Sorry, Denver. I still love you.

Holy baby Jesus, the new Daniel Libeskind–designed building
of the Denver Art Museum is worse than I suspected it would be, from seeing it under construction the last couple years. It’s
a full-fledged disaster, a monstrosity, a crime against the art it houses as
much as the city that its sci-fi prow points threateningly toward. If it could
only just fire off at warp-speed, as it looks ready to, leaving without trace
or word back…maybe taking a good measure of the DAM’s crappier newer art with
it, and a few of those Clyfford Stills . But no – Denver, making its play to be a
world-class cultural city, is now stuck with this hulking hunk of arrogant Euro-trash
space junk into the foreseeable future.

dam_1.jpg

What an opportunity lost. Just contrast it with good
examples, like say, Fort Worth’s Modern, or the Kimbell, both powerful architectural
statements in their own right, but ones that frame the work they were created to
house without willfully asserting their own identities to the detriment of function. As with all good
architecture, you experience a developed material sense, the idea that
everything down the smallest detail is considered in relation to the whole. I
mean, essentially, what else is architecture supposed to do and be than just
these things?

lobby.jpg

The DAM’s new building infamously has no right angles. They
play this up, right down to the bathroom signs, that instead of being
rectangular are some kind of polygon. As you can imagine, this bold
architectural statement largely results in a lot of wasted space, and
disconcerting physical sensations. There are all these dark useless corners,
and paintings hung from trapeze wires, only their bases touching walls that
fall away at 60 degree angles. corner.jpgOther corners are crammed with objects and
paintings that dizzyingly shove you off in a twirling ricochet only to confront
other crowded objects. I’ve never seen such a senselessly crowded miasma of art,
outside of a fair. Paintings are hung inches apart, on walls that overlap each
other visually so that you get immediate visual overload, and nothing is
allowed to shine. There are ridiculous floating walls, haphazardly arranged
(with angled tops and sides of course,) some on curving train tracks in the
floor, as if they might start moving around in some sort of Happening.

bartlett.jpg

Everything seems oddly cheap. I’ve heard a number of people say
that the whole place seems to be made out of cardboard, that it looks
temporary, like a maquette or stage set. I consider bathrooms something of a
litmus test for buildings like this, and DAMs’ look cheap and plastic, built of
bargain materials from Home Depot.

atrium.jpgThey’ve had some complaints apparently about the building
seeming harsh, austere – so they have chosen to counteract this by numbers of
children’s play stations, lots of random leather couches and oddly-placed desks with books on, and a
boombox, stuck behind a couch in one of those oblique corners in the central
atrium, blaring samba music. I shit you not. It echoes eerily through the whole
museum, bouncing off all those stupid angles. I asked the front desk about it –
was it part of a piece or something? “Oh, no. We’ve just been doing that the
last couple months.” Huh?

betty woodman

That’s how much of the experience feels: just senseless, as
if the stupidity of the architecture is influencing the decision-making
capabilities of the staff. I could tell watching this building go up in trips
here over the last couple years, that there was no way it was going to work. As
bad as the experience of the museum itself it, it might be worse that it has such poor relationships to the other quite wonderful buildings around it. These include Michael
Graves’ Denver Public Library (a building that quite carefully was constructed
to incorporate its 50-year-old art deco predecessor) and the original museum. Built in
1971 and designed by Gio Ponti, I grew up loving its Logan’s Run-meets-King Arthur turrets, and as
I’ve gotten older have continued to appreciate its humor, and its decent
galleries. It’s held up great. I doubt the new building will. Hell, I’ve heard it already
leaks from snow melt it failed to factor in. Snow. In Denvercorner2.jpg

Much better was David Adjaye’s just opened effort on behalf
of the Denver Museum of Contemporary art. I’ll talk about that next time.

also by Titus OBrien

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3 responses to “Sorry, Denver. I still love you.”

  1. As a Denver native, I have to say I’m a little embarrassed about the building. But they didn’t do a very good job on the original either. It looked like the Bexar County jail.

    The new MCA building is much better and functional. We were there for the first time over Christmas and it got high marks from all of us. Bravo to Cydney.

    - Steve Peralta
    NeoAztlan.com

  2. it costs $18 to get in. i ended up going to the zoo, which made me want to cry, but at least i saw a sloth.

  3. I forgot to mention that. A real kick in the gonads, that one. I got in for ten bucks I think, with my teacher ID, but wife payed full price. Believe me, I could have gone on about other problems, too; to be fair there are some good pieces in there…but the bad ones are so bad, and the spaces so insane…ack, I just have to try to block it out…

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