Future Tense

Two new landmarks with Mile High ambitions are coming online downtown.

The thing that really bugs me about those who knock the Hamilton is the context of the city in which we all actually live. Within a few blocks of the incredible DAM structure are three high-rise residential buildings that individually and collectively lower the city's architectural average. I'm talking about the Belvedere, the Prado and the Beauvallon. Compared to these carbuncles, the Hamilton is the Parthenon. There -- I rest my case.

There's only one thing I don't like about the new Hamilton: The west elevation is blocked by a row of mediocre low-rise buildings. There was no money to acquire this row of buildings facing Bannock Street because Mayor Webb cut the building's budget to the bone while lavishing hundreds of millions on sports arenas and a convention center. I'll never forget Webb's cutting the DAM request from $63.5 million to $62.5 million, as if the difference between the two sums would have mattered in the bond election held in 1999. No, Webb had to show the DAM who was boss. He appointed his wife, Wilma, to the museum's architect-selection committee, and when the Hamilton opens, the couple will surely not only be sharing the glory, but taking as much credit as possible.


Rendering of the east side of Daniel Libeskind's 
Hamilton Building with Gio Ponti's North Building.
Rendering of the east side of Daniel Libeskind's Hamilton Building with Gio Ponti's North Building.

There's a lot going on outside the DAM in addition to the outlandish Hamilton taking shape. There's the pedestrian bridge crossing above West 13th Avenue, and the pop-top going up on the Bach wing next to the Ponti building. Inside the Ponti, however, it's a different story. (While we're on the subject of the Ponti, it's now officially known as the North Building. Is that a transparent move on the part of the museum's administration or what? Trust me, it won't be called the North Building for long with the naming rights now clearly up for grabs.) Because of the ongoing construction, the second floor of the Ponti has been closed and essentially emptied of artifacts. The seventh floor, devoted to art of the American West, has also been closed. Through the holidays, the third, fourth, fifth and sixth floors will remain open until a yet-to-be-announced date this coming spring, when those floors will close so that the art can be shifted around. That will leave only C-level and the main floor remaining open until work is finished.

During the downtime and right up to the opening of the Hamilton next fall, there will be one show on the main floor called Building Outside the Box: Creating the New Denver Art Museum, also known by its cutesy nickname of B.O.B. The smallish exhibit is on display on the first floor of the Ponti. If the Hamilton building itself is exciting, its explication and the apologia that's put forward in this show are decidedly not.

I'm a big fan of architecture, so this show should have been the kind of thing I'd really go for -- but it wasn't. In fact, not only is this not an art show at all, but it's not much of an architecture show, either. It's more like what you'd expect to find in an airport or a shopping mall: all flat-screen TVs and wall texts.

It looks as though this dog was organized by a committee coming out of the marketing or education departments, and not by a curator with some expertise in the field. Before I saw the show, I had great expectations for it, since Craig Miller, the head of the DAM's architecture, design and graphics department, does such a good job. I had thought he'd be the one put in charge, but that's clearly not what happened. The real shame is that by putting on this dumbed-down feature, it's very unlikely that a proper show will be done in the future.

I have to wonder what the powers-that-be at the DAM were thinking when they came up with this thing. If people are interested enough in the Hamilton that they want to delve into the details of its coming together, wouldn't they also be smart enough to take in a well-thought-out exhibit? Conversely, wouldn't they also have little patience for a featherweight offering like B.O.B.? I know I did.

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