Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art
From the moment the drawings by architects Olson Kundig were unveiled in 2014, it was apparent that the new Kirkland Museum would be one of the most distinctive landmarks in the Civic Center Cultural Complex — and that’s saying something, since the area was already crammed with landmarks. When it opened in March 2018, the exquisitely detailed structure, with its incredible terra cotta and glass-clad central pavilion, proved the perfect home for the Kirkland and its three areas of specialty: the work of museum namesake Vance Kirkland, whose historic studio was moved to a site immediately north of the new building; other artists associated with Colorado in some way; and international design and decorative art.
Denver Art Museum
Courtesy Denver Art Museum

Believe it or not, some people hate the main building of the Denver Art Museum, a silver-glass-tile-clad brutalist fortress designed by big-time Italian modernist Gio Ponti and completed in 1971, and over the years they've repeatedly suggested that it be demolished. Instead, DAM director Christoph Heinrich and the museum's board of trustees dismissed any thought of tearing it down, and instead decided to spruce up the place. The $150 million-plus project, which has just gotten under way, is being designed by Fentress Architects with Machado Silvetti and headed up by Jorge Silvetti, a lifelong admirer of Ponti; the plan is to fix what's wrong and add an adjacent pavilion intended to visually link the Ponti to the Hamilton Building across West 13th Avenue. Look for the revived Ponti to reopen in 2021, just in time for the building's fiftieth anniversary.

Patrick Marold is one of Colorado's most accomplished conceptual artists, and he was tapped to create "Sun Silo" for Community Park at Boulevard One, an extension of Lowry. The sculpture is a multi-story cylinder made of rings of steel with a bronze-like patina; the overall shape accounts for the "Silo" part of the title, while concave sections of the rings that allow light to reflect and shine through account for the "Sun." Marold is well known for his interest in manipulating natural light, but right now, "Sun Silo" could use a little time in the spotlight, since the surrounding park has yet to be landscaped and the adjacent town center is under construction. But if you can make your way to the piece, you'll find it illuminating.

Community Park, East Lowry Boulevard and Pontiac Street

Readers' Choice: 'Duct-Work 2

Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art

Outside the new Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art are five abstract sculptures that embody the last half-century of modern art in Colorado. The earliest piece is 1964's "Yin Yang," a two-part bronze fountain of interlocking organic shapes by Edgar Britton, the region's foremost mid-century modernist sculptor. There are two pieces by the state's dean of contemporary sculpture, Robert Mangold, one from 1980 in the fenced-in sculpture garden, and another done in 1982 that's mounted on the front of the building; both are tubular constructions from Mangold's "Tetrahedralhypersphere" series. These twentieth-century works are joined by two more recent sculptures: Near the historic Vance Kirkland Studio is "Celestial Echo," a bifurcated folded-plate form by Michael Clapper from 2004, and, marking the main entrance, "Procyon," by David Mazza, a tall and thin zigzagging piece from 2008. The greater Civic Center area already boasted the city's most significant public art; this new group puts it over the top.

Best New Street Art
Kenzie Bruce

Anthony Garcia Sr.'s serape style is everywhere: The Denver native's multicolor patterns have wrapped surfaces across the city, from bus benches and bus stops to dumpsters and electrical boxes. His designs are simple, clean, vivid and immediately recognizable, often imitating textured fabric and weaving patterns that pay homage to the Mile High City's indigenous history. Now he's making history with his most magnificent public work to date, on the new Federal Boulevard bridge running over 6th Avenue. The massive pillars on the bridge have been adorned by Garcia with bold blacks, pinks, greens and whites, acting as a welcome sign to anyone coming into the city from the west. While Colorado's flag is all red, yellow and blue, Garcia's kaleidoscopic hues and nod to Denver's colorful past truly capture the city's diverse cultural identity.

Readers' Choice: Anna Charney

RedLine Contemporary Art Center
Courtesy RedLine Contemporary Art Center

RedLine, the downtown studio complex with expansive exhibition spaces, celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2018 with a major retrospective. One of the show's pieces is a permanent addition: "R-P Curvature," by Clark Richert, which was painted right on the wall adjacent to the entrance of RedLine. This particular part of town is lousy with wall-sized murals, but few rise to the level of real art, as Richert's geometric abstraction does. The composition is derived from physics, with the precise trajectories of the multi-colored curving lines entangling with one another and running across an underlying grid predetermined by equations. Laura Merage founded RedLine a decade ago with the goal of creating an "art incubator," and she's succeeded, bringing Richert — one of the founders of Colorado's Drop City artist commune in the '60s — together with the under-forty art crowd.

"The Character Select Scroll" by Victor Escobedo
Courtesy of Level 7 Games Facebook page
"The Character Select Scroll" by Victor Escobedo

The mythology of the galaxies contained in decades of video-game history were the inspiration for Victor Escobedo's mural on the side of Level 7 Games. Influenced by figures from such classic games as Street Fighter and Super Mario Bros., along with a more niche series like Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, Escobedo drew from his own trove of ancient archetypes and futuristic imagery to create a classic scene of good versus evil. Fitting well with Level 7's embrace of all gaming systems and series, the freshly imagined characters come alive on a floating scroll background, referencing the timeless rolling credits of Star Wars. Escobedo's black-lined hieroglyphs pop against the stucco-colored background, creating the perfect homage to the well-loved, aging mini-universes of video games.

Lakewood's 40 West Arts District, first designated as such in 2012, is finally gaining ground along the West Colfax corridor, thanks in part to the recent exodus of Denver co-ops priced out of the city, which are now putting down new roots in the suburb to the west. Anchored by the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design campus, RTD's Lamar light-rail station, 40 West headquarters at 1560 Teller Street and even the iconic pink tower of Casa Bonita, the district hosts unified First Friday art walks, an annual MuralFest devoted to beautifying walls and an underground community of artmakers and galleries. Go West, young art fan.

Art District on Santa Fe

Gentrification has taken its toll on many of the city's art districts, but against all odds, Denver's Art District on Santa Fe has persisted. Though the official boundaries are somewhat more expansive, on the blocks going north (along with traffic) between West 4th and West 10th avenues you'll find Space Gallery, Rule Gallery, Mai Wyn Fine Art, Artists on Santa Fe, Michael Warren Contemporary, CHAC, Museo de las Americas, Artwork Network, Spark Gallery, Core Gallery, SYNC Gallery and the MSUD Center for Visual Art, among many other art-related spots. But nothing demonstrates Santa Fe's primacy better than the success of its monthly First Friday Art Walks, which attract so many art (and fun) lovers that the district even sponsors a shuttle to deal with the crowds.

Readers' Choice: Art District on Santa Fe

Museo de las Americas
Courtesy Museo de las Americas Facebook page

As many Denver neighborhoods find their identities swallowed whole by development, the west side's Lincoln Park has stood strong, thanks in part to cultural hubs like Museo de las Americas. Subverting stereotypes of Latin American art, museum shows blend fine art with street art, showing the work of both new and established artists, who take on such topics as religion and iconography, weaving and textile traditions, immigration issues and the power of resistance. Tapping into the surrounding community is part of what makes this institution so strong: Museo's programming and artists reflect Denver's own cultural identity, but from a global perspective. And its First Friday bashes and other special events should persuade anyone that a museum visit doesn't have to be a stuffy experience.

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