Sunday, June 28, 2009

The area south of Denver's State Capital building is rich in various historic and cultural institutions. We arrived in the morning, half an hour or so before opening time of the Denver Art Museum and strolled around to get the lay of the land and decide exactly what we wanted to do and when.

We found a little cafe opposite the Museum's new wing, which has been very highly praised for its architecture and exhibit spaces.

Looking back north from the cafe the view to the right is the main building of the Denver Public Library, actually a cluster of buildings or wings in differing materials, including a delightful little neo-Baroque pavilion sheathed entirely in copper.

Looking north and to the left was the original building of the Museum, dating to 1971 and rather obviously still owing a great deal to the 1960s "brutalist" school of architecture.

Right in front of us was the dazzling new wing, attached to the original Museum building by a bridge at second story level. Our first thought was that this was another Frank Gehry project--the huge shapes jumbled into each other, the severe angles, the titanium plates making up the exterior skin, all seemed to point to another Gehry extravaganza.

It turned out to not be Gehry but Daniel Liebeskind, architect of the lavishly praised Jewish Museum in Berlin. But one thing linked the building to Gehry--the fact that although the wing is only three years old its roofs have already failed (notice the figures of construction workers on the left of the building).

We got our coffee (me), tea (Fritz) and a piece of coffee cake to share and settled down to watch the arial ballet of the construction workers, tethered to the building with safety lines to prevent falls from the almost 45 degree grade of the surface they had to work on.

Watching became mesmerizing. Eventually other Museum-goers waiting for opening joined us, watching intently the dangerous work overhead. This shot suggested to me the stern of a sinking ship--and indeed, the home of "The Unsinkable Molly Brown"--she who took command of a lifeboat during the Titanic disaster--is only two blocks away.

The work was slow and must have been exhausting as they had to constantly stop to readjust the line's length and tension as they moved up and down the steep slant to guide bins of material into position on the little pedestals that had been installed especially for the purpose.

Denver Art looks west, not east, culturally. There are departments of American, West Asian, East Asian and Northwest Indian art as well as a rich collection of art of the U.S.'s Westward expansion--but no big collection of European art from any era, (although the African collection, while small is filled with very good pieces, above). It makes sense, and would make even more if there were a collection of the arts of New Spain in the 17th Century before the English ever set foot on the east coast.

The new wing is devoted to modern works almost exclusively. A high percentage is in the form of sculpture or installations.

The outer elements seem as if hanging in a cloud around the figure but in fact, everything is welded to everything else and the piece can be interpreted as the figure coming together out of a swirl of elements, or of the figure radiating energy in all directions.

Spaces are invitingly irregular in the new wing with useful nooks and crannies liberally provided by the architect in all directions. This installation obviously presents riotous behavior by an invasion of foxes, as the piece wraps around and under a staircase.

We especially liked three pieces from the First Peoples of the Northwest. The first two present a modern-style reinterpretation of classic motifs. Above: a combination of human, walrus and elk, stressing the interdependence of these species.

In this piece, the artist created a figure and a narrative out of found natural objects, allowing what was found to suggest the subject matter of the final piece.

Slightly over three feet tall, this highly sculptural ceremonial dance mask occupies a corner in dramatic fashion and is supported by a video of various dance ceremonies to suggest how it appeared in motion and in the context of other dancers and other masks.

Okay now, that working on the top of the building has even me sort of tingling..just lookin at the pictures! Ick.
I remember eating at some delightful little nondescript corner cafe in that area many, many years ago.
the last mask is called Cannibal Bird
it looks it was carved by an artist named Beau Dick. Do you know if this is right?
The new wing of the Denver art Museum is beautiful, and you got a great photo of it. The di Suervo sculpture in front sets it off nicely.
Great post... though note that Liebeskind did the Jewish Museum not the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. I love the red room with the animals... who did that?
Thanks for the Correction, Gavin--I've made the change in the entry. I'll try to find out the name of the artist for you on the red room with foxes installation. It looks good from this angle--it's even better in three dimensions when you can walk through it.

Spo--sorry, I can't tell you one way or the other about the artist, but if he has "un beau dick" as the French might say, he's OK with me. :-)
There isn't enough money in the world to get me to work on that building!
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