Everyone's a Critic

Among local critics, the new wing of the Denver Art Museum has been almost uniformly lauded as an innovative, architectural triumph. Nationally, however, the reaction to Daniel Libeskind's design has been more mixed.

In the November issue of House and Garden, critic Martin Filler calls the Frederic C. Hamilton Building addition "exhibitionistic architecture" that pursues Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum Bilbao without quite living up to the chase.

The jutting forms and "cliched" titanium cladding may have succeeded in wowing "Rocky Mountain folks," Filler writes, but more well-traveled museum goers of the East and West coasts might find the eccentric angles too be overly desperate to be noticed.

Filler does likes the new DAM wing more than he does other Libeskind projects — namely, the ground-zero Freedom Tower -- and complains that the architect takes blunt symbolism to dizzying heights.

Wrapping a compliment inside a put-down is the kind of thing art critics do best -- for example, when Filler asserts that one of the reason's Libeskind's Denver extension works so well is because i's architectural neighbors are so bad. "It adjoins two of the ugliest American buildings of the past 35 years: Gio Ponti's Denver Art Museum of 1971 (a camp New Brutalist castle armored with grey glass tiles) and Michael Graves's Denver Central Library Extension of 1995 (a silly postmodernist petrified castle frosted in multicolored masonry)."

So Libeskind had to overstate his concept, if only because the other residents of the neighborhood are so loud and gaudy. (Think of drag queens trying to flag down passing SUVs.)

In this way, the critic gives the museum a thumbs up — sort of. While it may be tourist-grabbing architecture, Filler concludes, fortunately Denver's new museum is not so lost in the sea of theory that it prevents the art inside the angular hull from getting the proper amount of attention. — Jared Jacang Maher