At the DAM (the Denver Art Museum)

(Last Updated On: April 6, 2020)

The Denver Art Museum is housed in a set of iconic buildings. It’s a museum I’ve long wanted to see – at least from the outside.

The original 1971 fortress-like North Building is not my favorite. Designed by Italian architect Gio Ponti and Denver-based James Sudler, the seven-story structure allowed the museum to display all of its collections under one roof for a while, which is a good thing, but it’s an unwelcoming building.

When I think “art” and “Denver,” I’m thinking of the soaring angles of the 2006 Hamilton Building. Designed by Daniel Libeskind to recall the peaks of the Rocky Mountains and the geometric rock crystals found in the foothills near Denver, the building is clad in  9,000 titanium tiles to reflect the Colorado sunshine.

It’s a fun building, with some fun art.(And we haven’t even gone inside yet!)

It’s an enticing building inside too, bright and open with plenty of dramatic space.

I am able to visit for free as part of my TBEX registration. (This conference is paying off in ways I never expected when I registered!) Best of all, that includes passes to see the special Yves Saint Laurent Retrospective. Woohoo!

We start our visit with the Saint Laurent show. Now, I’m not much of a fashionista, but I appreciate a well-made garment. The show features two-hundred well-made garments, plus drawings and videos and that span Saint Laurent’s long career.

For those of you who really don’t care about fashion – even as it impacts politics, culture, and social change – I’ve created a separate post to rave about this beautiful and intelligent show. That leaves you free to check out the fashions or continue along here with the rest of the museum.

So, on to the rest of the museum.

The multi-building composition makes moving through the collections a bit confusing (don’t forget to grab a map at the front desk). It appears that the bulk of the collection is in the North Building, which, despite its rather forbidding appearance, has bright, well-designed galleries. What it lacks is a clear path linking galleries or a way to move between floors without using the elevator. I know there are stairs, I just can’t find them.

We start with the Western American collection, because it is right there and because there is this cool red scrap metal horse by Deborah Butterfield.

Doesn’t everyone need a brightly colored scrap metal horse? I know I’d like one!

Closer examination of this section leads us to a beautiful visual essay, American Grasslands by Karen Kitchel.

There is also the temporary exhibit, Abstract Angus, by Theodore Waddell. It’s so intriguing that I miss the “no photography” sign and get yelled at by a guard for trying to take a picture. Opps, sorry.

But this really is a wonderful little show, with images that aren’t so much Abstract as Impressionistic, what Monet would have created had he lived on a ranch in Montana!

Theodore Waddell, Alder Angus #2, 1991. Oil on canvas. Collection of the artist.

Theodore Waddell, Monida Angus #15, 2012. Oil on canvas. Collection of the artis

It’s time to find some American Indian art, since that is a true love of ours.

We start with the Northwest Coast exhibit, which includes beautiful pieces displayed well, but without any information on the art or its context.


The Arctic display is worse. While it includes some fine pieces, this section feels like an afterthought. Furthermore, the limited information provided not only lacks context and depth, but includes basic factual errors. (Really, is it that hard to identify an etching? I think not.) It’s depressing and we are embarrassed for the museum. The art deserves better than this.

We flee, heading through decorative arts (including some nice displays and some so sterile they make me long for the friendly chaos of the Kirkland.

We dodge a large, loud school group and find ourselves in a quiet corner filled with pure white ceramic vials, beakers, funnels, and other scientific lab vessels – like I remember from chemistry class, only more perfect and beautiful.

This is the work of the Coors Porcelain Company. The company, still in business under the name CoorsTek, specializes in creating ceramics for use in science. Perfect meetings of form and function, the pieces are simple, elegant, and beautiful.

We wander on, passing through a number of galleries and stopping to take in various views of the city from assorted windows and patios. (The museum provides regular visual connections to the surrounding city, I just wish more of the patios were open because there are some beautiful outdoor spaces built into the structure of both buildings.)

Without really looking for it, we end up in a textile exhibit. Now, I like almost any kind of textile, but these are amazing!

For example, there is this view of Chimney Rock by Carol Shinn.

You recognize that as machine embroidery, don’t you? Good job! I thought it was a photo. Amazing.

Then there is Face Maze: Tera  by Lia Cook who blends weaving with photographic images. From a distance the image is clearly visible, but gradually dissolves into a woven maze as the viewer moves closer.

And there’s more.

We make a brief run through some of the Middle Eastern and Asian sections, but so many more wonderful things beckon.

Some other day.

The Denver Art Museum’s hours and current exhibition schedule are on the web. Be warned, however, that (at least with my browser) the type is microscopic and, even if you can read it, the site seems not particularly user-friendly.

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