Mature Audiences

The Artists of the Broadmoor Academy show the big picture of Colorado art history.

The Denver Art Museum is riding high on the success of the traveling Impressionism exhibition, which pushed overall attendance to record levels -- nearly 100,000 visitors in October alone -- and following its $62.5 million capital improvement bond, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters last week.

The money, which will be combined with a similar amount from private sources, will allow the construction of a freestanding wing across 13th Avenue. This wing will be connected (preferably by an underground tunnel) to the existing DAM, a 1971 masterpiece by Gio Ponti of Milan and Denver's own James Sudler. The new building is meant to alleviate crowding and improve the museum's ability to present road shows like Impressionism. It will also include expanded galleries for contemporary art and design as well as more classrooms, offices and storage space and will free up rooms in the existing museum so that the African and Oceanic collections -- currently languishing in storage -- can be displayed.

The fine quality of the DAM's glass-tile-clad tower sets a high architectural standard for the new, yet-to-be-designed building. According to museum director Lewis Sharp, the proposed edifice will be a "world-class building," and to fulfill this tall order, an international competition will be staged to select an architect.

"The Barrier," by John F. Carlson, painting.
"The Barrier," by John F. Carlson, painting.
"Hills and Houses," by Charles Bunnell, ink and watercolor.
"Hills and Houses," by Charles Bunnell, ink and watercolor.

The competition will be similar to the one held for the Denver Public Library, which stands on the opposite side of Acoma Plaza. This should come as no surprise, since the success of that contest, in which Michael Graves emerged as the winner, was substantially predicated on the unofficial role played by the DAM rather than the DPL's official efforts. The DAM's curator of architecture, design and graphics, Craig Miller, got on the horn and alerted his many friends and associates in the world of top-drawer architecture and urged them to enter the contest. That's why superstars like Graves applied for the job in the first place. No word on precisely who will vie to design the new DAM wing, but expect a who's who from around the world to get a consideration.

Having addressed the DAM's strengths, it is also time to address one of its weaknesses: the too-small collection of pieces related to the history of regional art, a field that the museum has embraced in only a halfhearted way. In recent years, though a modest attempt has been made to gather up old Colorado landscapes, this effort was more than offset by the wholesale dumping of local art that was a low point of the otherwise mostly sensible deaccessioning of 1995.

Nothing better illustrates the gap in the collection than the fact that Colorado's most important landscape picture, "Mount of the Holy Cross," done in 1890 by Thomas Moran, is not in the DAM's permanent collection, where it should be. Instead, it is next door at the DPL. Many paintings with local subjects wound up at the library in the 1940s and '50s, when they were worth only a few thousand dollars -- if a buyer could be found at all. The DAM snoozed at the time and can't catch up now, because many of these works are worth millions and are out of reach for the cash-poor museum.

But if these paintings are out of the question -- save for the possibility of a future bequest or donation -- there is still a lot of first-rate Colorado material available on the market for a tenth or less of the cost. This is particularly true for work by artists associated with the Broadmoor Academy and its successor, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center School. These institutions provided a focus for the visual arts in Colorado from the 1920s to the early 1950s. They attracted established artists from the East and Midwest and produced homegrown artists as well. It's a disgrace that the DAM has shown so little interest.

With the coming construction of the new wing, it's time for the DAM to make a real commitment to the region's art, and a good place to start is with the Broadmoor Academy artists.

How convenient for the DAM, then, and for the rest of us, that David Cook Fine Art is presenting a relevant exhibit, John F. Carlson and Artists of the Broadmoor Academy, which runs through the holidays.

The gallery, which is located right next to David Cook Fine American Art in the space formerly occupied by the CSK Gallery, is a relatively new endeavor for Cook, a longtime local dealer.

The expansion was made possible partly because Cook owns the valuable building, which he bought in 1990 (when prices were low) with Charles Callaway, a partner in the adjacent Oxford Hotel. The two subdivided the early-twentieth-century building; Cook got the two storefronts and the floors above and below, while Callaway got the back space for needed hotel ballrooms. "It's important for art dealers to own their real estate," says Cook. "Look at Santa Fe, where great galleries come and go because they don't own their real estate."

In 1994, after rehabbing the building, Cook moved his seventeen-year-old American Indian gallery in and rented the other space to CSK. Then, last year, Cook bought CSK out of its lease so that he could open his painting gallery. The time was right because collectors are "ready for the modernist paintings done in Colorado from the 1920s to the 1950s," Cook says, and amazingly, top-quality works are still available since they've been "underappreciated until recently."

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