New Hamilton Building - Denver Art Museum


of an Exhibition

by Erik Thogersen

Published on September 03, 2007

  • Description:

    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 children’s museum, at art museums I’ve 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 Gehry’s Bilbao and Disney hall, it’s a titanium clad crazy looking shape, but angular rather than curving. The building is compelling on its own, but better yet it’s 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, Libeskind’s 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 area’s devoted to modern African, Oceanic, and Western American art. Not being an art critic I won’t attempt a review of the art, though we found many pieces worth seeing.

    What really impressed me, from an exhibit designer’s perspective, were the visitor amenities the museum provided. It wasn’t 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 Ipod’s 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 gallery’s 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 wasn’t tempted to actually create a postcard.

    There was also an area where you could sit comfortably in front of a painting and browse FAQ’s 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 weren’t relegated to a kid’s gallery, but rather placed in the corner of the main galleries. I don’t know if the touch this, don’t 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 can’t 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.

Latest Comments (2)

More Chairs than any Art Museum ever!

by Paul Orselli - May 01, 2008

I just visited DAM during the ACM conference in Denver and was generally impressed. (Other than the beginning of my visit when the crabby guard wouldn’t let me in with my (not unusually large) laptop case. While he was detaining me (perhaps I fit some international art thief watch-list profile) at least three other visitors walked by with bags that could have easily held small children inside - so much for first impressions!)

Once inside it seems as if every gallery is filled with comfy seating and little interpretation zones and activities. the activities were welcoming if a little on the “Art Museums for Dummies” side. I saw visitors enjoying several of the Resource Areas, and children coloring and cutting out Egyptian Collars (with untethered scissors!)

Some of the “grand” architecture seemed to overwhelm the art (especially in the entry galleries) but overall seemed to coexist peacefully. There were more chairs in DAM (both for visitors and for display) than any art museum I’ve ever seen!

The impeccably polite waiter and tasty food in the Palettes Cafe more than made up for my brush with building security at the beginning of my visit!

Around Every Corner

by Sari Boren - May 05, 2008

I quickly visited this museum in January – just the contemporary art galleries. I loved how the architecture creates all these corners and nooks to explore. I felt it helps relieve museum fatigue. Typically, in an art museum a visitor enters a large rectangular room and sees a lot of the art all at once and then starts working his or her way around the perimeter of the room. To me, there is something exhausting about being aware of all there is left to see. I prefer seeing only a few pieces as I enter, and then turning the corner. Also, I found that I often approached the art from odd angles -from behind or from the side, which presented a new view.

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