New and Improved

A couple of weeks ago, a group exhibit called Views of Solitude opened and thus served as the premier display of the brand-new William Havu Gallery. The show and, even more so, the gallery itself, elicited audible gasps from many of the more than 500 exhibition-goers who attended the opening reception, and it's had the same effect on others who have sought out the place ever since.

Talk about positive word of mouth!
Bill Havu, the director of his namesake gallery, has been a well-known figure in Denver's art world since the 1980s. At first he operated a wholesale art business upstairs from the Robischon Gallery. "Jim [Robischon] and I restored that building," Havu says proudly, referring to the stately Victorian commercial structure that still stands on the corner of 17th and Park avenues. As a part of his wholesaling, Havu began publishing monotypes by significant regional artists. In 1990 Robischon moved to its current location on Wazee Street; in 1991 Havu opened his own retail art gallery just across from it. At the time, half a dozen of Denver's most prestigious galleries were clustered on the 1700 block of Wazee. Today only Robischon and Metro State's Center for the Visual Arts (itself in a different location) are still there.

Havu called his showroom the 1/1 Gallery; the enigmatic name refers to the way monotypes are marked, and monotypes were Havu's specialty. But in the last few years, 1/1 increasingly hosted exhibits not of monotypes but of paintings and sculptures. Though Havu is still interested in prints, his broader focus led him to change the gallery's name when he moved out of LoDo.

He has also shaken up his stable, releasing many artists and adding several others, including Manitou Springs painters Tracy and Sushe Felix and Denver installation master Lawrence Argent. In events unrelated to the move, two of Havu's best-known artists, Don Stinson and Patti Cramer, left of their own accord in recent months. It's thus no exaggeration to say that the new William Havu Gallery is entirely different from the old 1/1.

And that's clear from the sidewalk out front. The building, constructed specifically to house the William Havu Gallery, makes a statement. But that does come with a price: "$435,000 and counting," says Havu.

Havu is not the only custom-built gallery in Denver--the Turner Gallery in Cherry Creek has a building designed especially for it--but the situation is rare enough to be notable. And whereas Turner shares space with a men's clothier in a red-brick building that looks like a Highlands Ranch mansion, Havu occupies its entire building, which is itself a work of art.

The Havu building was designed by the award-winning Denver architectural firm of Humphries Poli. The gallery is one element of the Grand Cherokee Lofts, a large mixed-use project in the Golden Triangle being developed by Mickey Zeppelin and Larry Nelson. The project is one of the best among those that have just been completed or are going up right now in the quickly changing downtown neighborhood. In addition to the gallery, the Lofts comprise a handsome, vaguely neo-traditional tower. The handling of the tower's massing and fenestration by Humphries Poli responds nicely to the nearby Cadillac Lofts, a modernist building from the early twentieth century that was restored a few years ago.

The Grand Cherokee is constructed in concrete and terra-cotta tile, with painted steel ornament in the form of a skeletal cornice set at the top of the walls. Behind the tower is a row of matching townhouses, still under construction, that face an enclosed courtyard. The gallery has access to that outdoor space, where it plans to install temporary sculpture displays.

The flat-roofed, neo-modernist concrete building that houses the gallery has large windows framed in tubular aluminum. Sited mid-block, the structure has been conceived in a three-part formal arrangement: Each component steps back from the street, with the furthest-recessed closest to the Grand Cherokee tower, which sits to the north. In addition, each of the three volumes has its own unique window treatment: The curved entry wall employs thick horizontal panes; on the next segment are squares; and, finally, thin horizontal panes are used for the building's only two-story window. A radial steel canopy with cut-out metal letters spelling the gallery's name visually--and literally--connects the three clearly delineated parts of the facade and leads the visitor's eyes to the entrance. (The sign is similar in function to the one at the Denver Pavilions--but the William Havu Gallery didn't get a dime from the Denver Urban Renewal Authority. And unlike the Pavilions sign, it's not supposed to be art. At William Havu, the art's inside.)

The gallery's interior is even more impressive than the exterior. Measuring out at more than 3,000 square feet, the main floor is divided into two large spaces that have been further subdivided through the use of movable walls. Upon entering, gallery visitors find themelves in a dramatic, double-height room--which begs for large sculpture. On the ceiling, the building's heating and cooling systems have been left exposed. Across from the entry is a staircase with painted pipe railings that leads up to the mezzanine, below which is open art storage in the form of sliding expanded metal panels lit by track lights.