Art Review


Ocean Journey is scheduled to close next week, and I, for one, am sorry to see it happen. It's not that I'm an aquarium enthusiast, it's just that the building is so darned good. In fact, it is unquestionably one of the finest things to have been built around here in the last decade.

From an aesthetic standpoint, everything about the place is first-rate. Completed in 1999, Ocean Journey is housed in an elegant structure, with works of art that were specially conceived for it displayed inside and out. The building is made of brick laid in fancy patterns and accented by undulating-glass-curtain walls that form a grand porch overlooking the Platte River. This elaborate and expensive structure was designed by a firm dubbed Odyssea -- a temporary partnership between the architectural firms of Anderson Mason Dale and RNL -- that was specifically created for the purpose. The high quality of the building is to be expected, considering that the chief designer was Ron Mason, one of Denver's most notable architects. His latest triumph is the sleek Alfred A. Arraj Federal Courthouse nearing completion on 19th Street downtown.

Some may recall the sequence of Ocean Journey's construction: A central core was created from the assembled steel tanks that are perched high up on pylons. This core was then surrounded by the brick walls and the roof, and finally by the undulating-glass-curtain walls. If the tanks are removed, the building will be substantially damaged as a result, and the entire structural system will need to be rethought and reconfigured. It sounds ridiculously expensive to me. Thus, once the aquarium closes, the building is in imminent danger of demolition, because it's really unusable as anything else.

Unless a miracle happens -- or a sponsor appears -- Ocean Journey seems destined to become the most expensive, beautiful and short-lived folly the Mile High City has ever seen.

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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