It's a Go

Believe it or not, art actually looks good in the Hamilton Building.

The spatial volume in the Anschutz is even more flamboyant than that of the Martin & McCormick, with the ceiling rising nearly thirty feet at one end. The exhibit installed here is RADAR: Selections From the Collection of Vicki and Kent Logan. The many over-scaled pieces in this show fit the room wonderfully, but I can also see it being used for historical art, as long as the pieces are large enough.

The second level is also home to the Dietler Gallery of Western Art, located at the north end of the building. The Dietler houses some choice examples of the DAM's collection of Western painting and sculpture from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as a nice array of modern and contemporary pieces with Western themes. This marvelous assortment includes many artists from the region -- notably, those working here in Colorado and many others from nearby New Mexico. However, the spaces in the Dietler are odd and awkward, and having an aisle that leads to the Reiman Bridge, which connects the Hamilton to the rest of the DAM complex, only makes matters worse.

Most of the third and fourth levels are taken up by the expansive Bonfils-Stanton Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, with the Logan Atrium joining the two floors internally. The Bonfils-Stanton includes several separate galleries, such as the Chambers and Grant gallery on level three, where some of the important early-modernist pieces are displayed. Wedge-shaped boxes were mounted on the tilting walls here so that paintings can hang straight. Across the hall is where the museum's impressionist pieces are installed. This space really needs some tweaking because it's too bare. In it are some of the DAM's most valuable paintings, such as those two spectacular Monets, which together are worth as much as the building. But the way they've been hung hardly conveys their importance.

Radar, on display in the Anschutz Gallery on 
the second level of the Hamilton.
Radar, on display in the Anschutz Gallery on the second level of the Hamilton.

On both levels, curator Dianne Vanderlip shows off the DAM's collection of art of the past fifty years, most of it assembled during her long tenure. Regular visitors to the DAM will recognize many favorites that are on permanent view for the first time. On the fourth level is a small room right inside the entrance where a spectacular Gene Davis hangs from the ceiling in front of a wall that cants back away from it. In another side room that will be a part-time Close Range Gallery is a remarkable Betty Woodman ceramic installation called "Somewhere Between Naples and Denver."

In crazy spaces accessed off the Bonfils-Stanton are modest rooms housing small departments. On the third level is the Anderman Gallery of Oceanic Art, and on the fourth is the Yohannes African Gallery. The Oceanic room is gorgeous because of the high-quality pieces in the DAM's collection and the minimal exhibit design. The African, on the other hand, is overwhelmed by cabinetry that gives the space a claustrophobic feeling.

I'm sure that complaints about the building's inappropriateness as a repository for art will persist for years, if not forever. But since most exhibitions include a lot of emptiness between individual artworks, it shouldn't really be a concern if those vacant places are flat or three-dimensional. Sure, there are problems inside the Hamilton, but none of them are fatal -- and anyway, these shortcomings hardly matter given that stunning exterior.

I've been lucky enough to have had a front-row seat for this whole process, beginning with 1999's campaign to convince voters to pass a bond to pay for a DAM addition. I was there when an architect selection committee was announced. I gasped when it was revealed that Libeskind had won the contest. Then there was the groundbreaking ceremony and the announcement that the building would be called the Hamilton. Three years of construction, and now the completion of this fabulous new Denver landmark.

Being an art critic doesn't have many perks -- unless you really, really like wine and cheese. But having the opportunity to be in the room when every milestone of the Hamilton was announced has been a major fringe benefit of this job.

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help