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Inside the $ 175 million Denver Art Museum makeover, which opens this month


In the brightly lit lobby of the Sie Welcome Center at the Denver Art Museum last week, Christoph Heinrich worried about a speech to donors.

“It’s already going on for half an hour,” said the museum director of his speech on Wednesday, October 13, which announces $ 175 million in improvements and additions to the institution. “It’s really a complete overhaul and redefinition of the museum, so it’s hard to fit in all the details.”

As Heinrich, 61, stood in the lobby, employees rushed to carry ladders, wires and paint buckets, a reminder that there was still work to be done. But it was only a detail job: the ambitious project – which added the Sie Visitor Center and 35,000 square feet to the museum’s iconic 50-year-old North Building – had finally been completed.

Now called the Lanny and Sharon Martin Building, the gray-tiled tower was designed by Italian architect Gio Ponti and inaugurated in 1971. It was to undergo a major overhaul and preservation, said Heinrich , and received one, thanks to the bond approved by the voters of Denver. in 2017, which covered $ 35.5 million in infrastructure upgrades – and kicked off fundraising for the larger project.

The public will be able to explore the renovated Martin Building, as well as the 50,000 square foot Sie Visitor Center, during the free reopening festivities of the Denver Art Museum on October 24.

The renovation essentially doubled the space of the museum’s public gallery, reintroducing visitors to its famous indigenous collections of North America, Asia-Pacific, Western art and Latin America while highlighting the textiles, contemporary design, photography and more.

The Sie, in particular, invites a reassessment. It shifts the visual balance of the complex from two main buildings to its own spaceship-like facade of floor-to-ceiling windows. The airy public space also includes classrooms and play areas for the tens of thousands of students who visit each year; a restaurant run by James Beard Award winner Jennifer Jasinski; A coffee; and a ballroom for rent.

The exterior of the new Sie Visitor Center at the Denver Art Museum on October 7, 2021, with the ship-shaped Hamilton Building intruding in the upper left corner. (Photo by Rebecca Slezak / The Denver Post)

Just south of the new and renovated spaces at 1400 W. 14th Parkway is the other half of the art museum complex: the Hamilton Building by architect Daniel Libeskind, which was completed in 2006 and reopened several months ago. ‘last year.

Now, after three years of work and the pandemic delays of last year, the public face of the museum is ready. It’s a milestone for Denver’s art scene, but it’s not the only one. Major anniversaries this year for the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver (at 25) and the Clyfford Still Museum (10) join the reopening of the Kirkland Museum in Denver after extensive water damage in February (authorities saved the majority Works).

“What’s exciting about the reopening is that it shows how this city has invested in art as an economic engine and as something that unites our communities,” said Joyce Tsai, Director of the Clyfford Still Museum, next door to the Denver Art Museum. in the creative district of the Golden Triangle. “Faced with the pandemic, the cultural sector has become more focused on sharing successes than on competition. “

This is important, because a full-fledged Denver art museum has the potential to slow down pedestrian traffic in the Golden Triangle. Over the past 18 months, the region has been besieged by the same protests, homeless camps and vandalism that have largely left the halls of the city center.

“I’m excited about the reopening,” wrote Jennifer Larsen, Golden Triangle resident and assistant in her Creative District, via email. “Our museums and galleries bring people into the neighborhood (who) often stay for a meal or a drink, or to explore other offerings.”

Inside the $ 175 million Denver Art Museum makeover, which opens this month
Original works by famed Denver-born painter Jordan Casteel are installed behind a protective barrier at the Sie Welcome Center on October 7, 2021. (Photo by Rebecca Slezak / The Denver Post)

The Denver Art Museum, one of the metro area’s top cultural attractions, has averaged about 800,000 visitors a year in recent years, according to Heinrich. When he started his work in 2010, the museum welcomed around 100,000 annual visitors. Growth is good, but it has problems, Heinrich said.

“The city is changing and becoming more and more dense and gentrified,” he said, looking at a closed Civic Center park from the roof of the Martin Building. “But more people can mean more support for the arts.”

This was confirmed by the museum’s fundraising campaign for the past three years, which has been supported by a pair of surprise donations of $ 25 million – one from Martins, the other from an anonymous benefactor. This helped fund an energy-efficient makeover, which allowed workers to remove materials up to the original walls of the Martin Building. They filled mezzanine spaces with wooden floors and added newly constructed rooms to the roof of the seven-story building.

Inside the $ 175 million Denver Art Museum makeover, which opens this month
The Northwest Native Exhibit at the Lanny and Sharon Martin Building in Denver on October 7, 2021. (Photo by Rebecca Slezak / The Denver Post)

The retooling is also a restoration of some of Ponti’s original design elements, with patterns that tilt or conform to his cut-out geometric silhouettes. A stately but accessible design has lowered some objects to touching distance in the eclectic galleries, their walls splashed with vibrant reds and cool greens.

“I’m not sure I would have wanted to do this if I had known it was going to cost $ 175 million,” Heinrich said with a laugh as he stood next to a 22-foot-tall Haida totem pole. top, dated 1870. “It’s good that we didn’t know that at the time.

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