Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Field Report: The Denver Art Museum

So Mrs.5000 and I found ourselves with a few spare hours in downtown Denver and drifted towards the art museum. It has recently had a major new addition designed in the highly tasteful "Materials Science Allows Us to Cobble Together Any Damn Thing We Want to Now" Style, yielding a building that is kind of Imperial Star Destroyer on the outside....

...and features a vast, asymetrical, pointless atrium within. The galleries and public areas are fine, though, except for the cramped, underlit, and glacier-slow ticket area. Seriously, you might want to bring something to read while you wait in line for your ticket. In a big friendly Colorado-style "Welcome to Denver," non-residents pay extra.

The Denver Art Museum permanent collection has two main foci. One is regional art of the American West, which makes excellent sense. Denver is the biggest cow town in the world, and it makes sense for its art museum to house the premium collection of cowboy art. I can dig it. But, you know, Zzzzzz.* It also has an apparently important of Native American art. Again, admirable and appropriate, but not exactly my cup of Night Train.**

Instead, I headed up into the upper reaches of the star destroyer to find out what the Centennial State has to offer in the way of mainstream art history. And although it's not exactly the Rijksmuseum, it's got some reeeeal purty paintings in the collection. It was awesome, for instance, to see one of the Arcimboldo Summers.

Surprised? I was. But apparently Arcimboldo made a BUNCH of versions, so it's not like this is the only Summer around.

In the early American department, here's Benjamin West's Mrs. Benjamin West and Son Raphael from about ten years before the Revolution.

I think you can see here that it is a lovely painting; in person there is a gentleness and a softness to it that is really quite captivating. If you'll forgive me talking like this.

I don't think I had ever seen a Mondrian original before. It was cool:

...and some of you may be able to guess what will happen now that I have seen it.***

The more contemporary "Modern" collection was firmly focused on pieces from, and issues of, the 1980s, which are at the period of the aging process where they look more "dated" than "vintage." Of the newer contemporary stuff, my runaway favorite was "Fatherhood" by somebody named Wes Hempel. Couldn't find a great image of it, unfortunately:

Finally, in the category of I Don't Usually Go For This Kind of Thing, But Here's an Exception, it's William-Adolphe Bouguereau's 1900 Childhood Idyll. It's sentimental and verging on the frou-frou, but the personalities of the two girls are captured so vividly, and the color balance and composition work so well, that it totally busted out of the limitations of its genre.

So! Denver Art Museum! Denver, Colorado! Not bad!

* Unless you are sister jen, in which case please pretend you didn't see this sentence.

** There was also a special exhibit**** on Psychodelia in the 1960s, which we skipped but apparently nichim checked out. Maybe she'll give us a quick review if we all look encouraging and make no sudden movements.

*** Here's a hint.

**** Also, there was a pretty cool exhibit of vintage quilts, which totally WAS my cup of Night Train, but I don't want this post to go on forever.


sister jen said...

Whoa--cowboys in that building . . . hard to picture! (Neither pun in that sentence was intentional--but I'm too tired to fix them.)

So who ever knew that I would have a compelling reason to visit the Denver Art Museum, an institution I'd never thought of before now? If for no other reason than to reward them for this phrase (from their website): "the single most influential image in Rocky Mountain iconography." Love that.

I wonder what my architect thinks of that building?

mrs.5000 said...

Your architect is sympathetic to the museum-as-sculpture impulse, though often (as in this case) a little cool to what it produces. I'm also a little afraid of heights, so the dizzying upper reaches of the atrium made me feel kind of peeved and alienated--unable to relish the big spatial payoff for all that fundraising.

Hope you're not disappointed with the general lack of sharp shiny pointy bits on your own addition--we could still do a visitors' annex in the front yard if you want to generate more traffic.

sister jen said...

I'm not sure more traffic could be generated than already is by having my proud and gregarious builder/ contractor living next door--tours R us around here.

Re: disappointment with general lack of sharp shiny pointy bits in my remodel: Oh, no. No, no, no.

Jenners said...

Loving the Arcimebaldo (too lazy to scroll up and double-check spelling ... I'm sure you know what I mean).

Fatherhood is pretty good too!