New Hamilton Building - Denver Art Museum
of an Exhibition
Published on September 03, 2007
While on vacation in Denver Colorado, I spent a morning at the new Hamilton Building of the Denver Art Museum with my wife and two year old daughter. Fully enjoying an art museum with a two year old can be a challenge. While we generally have a great time in a science or childrens museum, at art museums Ive often found myself highly distracted by the vigilance needed to keep my daughter from touching the art or shrieking in the restrained atmosphere.
The Denver Art Museum was a pleasant surprise. It proved a great experience for all of us. The new building, which opened in 2006, is a dramatic architectural statement by Daniel Libeskind. Like Frank Gehrys Bilbao and Disney hall, its a titanium clad crazy looking shape, but angular rather than curving. The building is compelling on its own, but better yet its part of a complex that includes new museum condominiums, also by Libeskind, a new and stylish library across the street, and the old art museum building, which we literally mistook for the Denver jail, before realizing that it was the art museum.
Inside, Libeskinds building is all white and all angular. There are lots of nooks and crannies and galleries of odd shapes and sizes. I imagine this posed a challenge to the curators, but they did a good job of choosing pieces that seemed to be the right size for their spots. Pieces are mounted to the often sloped walls with brawny brackets. Cain detection wood pieces are frequently mounted to the floor to keep visitors from bashing their heads on the hard wall corners.
The museum has a decent collection of modern art with special areas devoted to modern African, Oceanic, and Western American art. Not being an art critic I wont attempt a review of the art, though we found many pieces worth seeing.
What really impressed me, from an exhibit designers perspective, were the visitor amenities the museum provided. It wasnt just the typical corner with a computer, an art book to look at or a talk back board. They had interesting stuff going on everywhere, and as a visitor with a two year old, it really made a difference.
In the African gallery there was a set of chairs each with an Ipod mounted to each arm. You could sample a large selection of music related to the art or the culture it came from. Unfortunately, 2 of the 5 Ipods were broken, so maybe a flash player and a few happ buttons would be simpler and more robust. In the same gallery, they had a small nook, just three feet high. It was padded and had a lit African mask at the back and a touch screen that played a video related to the mask and aimed at kids. My daughter sat in there for 10 minutes while I enjoyed the rest of the gallery. She had an experience in the same vain as the gallerys main content, and I got 10 minutes to myself.
Near the Western American Art gallery, they had a lounge that worked for all of us. There were beanbags, couches and blue cloud chairs. On the floor a video art piece kept my daughter busy. Bubbles floated about and when she jumped on them, they popped. On the wall there was a slide show of art from the galleries, each piece followed by an image of its location in the museum. I could rest and consider my next move while my daughter played, and recharged her attention span, allowing a little more straight up museum time when we moved on.
In another area they had a postcard station where you could use a set of stamps to create your own postcard, and then a stamp machine and mailbox to send it. This seemed like a nice participatory activity, and free advertising for the museum, though I wasnt tempted to actually create a postcard.
There was also an area where you could sit comfortably in front of a painting and browse FAQs for the painting submitted by visitors.
All the chairs I tried were padded and comfortable, with backs.
And there were a couple of make your own sculpture interactives aimed at kids that werent relegated to a kids gallery, but rather placed in the corner of the main galleries. I dont know if the touch this, dont touch that message has caused problems.
A final note, the museum allows photography, which not only aided this review, but contributed to the generally laid back and welcoming atmosphere of the museum.
I cant say anything statistical about their average visitors, but I was impressed by the museum. I enjoyed their art collection, not just because I enjoyed their art, but also because museum staff had taken the trouble to make all the members of my family comfortable.