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The Denver Art Museum reopens with expanded, reimagined and more inclusive offer

The Denver Art Museum’s seven-storey Ponti building in the background and its new circular welcome centre

The Denver Art Museum reopened at the weekend and unveiled its newly reimagined Ponti building, one of the first-ever high-rise art museums, and a new welcome centre.

Designed by Italian architect Gio Ponti in 1971, The Ponti Building has been completely renovated and reimagined and realises Ponti’s original vision of offering visitor access to stunning city and mountain views from the 7th floor.

It is part of an overall campus reunification and building renovation project designed by Machado Silvetti and Fentress Architects.

The regeneration means the museum will be able to tell more inclusive stories throughout its galleries including dedicated galleries to indigenous art and artists.

The $150 million renovation and expansion project was part funded by $25m gift from Board Chairman Lanny Martin and his wife, Sharon, which sees the original Ponti-designed building renamed the Lanny and Sharon Martin Building. And an additional capital gift of $12m from Anna and John J. Sie (also a board member of the museum) has seen the new visitor centre named after them. 

The redevelopment includes the addition of 33,328 square feet of new gallery and public space and the completed project has received LEED Silver certification.

The Western American Art galleries

“We are looking forward to being open for creativity, joy and wonder – welcoming our community into new, dynamic spaces this fall, to explore art, world cultures and their own creativity,” said Christoph Heinrich, Frederick and Jan Mayer Director of the DAM.

“For more than three years, the north side of our campus has been undergoing a bold transformation to improve the visitor experience while honoring and preserving the building’s history architecture. The events of the past year have reaffirmed the importance of art as a source of inspiration, healing and hope, and we look forward to showcasing the museum’s global collections through a new lens and providing new spaces for learning and engagement with the reopening of the full campus.”

Catalyst for cultural hub and urban regeneration

The museum’s new Sie Welcome Center, connects the Martin and Hamilton buildings, the latter of which opened in 2006, which the museum says was a catalyst for the redevelopment of the surrounding Golden Triangle Creative District.

Over the past decade, three adjacent museums have made their home in the neighborhood, creating a downtown cultural hub: the Clyfford Still Museum (2011); History Colorado Center (2012); and the relocated Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Arts (2018).

It says the new redevelopment of the museum will only add to the success of the Golden Triangle, which has continued to develop new residential and commercial properties as well as independent art galleries, restaurants and retail, “creating a bustling, walkable neighbourhood with arts and culture at its core”.

The new Sie Welcome Center is an elliptical glass event and programme space, visually connects the campus, creating improved spaces for ticketing and guest services, as well as two new dining options. The lower level houses a purpose-built art conservation and technical studies laboratory.

Inside the Martin Building, the new Bartlit Learning and Engagement Center accommodate engagement for all ages, including space for student and community exhibitions, outdoor terraces, school and group reception, adult and youth classes and artist interactions.

The new Bartlit Learning and Engagement Center

As part of the transformation of the Martin Building, the collection galleries have been updated and reconceived with a commitment to telling more inclusive stories, including bringing in more contemporary artist and community voices to provide increased societal and historical contexts.

One of the fundamental changes has seen level one of the Martin building, which was utilised as art storage for the past decade, transformed into a new 6,500-square-foot renovated gallery.

Conservation Lab for art conservation and technical studies

As part of the improvement works the entire museum campus will now feature bilingual art labels in English and Spanish. The newly designed facility also includes an expanded, purpose-built laboratory for art conservation and technical studies on the lower level of the Martin Building.

Collection galleries housed in the Martin Building include:

  • level 1 – Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Gallery will feature special exhibitions drawn primarily from the DAM’s collections
  • level 2 ­– new Design galleries and a reimagined Northwest Coast and Alaska Native gallery on
  • level 3 – reconceived Indigenous Arts of North America galleries;
  • level 4 – a new vision for Latin American Art and Art of the Ancient Americas galleries on
  • level 5 – newly installed Asian Art galleries
  • level 6 – European Art Before 1800, Textile Art and Fashion and Photography galleries on
  • level 7 – new and expanded Western American Art galleries, marking the first time that the DAM’s renowned Western collection has been presented in one space

Native and indigenous galleries

Northwest Coast and Alaska Native Gallery.

Featuring more than 2,700 square feet of reimagined, immersive gallery space, the revitalized Northwest Coast and Alaska Native Gallery presents works by Indigenous artists from the western coastal region of North America, stretching from Puget Sound to south eastern Alaska.

Continuing the DAM’s approach of highlighting individual artists, the gallery centres presentations and stories on artists, including new, commissioned works, while also tracing the ongoing continuum and traditions of Indigenous artists into the present day.

Visitors may explore several spaces that highlight the systems of community and place that ground the artists and their practice. Alaska Native groupings look at the ways artworks and artists honour the deep spiritual bonds between humans, the landscape and the animals that live there.

Indigenous Arts of North America Galleries

Indigenous Arts of North America Galleries

The DAM is home to a world-renowned and comprehensive collection of Indigenous Arts of North America. Works in the collection include objects created by artists from more than 250 Indigenous nations across what is now called the United States and Canada, and from artistic traditions within these cultures spanning the past 2,000 years.

The re-envisioned installation explores the inherited qualities of Indigenous artistic practice while also emphasizing the dynamism and innovation intrinsic both to the development of Indigenous contemporary art and to the perseverance of tribal cultures across time.

“With a series of thematic vignettes and regionally focused installations, the newly designed galleries put community and artist voices at the forefront, with reimagined interpretive materials and video testimonials speaking directly to Indigenous experiences.,” said the museum.

A dedicated gallery titled Home/Land honours three Indigenous communities who recognize Denver and the surrounding areas as their ancestral territories, including the Ute, Arapaho and Cheyenne.

Throughout the galleries, visitors will encounter a series of themes, including the exploration of identity, the reframing of history through indigenous eyes and the continuity of artistic creativity.

Dynamic videos that locate artworks in their historical contexts and illustrate their relevancy today are part of the interpretive experience. A central interactive space promotes visitor reflection, connection and engagement with artist practice and the broader themes represented in the galleries. Additionally, this gallery is home to the studio for the museum’s Native Arts artist in residence programme.

About the author – Adrian Murphy

Adrian is the Editor of MuseumNext and has 20 years’ experience as a journalist, half of which has been writing for the cultural sector.

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