Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Usually attended only by nervy fledgling standups and neighborhood inebriates who resent the incursion, open-mike nights often have the feel of a glum joke workshop — which is why emcee Kevin O'Brien likes to mix things up, kicking off each comedy open mike at the Matchbox with a throaty rendition of "America the Beautiful." Curating the lineup like he would a mixtape and doling out "bag of human garbage" and "beer with ol' Kev" awards to their deserving recipients, O'Brien proves that just because anyone can sign up to perform doesn't mean that showmanship should be an afterthought. The Matchbox draws the best ratio of newcomers to seasoned pros, which means that spectators have the best chance to see a hilarious, chaotic comedy show for free, particularly during warmer months, when the program takes over the patio.
The 1200 block of Bannock Street is a difficult place to build something, not because the topography is difficult, but because the level of competition for architectural excellence is so fierce nearby. That makes it quite an accomplishment for the designers of the Denver Art Museum Administration Building, Denver's Roth Sheppard Architects, to have come up with something that doesn't just hold its own, but actually stands out among its heady neighbors. For the design, Jeff Sheppard conceived of a sleek horizontal mass with a constructivist handling of the fenestration. The chaste and smartly composed box is richly detailed with colored glass and stone panels. The building is absolutely perfect in its prominent location, and its many fine qualities remind us why Roth Sheppard is one of the most respected architectural firms in town.
The railroads were essential to Denver's development, and there has been a train station at 17th and Wynkoop since the 1880s. Union Station, in its present form, was built in 1914 by the renowned firm of Gove and Walsh. In the intervening years, time and the decline of passenger rail service led the building to fall into a genteel decline. But it was so beloved, and so important to the character of nearby LoDo, that it was rehabbed — a $54 million project that was finished last summer. The resulting design, by Tryba Architects and JG Johnson Architects, includes shops, restaurants and the new but old-fashioned Crawford Hotel, which boasts 112 luxury rooms, some of which have been decorated in a way that highlights the days when people traveled in Pullman sleeping cars. The spiffed-up station still serves passengers on trains, but it is also now connected to a huge bus and light-rail station that ties modern transportation back to the city's days of yore.
The Denver Public Library's system of branches features many little architectural gems, some of them dating back a century, and the newest one has taken a spot in this worthy tradition. Named for late Denver Chicano activist Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales, the smart-looking branch was done by Studiotrope Design Collective. There's a lively handling of the building's volumes; though basically rectilinear, some of those rectangles are set on the diagonal. The details are even livelier, and the most striking of these are the thin horizontal bars of color cladding the second floor and spilling down onto the first in places — which gives the whole thing a futuristic character.
As part of her job as cultural-affairs director for Denver Arts & Venues, Tariana Navas-Nieves oversees what visitors see and do at the city's malleable McNichols Building. But while wielding that directorial influence, Navas-Nieves began to feel that the McNichols needed more than just the physical makeover that will begin there when the doors temporarily close this coming August; it also needed an image makeover that would make its ongoing events and exhibitions seem just a bit more interesting. To that end, the building is hosting the McNichols Project, a quarterly event series that turns art viewing into an experience unlike those you'll find at other gallery spaces in town, as new shows come and go in the space. The program's successful first installment took place in February; the second event, scheduled for June 18, will riff on spring gallery shows about rock musicians of the '60s and art about play.
When Pagliacci's closed in 2012 after 66 years of serving Italian food, the fate of the funky old building where it was located was sealed. And while it's sad to see old landmarks disappear, at least some of their replacements are worth looking at — like the distinctive Lumina Apartments, which rose on the Pagliacci's site. Designed by Tres Birds Workshop, the building has a complex form stepping up from the corner, which is marked by a semi-circular wing with a tower tucked behind. Above that, the upper floors are set back in a sequence of three additional terraces. This dramatic massing is the perfect setting for unusual metal panels that have been pierced with geometric patterns. These panels are used for the balcony railings and screens and represent a clever take on traditional ironwork.
Mile High United Way's new headquarters, called the Morgridge Center, was designed by the Davis Partnership so that it would resemble the low profile of the nearby structures. And although it's an entire block long, it mimics the rhythm of buildings lined up close together — the mark of the existing built environment. Overall, it's been conceived as if it were not a single structure, but rather a row of storefronts. Completing the illusion is the fact that each separate mass is adorned with a different material and has a different setback and height from the others. Some have been done in blue mirrored glass, others in buff brick, and still others in enameled metal panels. Because of that, the building's size has been hidden in plain sight. This divide-and-conquer technique works artfully.
Designed by W.J. and Frank Edbrooke in 1882, the old Temple Emanuel building has been reincarnated many times, but it also spent several seasons boarded up and in disrepair. In the last year, however, the building was purchased by Adam Gordon, Rob Dick and Kathy Crawford and turned, floor by floor, into a thriving community of artist studios and even the Denver Zine Library. More recently, the artist/mentor youth program PlatteForum took over part of the space, and Processus, a member-driven workshop with community equipment and workspaces, opened to the public early in 2015.
The Art District on Santa Fe has gone through a number of changes over the years, but it bolted to the front of the pack in 2014, thanks to a trio of major additions. The first was the creation of Michael Warren Contemporary, which opened in the space once occupied by the storied Sandy Carson Gallery. Then Space Gallery moved into its own swanky, custom-made new building. And finally, the brand-new Point Gallery was unveiled in Space's former haunt. Although higher rents and higher taxes threaten all of the city's arts districts, Santa Fe, at least for now, still seems to be a great place to open new galleries.
Readers' choice: Art District on Santa Fe
At more than 22 feet high, Christopher Weed's monumental "Connected" is as tall as, or taller than, nearby buildings, and since it's on a raised circle in the middle of a roundabout, it seems to soar even higher. Made of 11,000 pounds of stainless steel, the piece takes the form of four giant jigsaw puzzle pieces, one red, the others silver. Weed is a Colorado Springs-based artist who likes to use ubiquitous items as sources for his sculptures; in addition to puzzle pieces, he's employed paper clips, spores and chairs. The puzzle pieces here have been fitted together, representing the relationship of the various neighborhoods in the area — something that connects "Connected" to Lakewood.
Readers' choice: "Connected" and "Hear the Train A Humming," by Bobby MaGee Lopez (tie)
Last summer, Denver's Birdseed Collective and the Urban Arts Fund worked with art couple Hari Paniker and Deepti Nair — best known for their haunting, backlit cut-paper dioramas — to add a mural to a growing project on the walls of the I-70 underpass at Lincoln Street and 46th Avenue in Globeville. The forty-foot image on the theme of "community" features Paniker's signature "monsteroid" character cradling a communal weaverbird nest to his chest and is rendered in a beautiful mosaic of jewel tones. It joins additional public murals by Birdseed and Jolt in beautifying the urban landscape under the highway. See more mural work by Hari and Deepti on a wall sponsored by New Belgium Brewing at 21st and Market streets, near Coors Field.
After the death of comedian/actor Robin Williams last year, we were hard-pressed to find new reasons to smile; the Colorado connection from his show Mork & Mindy made us feel like we'd lost a native son (even though the Mork character was from outer space). So imagine our surprise when, one morning last September, the usual drive along East 13th Avenue revealed a giant new mural on the side of the Buffalo Exchange store, featuring Mork and one simple word: "Smile." The store commissioned artists Danny Fernandez and Pat Milbery to pay tribute to a great entertainer, soothing our souls in the process.