Gio Ponti-designed art museum in Denver receives $ 150 million overhaul and remix

The $ 150 million Denver Art Museum expansion and unification of its campus, led by Machado Silvetti and Fentress Architects, will be unveiled on October 24 after a comprehensive four-year renovation of the encyclopedic institution’s historic building designed by Gio Ponti.

Marking the 50th anniversary of the seven-story structure, the first high-rise museum in the United States, the revamped tower connects to a striking new elliptical visitor center that replaces a smaller 1950s pavilion. The center connects also to a 2006 museum extension created by Daniel Libeskind.

“The visitor center is the open arm to the community,” says museum director Christoph Heinrich, who felt that the two existing gallery buildings were previously a bit distant. “We had the opportunity to make it the museum we need today and to connect with people. It guided our process.

The German-born art historian came to the Hamburger Kunsthalle in Denver in 2007 as a curator of modern and contemporary art and took over as its director in 2010. That year he remembers s ‘be held on an unused terrace on the seventh floor of the Ponti building. with spectacular views of the city and the mountains. “It was 10,000 square feet of the best real estate in the city and just empty,” says Heinrich, who initiated a feasibility study to build the top floor. “It triggered a domino effect. ”

Christoph Heinrich, Director Jan and Frederick Mayer of the Denver Art Museum Photo: Adrienne Thomas; courtesy of the Denver Art Museum

All of the building’s systems were to be upgraded, including the addition of a new elevator shaft to accommodate growing crowds in one of the fastest growing cities in the country. (Museum attendance has more than doubled over the past decade to reach around 900,000 visitors per year.) Ponti’s original entrance was now on the wrong side as the Libeskind building, parking lot and plaza had reoriented the heart of the museum, launching the idea of ​​the reception center. With new infrastructure, the permanent collection galleries that had not been touched for 25 years were now asking to be redesigned from scratch with new stories and layouts.

In the vast collection of Asian art relocated to the fifth floor, for example, traditional Japanese dresses are juxtaposed with contemporary fashion from Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto. The third-floor display of the museum’s famous collection of Native North American arts showcases contemporary voices and their connection to traditions through time. “We are not talking here about extinct cultures but about living traditions and artists,” says Heinrich, “a very important statement that we have never made stronger than now.”

Latin connections

The museum’s growing collection of West American art, strongly supported by local patrons, is now consolidated in expanded galleries on the seventh floor, with two new public terraces connected by a café-bar. The architects also created an additional 10,000 square feet of gallery space by dividing a double-height gallery on the ground floor into two single-height galleries.

In the upper space, the architecture and design collection, strong with objects from the 20th century, receives a major upgrade and includes an inaugural exhibition on the impact of Ponti’s design. The lower gallery is dedicated to special exhibitions from the collection, starting with ReVision: Art in the Americas.

A series of portraits of 19th century Inca rulers, as part of the new exhibition ReVisión: Art in the Americas Courtesy of the Denver Museum of Art

Revision is an exhibition where, for the first time, we connect our pre-Columbian collection with our Spanish Colonial collection and our Modern Latin American collection, to paint a more holistic picture of Latin American art, ”explains Heinrich. These nationally recognized collections also have permanent galleries on the fourth floor.

The museum has gained over 33,000 square feet on its campus, including a large community space on the second floor of the Visitor Center that can accommodate events with over 1,000 people. This rotunda, covered with curved sheets of glass 25 feet from floor to ceiling, has a restaurant and cafe on the ground floor below and a new conservation center on the lower level. The education center, previously tucked away in the basement, is now on the first floor of the Ponti building, front and center.

“If you had told me I would do a $ 175 million campaign, I’m not sure I would have said yes to this job,” says Heinrich, who raised all of it, including $ 25 million for the campaign. endowment. (The museum’s annual operating budget has grown from around $ 17 million to $ 35 million during his tenure.) “Coming to this country, to collectors, to donors who really want to see their city shine, has been incredibly energizing. ”


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