Denver's art world is booming, and thanks to the city's walkability, visitors can experience some of the best artsy attractions on foot in a single day for less than $50. Take a day off and discover Denver art.
FIRST STOP: CUTTING EDGE ART IN A CUTTING EDGE BUILDING
MCA DENVER (MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART DENVER)
This gem of a museum proves that contemporary art can be thought provoking and fun all at once.
MCA Denver's modern and elegant LEED-certified building (designed by renowned London architect David Adjaye) stands out amidst refurbished turn-of-the-century brick warehouses, and is easily recognizable thanks to the whimsical pierced heart sculpture (Toxic Schizophrenia by British artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster) that stands at the entrance atop a tall steel pole.
Once inside, note the uniquely warm natural lighting; more than 50 percent of the building's exterior wall area is a double skin façade, with insulating tinted curtain walls and an interior of Monopan©, a translucent, honeycomb patterned material that allows natural light in without glare.
MCA Denver features five galleries: Photography, Paper Works, Large Works, New Media, and Projects, each with rotating exhibits - guaranteeing that every visit to the museum offers a new experience. Make your way through the inviting stillness, taking time to linger if a piece catches your eye.
Afterwards, spend a little time relaxing on MCA Denver's rooftop deck, a hidden jewel boasting 360-degree views of the Denver skyline. The Garden, created by local landscape architect Karla Dakin, features several steel-framed plant and flower beds suspended in space, floating above a pool of water. The MCA Café on the rooftop offers beverages, organic and locally grown food and free WiFi.
Before heading to the next Denver art destination, stop in at Shop MCA, selling books, DVDs, clothing, and limited edition works of art - it's a perfect spot for an offbeat gift for the art lover in your family.
TIME SPENT: 1.5 hours
SECOND STOP: OVERSIZED DOWNTOWN DENVER ICONS
THE DANCERS AT DCPA
Between the theaters of the Denver Performing Arts Complex, Speer Blvd. & Cherry Creek
Next, Head to 16th Street and hop on one of the free shuttles that glide up and down the I.M. Pei-designed pedestrian mall. After about five minutes, during which you'll ride past the Daniels & Fisher Clock Tower, Skyline Park and the Rock Bottom Brewery, get off at the Stout St. stop. From there, head west on Stout past the Colorado Convention Center and the Denver Performing Art Complex (DPAC). You'll come across a wide green expanse, highlighted by one of Denver's most striking pieces of public art - The Dancers by Jonathan Borofsky. These gleaming, 50-foot-high white humanoid figures cavort just a stone's throw from DPAC, the nation's largest performing arts complex, symbolizing Denver's love of dance, theatre and music. And speaking of music, if this sculpture gets you in the mood for some dancing of your own, music piped in through speakers in the park provide buoyant accompaniment.
I SEE WHAT YOU MEAN (AKA "DENVER'S BLUE BEAR") BY LAWRENCE ARGENT
There's another can't-miss oversized piece of public art on your schedule. Head back down Stout Street, turn right at 14th and walk toward the Colorado Convention Center. The Blue Bear will be right in front of you. Created by Denver-based artist Lawrence Argent, this delightful 40-foot sculpture, surrounded by xeriscaped gardens, peers curiously into the building, injecting a sense of fun and playfulness into the Convention Center experience. Take a photo or two of this Only-In Denver icon - he looks good from all angles.
TIME SPENT: 45 minutes
THIRD STOP: COWBOY CULTURE
WESTERN ART IN CIVIC CENTER PARK
Head back to the 16th St. Mall and catch a free shuttle. The shuttle will come to its final stop right near Colfax Avenue. Cross Colfax and enter Civic Center Park, a two-block oasis filled with flower gardens and Old West art, located a stone's throw from Colorado's gold-domed Capitol Building. Check out Allen True's murals, located in the park's Greek Theatre, depicting pioneers in the wilderness, and the two Western-themed bronze statues, Bronco Buster and On the War Trail (pictured above), by Denverite Alexander Phimister Proctor. Not exactly western-themed, but certainly worth a look is the delightfully eye-catching sculpture outside of the Denver Public Library. The Yearling by Donald Lipski, features a pinto pony perched atop a 21-foot-tall red chair, sure to give even the most jaded among us a sense of childlike wonder.
TIME SPENT: .5 hours
FOURTH STOP: THE BIG ONE
DENVER ART MUSEUM
Just past the Denver Public Library looms the Denver Art Museum's stunning Hamilton Building, designed by Daniel Libeskind and completed in 2006. The building may be new, but it's rapidly become an art world icon, thanks to its bold, jagged angles and metallic exterior. Libeskind's design was inspired by the nearby Rocky Mountains and is clad in titanium and glass - during daylight hours, the building positively shimmers. Take some time to walk the perimeter of the Hamilton Building - it's worth seeing from every possible angle. Near the entrance of the Hamilton Building are several pieces of giant-sized artworks, including the monumental sculptures Big Sweep (a 30-foot-tall broom and dustpan) by Coosje van Bruggen and Claes Oldenburg and Denver Monoliths by Beverly Pepper. The similarly huge Scottish Angus Cow and Calf by Dan Ostermiller is located just south of the Hamilton Building.
It would be tough to take in everything the DAM has to offer in just a few hours - plan ahead by exploring the museum's comprehensive Web site, picking and choosing from the extensive collections. Fans of Western American art should head straight to Level 2 of the Hamilton Building, which houses one of the largest collections of American West-themed art in the world, including work by masters such as Frederic Remington, Charles M. Russell, John Mix Stanley, and others. The crown jewel in the institute's collection is Charles Deas's Long Jakes, Rocky Mountain Man, the single most influential image in Rocky Mountain iconography. Time-trip even further back in the pre-Columbian art collection on the North Building's fourth floor featuring pieces from nearly every major culture in Mesoamerica, Central America, and South America. Or explore the DAM's extensive selection of Native American art.
Those looking for art of a more recent vintage should head to the Hamilton Building's third and fourth levels, where DAM's modern and contemporary art collection lives. Marvel at more than 4,500 works in a wide variety of media, with an emphasis on both internationally known and emerging artists. A recent installation here is particularly striking: Sandy Skoglund's Fox Gamesdepicts an invasion of foxes, sculpted in clay and cast in polyester resin, within a restaurant. The foxes prowl on and around red tables in an entirely red room. It's humorous and eerie all at once.
No matter where your journeys in DAM take you one thing's for sure - the minute you leave, you'll be planning your next visit.
TIME SPENT: 2-3 hours
FIFTH STOP: ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM AT ITS FINEST
THE CLYFFORD STILL MUSEUM
Clyfford Still is considered one of the most important American artists of the 20th century and an originator of the Abstract Expressionism movement. With more than 2,500 artworks in the collection, the Clyfford Still Museum is the home to the life's work of this visionary artist. Located in a beautiful new building next to the Denver Art Museum, the Still Museum lets you experience these magical works the way the artist intended.
TIME SPENT: 1 hour
SIXTH STOP: "DENVER'S MOST INTERESTING MUSEUM?" - THE DENVER POST
KIRKLAND MUSEUM OF FINE & DECORATIVE ART
After exiting DAM, we'd normally recommend the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art as the final stop on the tour. But unfortunately this magnificent museum is temporarily closed. The Kirkland Museum is building a new 38,500-square-foot facility and relocating to 12th Avenue and Bannock Street. It's set to open in mid-2017. Check the museum's website for updates.
In the meantime, here's a little history. On the corner of 13th and Pearl is the former studio of one of Denver's important painters, abstract expressionist Vance Kirkland (1904-1981). Kirkland lived and painted in the city for more than 50 years, creating a world-renowned body of work, and in the process becoming a bona fide Mile High City icon. The old museum was famous for its cool mid-century modernist furnishings. It devoted space to Colorado artists from the 20th century and featured Kirkland's own distinctive and colorful pieces, including work from all phases of his career. The new museum will be even bigger and more amazing than the old one.