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Denver ArtsWeek: Free food and circus straps at the Kirkland

Vance Kirkland's studio.
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A warning about Denver ArtsWeek: Beware the free stuff.

Friday night’s opening event -- free admission to Denver’s museums, and special programs featuring music, food, and story-telling for the kids -- was a fantastic idea. But the promise of free stuff tends to bring out the cheap in people.

Take the crowd that filled the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, at the corner of 13th Avenue and Pearl Street, by 6 p.m. The museum is a warm but relatively small space, since it used to be an art school and studio for painter Vance Kirkland. On a normal day, patrons could lazily wander the rooms of what feels like a large house, admiring the modernist furniture, glass cases full of ceramics, and the glorious Kirkland paintings displayed on the walls.

But on Friday night the place the place was packed, thanks in part to the live jazz, hors d'oeuvres and wine provided by Dazzle restaurant. You had to elbow your way through some rooms, and a constant horde hovered around the piteously barren table of food. One minute, there was nothing but crumbs, a few slices of bread and lonely bowl of green olive dip on display. Then some harried museum worker would slide a few brie cheese puffs and strawberries onto the table and -- boom -- the vultures would descend. So much for high culture.

But the frenzy didn’t detract from the beauty of the museum, which is full of hidden gems of Colorado art. My favorite was the room that was once Kirkland’s studio. There, suspended from the ceiling, you can see four gray, industrial-sized low-hanging straps. They look like the setup for a Cirque du Soleil act, except they’re placed just above a large painting on the work table.

Apparently, Kirkland was a small guy, just over five feet tall, and couldn’t reach all the way across a large canvas to create his famous oil-and-water paintings. So he laid on the straps instead, and painted from the aerial view.

With that kind of dedication to his work, Kirkland would surely be proud to know that hordes of people swarmed his museum on a Friday night. He just might be a little miffed about the disappearing cheese puffs. -- Lisa Rab

Art is where you find it. And Westword is celebrating Denver ArtsWeek, which began November 14, by blogging a few of our own favorite spots around town. To see previous posts, go to our Art Attack archive.

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