At the recent AIA Convention in Denver I had the opportunity to tour four museums: Clyfford Still Museum (Cloepfil), Museum of Contemporary Art Denver (Adjaye), Denver Art Museum (Libeskind), and the Denver Art Museum North Wing (Ponti, 1971).
Clyfford Still Museum
The four buildings couldn’t have been more different in terms of their collections and architecture, but the Clyfford Still Museum was by far the superior of the four in terms of both the building and its art. The 9-square textured concrete cubic volume designed by Brad Cloepfil (Allied Works Architecture) was a delicate essay in surface texture through minimal means. It is a building which is completely in sync with the art of Clyfford Still, a little known mid-century abstract expressionist who worked in isolation and rarely exhibited. His paintings also deal with surface texture and the sparest of means. The Museum contains over 90% of his life’s work. As someone who is personally fascinated with an artist’s progression from objective to non-objective painting, the museum just blew me away and allowed me to discover a great mid-century painter who is on par with deKooning, Pollock and Gorky.
Museum of Contemporary Art Denver
Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art by David Adjaye seems to have a comparable goal and audience to the Institute of Contempoary Art in Boston. This is a well-designed and flexible environment to view art. The at times all-black, transparent, translucent and luminous cubic façade provide an interesting changing canvas in the cityscape. The museum is an appropriately modest, yet sophisticated environment for avant-garde art and performances. A cappuccino in the rooftop café is a must!
Denver Art Museum
After touring The Denver Art Museum designed by Daniel Libeskind, I found it to be a disjointed and poorly crafted building at every turn and a simply horrible place to view art. The building and the art were seemingly shouting for attention at every turn with the building winning and the art always losing.
Denver Art Museum North Wing
The Denver Art Museum’s North Wing Designed by Gio Ponti in 1971 is a wacky castle-like museum, with an odd crenelated/tiled façade that provides a wonderful surface texture as its 20 plus facades receive the sun’s changing intensity throughout the course of the day. The galleries of this museum are remarkably more traditional and far better to view art than Libeskind’s adjacent/connected Denver Art Museum. As an ensemble, viewing Ponti’s and Libeskind’s museum together is like listening to two stereos in the same room with the music on full blast. The end result is just noise. With such unruly neighbors, I fully understand why Brad Cloepfil decided that the Clyfford Still Museum needed to be a “quiet” sanctuary to view art.