The Denver Art Museum houses a wide-ranging collection, with strengths in Native American, pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial art. It also has drawn international attention for its 2006 avant-garde addition, the Frederick C. Hamilton building, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind.
The museum, which traces its history back to the Denver Artists’ Club in 1893, has more than 60,000 works of art, the largest and most comprehensive collections between Chicago and California.
The Native American collection, one of the best in the United States, has more than 19,000 pieces from more than 100 tribes that span more than 2,000 years. Notable works include the painting “Knows Her Medicine Crow Indian” by Kevin Red Star, the pottery statue “The Things I Have to Do to Maintain Myself” by Roxanne Swentzell, the basket “Plaque” by Annie Boone and a Two Grey Hills-style rug by Daisy Taugelchee.
More than 5,500 objects are in the pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial collections. Pre-Columbian pieces include large silver cups from ancient Peru, a ceramic figure of a seated chief from Colombia and a gold catfish pendant from Costa Rica, while Spanish Colonial works include a portrait of an Inca princess, a portrait of the Madonna and child from Peru and a folding screen from the 1700s covered by a painting of a garden party.
The nine other permanent collections are Western American, African, Asian, European and American, Modern and Contemporary, Oceanic and Textile art, plus photography and architecture, design and graphics. The museum also offers temporary exhibitions.
One of the museum’s most popular works, “Linda,” a life-size, hyper-realistic sculpture of a sleeping woman, is seldom visible to visitors. The piece, by Denver’s John DeAndrea, is made of polyvinyl that deteriorates over time and is sensitive by sunlight, so it is displayed only occasionally.
Noteworthy works include paintings “Waterloo Bridge” by Claude Monet, “Wind River Country” by Albert Bierstadt and “Two Figures by the Sea” by Winslow Homer; sculptures “The Cheyenne” by Frederic Remington and “Big Sweep” by Coosje van Bruggen and Claes Oldenburg; and the installation “Fox Games” by Sandy Skoglund.
A floor is devoted to the Berger Collection of British art, which is on loan to the museum, and the modern and contemporary collection includes the Herbert Bayer Collection
and Archive from the Bauhaus artist, who lived in Aspen for 28 years.
The museum’s entrance takes visitors into Libeskind’s four-story Hamilton Building, an architectural tribute to mountain peaks and rock crystals that employs titanium-clad panels in geometric shapes jutting out in sharp angles from the base. One triangular, cantilevered extension, known locally as “the prow,” reaches out over 13th Avenue.
The inside of the building also has sharp angles and geometric shapes, with walls that are triangular and trapezoidal. Some galleries soar two and three stories high for an open, airy feel. Curators were challenged but have effectively used the exhibition space.
Visitors take an enclosed bridge across 13th Avenue and into the seven-story North Building, designed by Italian architect Gio Ponti and completed in 1971. The two-towered, fortress-like structure has 24 sides clad with 1 million shimmering gray tiles.
The exhibition spaces in the older building are more traditional and the building has just a single elevator, so visitors are advised to start on the seventh floor and work down.
The museum is a leader in educational efforts, particularly for children. Every floor of the museum has an area set aside for kids to explore art or express their creativity.