What Does a Museum Want to Be in the 21st Century?


This article is part of our latest article Fine Arts and Exhibitions A special report on how arts institutions help audiences discover new options for the future.


DENVER — What if an old art museum started anew, emptied the walls, cleaned the floor, removed everything hanging from the ceiling and resting on the pedestals, and then put it all together in today’s museum practices? What would this look like in the 21st century?

For Denver Art Museumspent the last four years renovation of the seven-story tower says the house, the result is a rare opportunity to see many of the ideas that contemporary curators cherish come together. The 102-year-old institution is reopening its headquarters today, 16 months behind schedule mixed with the pandemic, but just in time with current trends.

That is, with a significant shift in emphasis from 19th century Europe to 20th century global; affirmation of fashion and furniture design as equal partners of painting and sculpture in the encyclopedic hierarchy of museums; a comprehensive effort to wake up socially; and with a friendly invitation for visitors to get their hands on things.

DAM wants its 800,000 annual guests to be and see themselves in the museum. It has spent $150 million reorganizing the art while also reinforcing interactive spaces integrated into the textile galleries, such as the “yarn” studio where visitors can practice their own sewing and knitting, and the design lab, where they can marvel at the museum’s modern design. sofas and lamps, then imagine your own home accessories.

The emphasis is now on it, with contemporary artists ranking on par with, or even top of, the corporate classics in every gallery. For example, a recent and irreverent piece of “Mao’s jacket” by Chinese sculptor Sui Jianguo greets visitors to Asian galleries. before They travel from Cambodia, Japan and India to the ancient treasures of DAM.

The museum has one of the country’s finest collections of North American Native art and dates back centuries. But the new spin is up-to-date with the work of contemporary contributors like Kent Monkman and Fritz Scholder, placed in front of traditional blankets and rugs.

“There are baskets, pottery and beautiful beadwork, but we really wanted to show active peoples and tribes,” said Christoph Heinrich, director of the museum. The museum has added audience-activated kiosks featuring newly commissioned videos of Native Americans sharing stories about their heritage and identity.

DAM has tried to be environmentally conscious – its renovations are LEED-certified – and also to its various constituencies. All signage and general messaging are in English and Spanish. Within the domestic galleries there is a “calm-up room” to provide a place for visitors whose trauma may be triggered by the artifacts to study their emotions.

When the museum reinstated objects from its Northwest Coast collection, such as monumental carved pillars and ceremonial masks and draperies, it worked with Indigenous leaders to organize rededication ceremonies in which their sacred value was recognized.

If DAM knows what its customers need, it has also learned what they want, and this will be high design, especially from the 20th century. The museum has produced a number of special exhibitions in recent years featuring the work of haute couture figures such as Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior, each successful, attracting large crowds and receiving support from donors (just last month). An anonymous $25 million gift for textiles). As with other major cultural institutions in the United States, fashion has become its main focus, and the museum has worked diligently to build its assets under fashion curator Florence Müller.

This effort is manifested in its restructuring. For a century DAM’s textile galleries have focused on things like quilts, embroidery and Chinese robes, and these objects continue to be on display. However, the focus of the opening falls on an exhibition directed by Müller on the “feminine bespoke suit” featuring many of DAM’s recent purchases.

DAM has made a big bet on this fascination for the previous century in the new order. The photo galleries have been doubled and the architecture and design galleries have been expanded from the small passage corridor they previously occupied to 11,000 square feet of open space. These are filled with bent plywood tables, desk chairs, and other objects made by prominent names of the era, including Colorado-linked Herbert Bayer.

In addition, architecture and design curator Darrin Alfred put together a special exhibition of home accessories by architect Gio Ponti. Smart, forward-thinking dinner plates, flatware and side tables are meant to bolster the reputation of the respected Italian designer who died in 1979.

This exhibition can be seen as a strategic move on behalf of the museum, because its own reputation is entwined with that of Ponti; He also designed the building, which he spent all this effort on renewing.

Ponti’s building is an interesting attraction. It was his only completed commission in the United States, and it made a spectacle by transforming the place into two connected towers, which some locals admired as a “fortress” and others a “prison”. Ponti dotted it with just a few narrow, rectangular windows and covered the rest with over a million glass tiles that shimmer in shades of gray and silver depending on the sunlight.

But it can look imposing from afar – and dull when the clouds are out. There’s a reason so few museums are designed as tall buildings: Tall buildings with relatively few windows can look plain and imposing. However, according to architect Jorge Silvetti, whose renovation was led by his Boston-based firm Machado Silvetti, that’s what DAM paid the architect when they hired him half a century ago.

“The building is not pure Ponti,” said Mr. Silvetti. “It doesn’t matter what they can do, it matters what they do with what they have.”

Working with local firm Fentress Architects, the design team worked to bring out the best in Ponti. He updated the building with new elevators and skylights and placed one floor in a two-story atrium, increasing exhibition space and creating an entirely new upper room to display objects. Fulfilling Ponti’s original plan, he added an open-air deck above it. Visitors can now walk on the roof and take in the stunning views of the nearby Rocky Mountains.

Machado Silvetti also designed a two-story 50,000 square foot “welcome centre” that allows the museum to make its own mark on the cultural campus. Additional 146,000 square meters It was designed by Daniel Libeskind in 2006.

The welcome center, which will house the ticket offices, two restaurants and meeting spaces, features an elliptical shape and floor-to-ceiling windows on the upper floor, with a concave panel each 25 feet high and 8 feet wide. When illuminated from inside, it shines like a lantern at night.

The new building will serve as a figurative beacon for art lovers who are patiently waiting for the institution to showcase its best products. DAM closed the Ponti building for construction in 2018 with plans to start reopening areas in May 2020. The coronavirus has caused a delay in the opening, which is expected to attract large crowds.

The content that visitors encounter may sound familiar. There are some recently acquired objects in the remix, but DAM’s usual attractions — Western art with Taos School superstars among them, and Latin American art spanning four millennia — remain largely the same. But it will be displayed with a renewed attitude to make every guest feel at home.



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