Denver Art Museum’s Highly Anticipated Renovation Centers Speak to Indigenous Voices Smart Messages – 71Bait

The newly renovated campus of the Denver Art Museum with the 50,000 square foot Sie Welcome Center in the foreground
James Florio Photography / Denver Art Museum

Fifty years after the Denver Art Museum (DAM) opened, the high-rise Lanny & Sharon Martin Building looks more or less as it did in 1971: a modernist, castle-like facade with thin, asymmetrical windows and semi-circular carvings from its roof.

Inside, however, a recently completed $150 million renovation has transformed each of the Colorado Museum’s seven floors. According to a statement, workers renovated the building from top to bottom, adding a roof space, a conservation center and an additional elevator shaft to support the crowds pouring into the fast-growing state capital. (As reported by Hilarie M. Sheets for the art newspaper, The number of visitors to DAM has more than doubled over the past ten years to around 900,000 visitors per year.)

All in all, writes Jennifer Castor for Rocky Mountain PBS, the project added more than 30,000 square feet of exhibition space to the Martin Building, formerly known as the North Building. Italian architect Gio Ponti designed the original structure along with Denver-based architects James Sudler and Joal Cronenwett.

The museum’s campus also features a new 50,000-square-foot event space surrounded by 25-foot-tall curved glass panels. Dubbed the Sie Welcome Center, the circular structure connects the Martin Building to another architectural gem on the DAM campus: the Frederic C. Hamilton Building, a silver, spaceship-like structure with a pointed “bow” that looms precariously over 13th Avenue appears to be floating in Denver.

An interior view of the newly installed Indigenous Arts of North American exhibit

View of the new North American Indigenous Art Galleries at the Denver Art Museum

James Florio Photography / Denver Art Museum

Staffers have spent the past four years redesigning the museum’s galleries and educational spaces, reports Mekialaya White for CBS4. Curators intentionally filled all galleries with art by modern and contemporary artists. According to Joanne Ostrow of the colorado sun, Around 20 percent of the contemporary works on display were previously in depots.

The expansion allows the museum to see more of its encyclopedic holdings (around 70,000 works of art in 12 collections). The DAM’s collection of Latin American art, for example, is now located on the fourth floor of the Martin building. Highlights include a portrait of a woman with a pearl earring painted by Luis García Hevia in colonial Colombia around 1850, and The River Mother (1952), an abstract swirl of misty gray and bright pink by Chilean painter Roberto Sebastián Antonio Matta Echaurren.

On a floor dedicated to Western American art, museum visitors can explore the diverse ways in which artists have rendered the vast American West, from Theodore Waddell’s abstract depictions of bison to Albert Bierstadt’s 19th-century idyllic vistas to Ethel Magafan’s Abstract Expressionism spring in the mountains (1961). Visitors can then step outside onto one of two newly constructed rooftop decks that offer expansive views of the Rocky Mountains themselves.

An interview view of the new gallery Indigenous Arts of North American

Roxanne Swentzells Mud Woman keeps rolling welcomes visitors as they enter the galleries of North America’s indigenous arts at the Denver Art Museum, reopened to the public after a $150 million renovation.

James Florio Photography / Denver Art Museum

“This is something fresh, something new,” artist Adrian H. Molina, who was involved in the redesign process, tells CBS4. The New Galleries[transport] You in an authentic space that allows you to connect with the art, to transport yourself to the place and time in which the art was created,” he adds.

Of particular note is the North American Indigenous Arts section on the third floor. It said it has a “Home/Land” gallery featuring works by artists from the local Arapaho, Cheyenne and Ute tribes. The exhibit confirms that the museum is located on the land of these indigenous peoples.

Standout artworks on the third floor include the huge one by Roxanne Swentzell Mud Woman keeps rolling, a site-specific sculpture commissioned by DAM. In the work, a series of larger than life seated figures hug each other, arranged from largest to smallest like Russian nesting dolls.

“The mother holds the tallest child, who holds the next child, who holds the next, and so on,” Swentzell writes in an artist statement. “I love the perspective of understanding that we are all from Earth, generation after generation; an endless family of life passing on the seed.”

At Rose Simpson’s warrior (2012) is a reddish clay standing figure adorned with strings, markings, photographs of faces, and other symbolic “tools” that the artist uses to protect herself. The Scream (2017) by the Canadian Cree artist Kent Monkman, meanwhile, reckons with the often violent treatment of indigenous children by the Catholic Church, many of whom were forcibly separated from their families and deported to boarding schools.

A reddish clay body strung with strings, necklaces, photographs of faces and other ephemera

pink simpson, Warrior, 2012

© Rose B. Simpson / Denver Museum of Art

Because the themes in some of these works have the potential to trigger traumatic reactions in viewers, the museum has created a “calming space” for visitors to calm and reflect, reports Ray Mark Rinaldi for the New York Times. The reflection room is decorated with excerpts from the poems of US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, notes Daliah Singer for 5280.

In all galleries, viewers can watch short videos featuring contemporary Indigenous artists and read label texts written by the artists themselves.

“We can put our visitors in direct contact with artists and hear the artists’ first-hand accounts of what they are trying to convey through their art,” says curator John Lukavic 5280.

In this way, Lukavic adds, “the suspended gallery includes indigenous voices. It centers indigenous perspectives on social justice issues.”

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