The new Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art will officially debut on Saturday, March 10. But it's already a Mile High landmark, one of the most significant works of architecture constructed in Denver so far this century.
A little more than a decade after the original Kirkland Museum opened on Capitol Hill, founder Hugh Grant decided that the facility was too small and its location too far from the cluster of museums just south of the Civic Center. So a few years ago, land was purchased on Bannock Street and West Twelfth Avenue, just a half-block from the Denver Art Museum’s Hamilton Building and across Bannock from the Clyfford Still Museum, and the museum started building.
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The new Kirkland Museum is much larger than the old one and sparkles like a jewel. The main pavilion is clad in ceramic and glass baguettes done in a range of yellow and gold shades, lending the entire composition a sense of luxuriousness. That visual richness is enhanced by the abstract sculptures on the Bannock Street lawn, tinted glass fins that mark the main entry near the intersection with West 12th Avenue, and the essentially symmetrical composition of the building’s volumes. The architect is Olson Kundig from Seattle, with Jim Olson serving as the designer and Kirsten Murray as the project manager. In addition to the new building, the museum includes the historic Vance Kirkland Studio building, which was moved from its old location on Pearl Street to a site immediately north of the new structure.
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I’ve known Grant for many years, and last week he gave me a sneak peek at the new place. The Kirkland specializes in three categories of material: work by Kirkland, arguably Colorado's greatest twentieth-century artist; work by other Colorado artists; and international design, decoration and craft. The old location was insanely crowded with jam-packed showcases, salon-style walls of paintings, and furniture and sculptures filling seemingly every square inch of floor space. With all the additional room in the new Kirkland, it’s much less cramped than before, with the objects and artworks spread all through the space. But don’t get me wrong: It’s still an overloaded sensory experience, and one that won't disappoint.
The cost of the project was taken on by the Merle Chambers Fund. Merle Chambers, who was formerly married to Grant, has been instrumental in the founding and growth of the Kirkland Museum, and she was the one who came up with the idea of moving Kirkland’s old studio to the new place. Chambers has remained involved and serves on the Kirkland’s board.
The museum will open to the public with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 10, but various invitation-only previews start with a sold-out gala on March 1, followed by a special event for artists in the Kirkland’s collection on March 2. On March 4, museum members will be allowed in. Find out more by calling 303-832-8576 or visiting kirklandmuseum.org.