.  Instead, visitors are asked to pay a “suggested” fee.  Now I can say from experience that the fee is in fact very strongly suggested by the signage in the entry pavilion and by staff, but those in the know often pay less.  Representatives from the Met have even declined to say what the average visitor gives for fear that it would encourage others to follow suit.  I can’t say I blame them.

We all get annoyed when our favorite restaurant closes because they’re not getting enough business.  Museums could be facing something similar.  It’s not that they’re going to close, but many could be forced to cut back on opening hours and popular programs if funding doesn’t increase.  Like many businesses, often the first step is reducing staff.

So, as much as I dislike admission fees to museums, they are a necessary evil.  I say this as someone who believes very strongly in the importance of museums in a society’s education and cultural life.  They are certainly worthy places to spend your money.  At the Met, if just 5% of their visitors pay the full fee (I have no idea if they actually do, it’s just a guess.  Please feel free to correct me if you know differently.) that would be an extra $1,250,000 in their budget.  That’s probably not much money for an institution the size of the Met, but it can still go a long way toward keeping the treasures in the collection in the best condition possible for future generations.

Maybe someday more art museums will offer free admission.  I can only hope.  But for right now, go ahead and make the effort to skip the free day and pay the admission.  Leave some spare change in the collection box or stop at the gift shop to pick up a present for your sister who has a birthday coming up.  Museums are in bad shape, and they need all the help they can get.  Just think about all the memories and experiences you’ve had in museums in your life.  Isn’t it only fair to return the favor?

The Art Institute of Chicago

17 May

A few years ago the Art Institute of Chicago had an ad on display at O’Hare International Airport featuring a large headline reading, “Just what you’d expect in the Midwest – Haystacks.”  The joke, of course, was that the words were superimposed over one of Monet’s famous Haystacks paintings.  I’m a sucker for people who can make fun of themselves.

The joke’s on everyone else, though.  Nestled in a city that’s known more for sports, music, and, to be perfectly honest, crime, is one of the world’s greatest art museums.  What makes it unique is that at a time when American art museums were mostly concerned with collecting ancient art and works of the Old Masters, the leaders of the Art Institute focused on the new painting styles in Europe so that now the museum has what’s widely considered to be the greatest collection of Impressionistic and Post-Impressionistic art outside of France.

The Art Institute is one of those museums with so many highlights that it’s hard to know where to begin.  Besides the Monet’s and Van Gogh’s, there’s also some of the most well-known works of American art, including Grant Wood’s American Gothic and Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.  Although both may be a bit like the Mona Lisa in that their cultural impact and use for parody make the actual works seem a bit anticlimactic, they’re certainly worth seeing.

Like many of the larger encyclopedic art museums, though, it’s the slightly hidden galleries that can be the most interesting to see.  The Folk Art gallery, for example, is a great way to see what popular arts & crafts were like through much of America’s history, and the basement contains outstanding photography galleries as well as the Thorne Miniature Rooms and the Touch Gallery.  All are easy to overlook, but if you’ve had enough paintings they’re a great way of exploring art.

My personal favorite is the Ando Gallery on the first floor.  It’s not so much a gallery as a place for meditation.  Completed in 1992 and designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, it’s a darkened and quiet space separated from the rest of the museum.  You enter through 16 large wooden columns that help with the feeling of being set apart from the world.  They change the objects on display in the gallery on a regular basis, but it really doesn’t matter.  I could sit there for hours on end and just let my mind wander.  It’s the perfect place to contemplate Japanese Art or whatever’s on your mind.

Eventually you’ll want to make your way to the Modern Wing, which was designed by architect Renzo Piano and completed in 2009.  The building itself is simply a great art museum.  It was clearly designed to showcase art, not the architect’s ability, and makes for an extremely pleasant experience, even if the art itself it’s everyone’s cup of tea.  I was a bit perplexed while trying to figure out how the gallery of European Modern Art was arranged – chronologically, supposedly?  By movement?  Not that it matters much.  The works of art could be arranged alphabetically by title and still be fascinating.  Even if you’re not particularly interested in modern art, the Magritte’s always tend to be amusing.  His realistic painting style combined with the surreal touches (If you can’t read French, the writing under the pipe reads “This is not a pipe.”) are thought-provoking, to say the least.

The downside of all this is the cost.  At $18 for adult admission it’s not the kind of place you can afford to stop in for an hour or two.  If you’re visiting Chicago you’re going to want to make a day of it.  I promise you won’t get bored.  If you live in the Chicago area, though, it might be worth it to splurge for a membership.  The cheapest option is $80 for one year, meaning you can go 4 times and it’s paid for itself, 2 if you bring a guest.  The benefit is that you’re relieved of the pressure of seeing everything at once.  Even I broke down and got a membership while I was there, thinking of how much I’d love to have an excuse to visit it again.  And I must say, I can’t wait.

Suggested Plan: If you want to see the real highlights and get a general idea of the timeline of art history, roughly follow the plan of the “What to See in an Hour” page on the back of the visitor’s guide with the following notes:
1) Start by going up the Grand Staircase and entering room 201.  Immediately go to your right and follow your way around the rooms on the 2nd floor, eventually going through the Impressionism rooms.
2) Go downstairs and wander through the Asian Art galleries and the galleries of Islamic and Indian Art, Ancient Art, and American Decorative Arts.  Make sure to see Chagall’s America Windows, too.
3) After this, take the time to see the American Wing
4) From here go to the Modern Wing.  Be aware that you have to go back to the first floor to get there.  Once you make it, start with the 3rd floor.

Otherwise you can simply wander through whichever galleries are most interesting to you, but do yourself a favor and make sure you’ve seen everything you want to in each of the museum’s three wings (signified by the 3 different colors in the visitor guide) before moving on to the next one.  It’ll save you a decent amount of walking.

Don’t Miss: Where to start?  Possibly the two most famous paintings in the whole museum or Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day and Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte — 1884, the latter of which will be especially familiar to fans of John Hughes’s 1986 classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  Also of particular note are Mary Cassat’s The Bath and Picasso’s The Old Guitarist.  The museum boasts a splendid collection of Degas’s works, as well, including some of his famous ballet paintings.  After taking dance lessons for 12 years I’ll always be a bit partial to those.

Dining: The museum has two restaurants, the Garden Cafe, a cafeteria-style eatery on the lower level, and Terzo Piano, a rather expensive Italian restaurant located in the modern wing.  To be perfectly honest the full-service option was a bit out of my price range, so I stuck with the Garden Cafe instead.  For a cafeteria the food was actually pretty good, with brick-oven fired pizzas and freshly made deli sandwiches. Be aware that it’s best to eat at off-peak hours, as the stations aren’t always staffed as well as they should be.  It can be a bit hard to find, too – you have to take the stairs next to the old Stock Exchange Trading Room.

There’s also a small cafe, Caffè Moderno, located on the second floor of the Modern Wing.  They serve some soups and sandwiches, but the seating isn’t really conducive to a full meal.  It’s a great place to stop in the afternoon for a coffee (which was good), snack (the red velvet cupcakes were amazing), or even a beer (they feature local breweries).

Audio Guide: With admission already being so much, odds are you’re not going to want to pay $5 extra to listen to an audio guide, but if you’re really curious it might be worth it.  The benefit is that it forces you to sit and really look at some of the highlights of the collection, although I should warn you that the commentary can be rather dry at times.  The nice part is that each guide has all 3 tours on it – the standard tour, the Director’s Tour, and the Children’s Tour.  When in doubt, listen to the children’s tour.  There’s actually some interesting facts and interviews on there and one very adorable bit about a Korean ewer shaped like a duck.

Other Tips:

  • Before going to the Art Institute, check out their website, especially the Orientation Videos.
  • You can also browse through the collection of Self Guides published on the website.  They’re very well-done lists of six works pertaining to a certain theme.  Odds are you’ll find an interesting topic among them to enhance your visit, just be aware that they need to be printed out before you get to the museum.
  • If you’re particularly interested in the museum’s collection of Impressionist art, you can get an iPhone app on the subject.  Unfortunately it costs $3.99, so it’s probably something more for true fans.
  • On a budget?  As of June 1, 2011 the first and second Wednesday of every month will feature free admission.  It’s a great move on the museum’s part, but be aware that “free days” at museums can get a bit crowded
  • First and foremost, look at a visitor guide when you arrive and see when the gallery closures are for the day.  If there’s something you really want to see, plan accordingly.
  • Be aware that food and drinks are not allowed anywhere in the museum, including the coat check, so don’t do what I did and buy a new bottle of juice right before going in.

Painting, Sculpture, Soup – New Museum Restaurants

9 May

I’m not the first person to bring up the fact that museums have been steadily revamping their dining options for some years now.  Most people try to be as tactful about the causes of this phenomenon as possible, using quotes about the “discerning clientele” of art museums who want “a better experience.”  It all sounds nice, but the fact is that the aim of these new restaurants is simply to make money.  Perhaps that sounds a bit negative, but in reality it’s a very positive thing for museums and even more for their visitors.

For years dining in museums was limited to a cafeteria that provided lunch for staff and students on field trips.  You could have found better food on an airplane.  But then in the late 1990’s there was a remodeling boom for museums worldwide and they needed new ways to pay for their expansion plans.  This was all taking place at the same time that “foodie” culture really began to take off, so the logic was simple.  Why not add a nice restaurant or two to help boost profits?  Donors could only be counted on for so much, and museums had to be careful about raising entrance prices lest they lose attendance.  Thus they adopted something almost like an amusement park’s approach – just get them in the door, and then find any way you can to take their money.

Despite how horribly cynical that may sound, it actually improved the museum-going experience for patrons.  You don’t have to resign yourself to a day-old chicken salad sandwich if you want to stop for lunch.  There are plenty of options, as well, ranging from family friendly offerings to more expensive gourmet restaurants.  Some of the nicer options are even open outside of museum hours for dinner, although lunch is still the main meal.  We’re all aware of that unique feeling of exhaustion we get after a few hours of strolling through a museum; having a chance to sit and eat or drink something that actually tastes good in a welcoming environment does wonders to remedy that.

You can also feel good about eating at museum restaurants.  Museums are still mostly non-profits relying on donations to continue their work.  You might not be able to endow a gallery, but something as simple as stopping for a plate of pasta can help museums continue their work in education and preservation.  Plus the more revenue that museums make from other sources such as dining, the less they have to charge for admission.  It’s really a win-win for everyone.

And although most dining options are still glorified versions of the cafeteria, there are some truly unique experiences to be had.  Some of my personal favorites in the U.S. are Café Calatrava at the Milwaukee Art Museum, which features a stunning view of Lake Michigan, and the L.S. Ayres Tea Room at the Indiana State Museum.  The Tea Room is especially interesting and is almost a museum piece in and of itself – it’s a replica of the café that was located in an downtown Indianapolis department store from 1905-1990.

It might seem rather trivial, but museum dining has become big business in recent years.  I won’t even try to pretend that I’m any kind of gourmet, but I will say that many of the new options are actually pretty good.  Sitting down to reflect on what I’ve seen and enjoy my lunch has actually become one of my favorite parts of any museum trip.  Take the time to enjoy it, as well, and you might be surprised what you can find.

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.