The exterior of the new Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, which opened in October, is made of glass. The museum is on Delgany Street, northwest of the central cultural district.
In 2005, architect David Adjaye described his design for the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver as a “city in a jewel box.” His concept was to design a jewel box that would not only hold art, but welcome a wide range of people.
On October 28, MCA Denver hosted a free public opening. Executive Director Cydney Payton and the museum board collaborated with Adjaye and challenged him to build an economical ($16.3 million) and environmentally responsible building “that would be a sponge for the museums’ mission to present innovative and challenging art of our time,” Payton said in a radio interview in 2005.
Adjaye was the right choice, and the building is expected to achieve gold-level LEEDS certification for energy and environmental design, a distinction that will make it the first “green” art museum in the country.
The new home for the 10-year-old museum is three structures wrapped in a translucent skin. Each structure is a rectangle, some based upon the golden proportion, a ratio of 1:p (pi).
Entering the new museum at 15th Street and Delgany Street in the Platte Valley, northwest of the city center and cultural district, it is evident that this museum will be like no other contemporary art space.
One enters via a ramp that rises from the sidewalk. A corridor narrows, funneling visitors from the outside to the inside, where one gradually leaves the city behind to enter another space – a space that is all about art and not about architecture. There is no door. On a warm day, the building will be open, but during my visit on a cold, snowy night, a sliding black panel opened automatically for our entrance.
Welcome to the magical world of contemporary art.
Stained concrete floors, dark wood paneling, stark white walls are present, but not overpowering. One young woman greeted visitors. Behind her, a large space with book-filled shelves, the museum bookstore; beside that, a paneled library with sleek Apple computers and contemporary art books, and a glimpse into one of the exhibition spaces.
The museum eases you into the experience of challenging art with five rectangular spaces: one designed for works on paper, another for large works, a third for new media, a fourth for photography and the fifth a project gallery. The 25,000-square-foot space also features a café and a roof garden.
The gray, glass-clad building features an interior skin made from natural polypropylene insulated panels. The panels filter 50 percent of the light and act as a fabulous insulation for the building. From the outside at night, the museum appears to glow from within like a translucent sculpture.
This museum is not a huge industrial space or a flexible warehouse that is commonly the home for non-collecting contemporary art museums. Instead, Adjaye has created a museum where the space is discreet and one can feel the hand of the artist and commune intimately with the work.
Because it is not a typical space, the new MCA Denver will require a unique curatorial approach to creating exhibits specifically for its space, not work lifted from another installation and shoehorned in. Expect more shows like the inaugural exhibition curated by Cydney Payton, “Star Power: Museum as Body Electric.”
“Star Power” features work from David Altmejd of Canada; Carlos Amorales of Mexico; Candice Breitz of South Africa; Rangi Kipa of New Zealand; Wangechi Mutu of Kenya; Chris Ofili of United Kingdom; and the Collier Schorr of the United States.
Ofili’s watercolor paintings of nude, brown women were a hit with my husband. Mutu’s dripping milk bottles seem trite and overdone already. Schorr’s photographs are visual novellas, and Altmejd creates an endless mirrored room with mirrored figures and missing limbs, almost like giant glass transformers, minus the werewolf heads often associated with his work.
Payton chose artists featured in numerous biennials and the PBS series “Art:21.” Each created a specific work to explore the body and its relationship to art and space.
The experience was electric.
If you go
Museum of Contemporary Art Denver hours are closed Monday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. It is located at 1485 Delgany Street and can be called at (303) 298-7554.
Artsjournalist@centurytel.net Leanne Goebel is a freelance writer specializing in the visual arts.