Monday, July 16, 2007

DAM it! Denver may be cooler than SLC.

While in the mile high city for a business convention, I took a few hours to visit the new expansion to the Denver Art Museum (DAM). After reading the reviews and seeing so many photographs, I thought I might feel a little “been there done that” upon seeing the building designed by Daniel Libeskind. But the experience was anything but ordinary.

The building was more organized than I expected. Reviews and photographs left an impression that DAM is a bit crazy. But standing in front of the angular building I was surprised by how “at home” it felt in downtown Denver. And in the spirit of Frank Gehry’s belief that architecture should be a good neighbor, the expansion embraces and mimics the surrounding structures in unexpected ways.

The building has its problems. Significant repairs are underway to solve a leaky roof. Although the building opened less than one year ago, the outside fa├žade is currently torn apart, with cranes and workmen hovering like insects caring for their alien queen. And much of the interior space is shut down to allow for the repairs.

However, the inside of the building proved to be a better space for viewing art than reviews would suggest. While there are some tragic display choices that are a result of the architecture’s strange angles and pathways, those same characteristics also create opportunities for beautiful presentations. On the bad side is a two-monitor video work by Bill Viola hung just outside the entrance to the third floor gallery. The cramped hallway didn’t allow you to move back far enough to take in the work comfortably. And the traffic in and out of the gallery meant that no matter where you stood, you were always in the way. This might be fine for a painting. But considering the slow, contemplative nature of Viola’s work the interruptions were frustrating. On the good side was Antony Gormley’s Quantum Cloud XXXIII. The work was stunning in the angular gallery on the fourth floor. And the natural light from the nearby window only added to the work’s emotion.

In the end, DAM succeeds. Denver has taken a serious step forward on the trail to becoming a great American city. I wish Salt Lake City would take note. Great architecture makes great cities.

Look for future posts on the contents of the new building.

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