Art Review

Art Beat

Last Thursday the atmosphere in Schlessman Hall, on the first floor of the Denver Art Museum, was positively electric. DAM trustees and staffers, community leaders, politicians, interested members of the community, reporters and photographers all gathered to hear Mayor Wellington Webb announce the name of the architect for the new freestanding museum wing to be constructed at West 13th Avenue and Acoma Street. The choice had been made earlier that day by the Webb-appointed City Selection Committee.

In his remarks, the mayor joked that when he was first elected nearly a decade ago, he knew a lot about "point guards" and "hundred-yard dashes," but his wife, Wilma, told him he needed to play catch-up on "art and culture." Truth be told, Webb's still got a long way to go, and last summer he actually scaled back the museum's bond request by $1 million, even though voters would have made little distinction between the final $62.5 million he insisted on and the $63.5 million that was originally requested. But, politics aside, at least the DAM's going to get a new wing, and -- even better -- the building is to be designed by rising international architecture star Daniel Libeskind.

Born in Poland, Libeskind is now an American, though he maintains his international architectural practice in Berlin -- a boomtown for new construction like his just-completed Jewish Museum. In a telephone press conference after the announcement, Libeskind said from his offices in the German capital that "it is a privilege to be working in Denver.

"Denver is one of the most stunning places in the whole world," he enthused. "It is a place to be. It's in the stunning openness of the skies, the breathless sky of Denver."

Throughout the interview, he repeatedly referred to the sky, which at times he used as a metaphor for the people of Denver. He also said he was keenly interested in the relationship between the new building and what he called its "sensitive historical place" across from the existing Gio Ponti-designed museum and the rest of the Civic Center.

Libeskind's local collaborators won't be announced until next month, and the foundation won't be dug for another eighteen months, but in just a few short years, the DAM will have two world-class buildings,one right across the street from the other.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia