Kirkland Museum’s $22 million new home set to sparkle in Golden Triangle

The Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art’s $22 million new home, which opens March 10 in the Golden Triangle, is set to ratchet up the cultural magnetism of the evolving neighborhood just south of Civic Center park that is famous for having some of the highest rents in the city.

In addition to the Denver Public Library Main Branch, the Golden Triangle contains the Denver Art Museum, History Colorado, Clyfford Still Museum and Byers-Evans House Museum.

The Denver Art Museum was the city’s third-most-popular paid attraction in 2016, according to Visit Denver, which tracked 30 million tourists that year — the 11th consecutive record increase.

With its terracotta bars and shimmering, yellow glass panels, the new Kirkland Museum stands out at the corner of West 12th Avenue and Bannock Street. Thanks to Seattle-based building architect Jim Olson, it features numerous pieces installed in shatter-proof, UV-protected glass displays that double as windows.

Collections on display in the Arts ...
Joe Amon, The Denver Post

Collections on display in the Arts & Crafts Gallery at the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art that is slated to reopen in its new, custom-designed building on March 10, 2018, having moved from a modest building on Capitol Hill. Feb. 16, 2018 in Denver.

“That’s very unusual for institutions to show their collections as you’re walking by,” said Renée Albiston, outreach manager for the museum. “It’s a nice teaser for folks, and fits with our mission of becoming more open to new visitors.”

Kirkland’s move to its new, 38,500-square-foot building represents a short hop from its longtime perch on Capitol Hill, at East 13th Avenue and Pearl Street, where namesake painter and visionary surrealist Vance Kirkland worked and taught until his death in 1981.

The relocation of the museum, founded in 2003 and often touted in national travel guides, was a long (long) time coming.

“It took about 14 hours to move a mile,” said Albiston as she admired Kirkland’s original, 107-year-old, 150-ton brick studio. Crews dug it up and mounted it on wheels for its journey down 13th Avenue in 2016. “It was so slow that there were times you couldn’t even tell the wheels were turning.”

The new museum — to which Kirkland’s original studio has been seamlessly grafted — provides a sleek haven for the 15,000 paintings, ceramics, sculptures and furniture in its collection, about a third of which will be on display in the new building, which doubled the museum’s exhibition space.

“The prestige Vance Kirkland’s studio and art school carries for the reputation of Colorado art makes the building itself an integral part of the visitor experience,” said Hugh Grant, Kirkland’s founding director and curator, in a press statement. “Moving the building to keep that experience intact was central to the museum relocation.”

Planning started long before the new building was announced in 2014.

Valerie Van Alstyne, collections move assistant ...
Joe Amon, The Denver Post

Valerie Van Alstyne, collections move assistant unpacking sculptures for display in the Sculpture Gallery at the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art that is slated to reopen in its new, custom-designed building on March 10, 2018, having moved from a modest building on Capitol Hill. Feb. 16, 2018 in Denver.

“We’ve been working in tandem with (the Kirkland) on this for awhile,” said Rachel Fewell, chairwoman of the Golden Triangle Creative District, who acknowledged that as the neighborhood gets more popular, it also gets more crowded. “Yes, parking can be a hassle down here, but where else can you hit these singular art museums all in one day? It’s a campus-type experience.”

Themed rooms inside the new building showcase the best of the three “pillars” of the collection: the estate of Vance Kirkland, Colorado and regional art, and international decorative art. Most are displayed salon-style, meaning they’re arranged in vignettes that display how an object would have been used in a home.

Works span the mid- to late-1800s, during the early Arts & Crafts movement, to the late 1990s postmodern period, when the museum stopped acquiring new objects. Significantly, the new building allows curators to display items chronologically, which was impossible in the cramped the original.

Highlights of the new building’s six galleries include Kirkland’s namesake room, artfully stuffed with his vibrant, instantly recognizable “dot” paintings, and exemplary works from the iconic Art Nouveau, Bauhaus, Art Deco and mid-century modern movements. Big-name national artists are represented — Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank Gehry, Gio Ponti and Andy Warhol, among others — but also smaller regional and American Indian artists.

All are connected by a terrazzo-floored “promenade” that spans the main level, book-ended by a pair of large-format Kirkland paintings. Making all these items accessible has its price, given that hundreds of fragile objects are displayed on waist-high tables and chairs, rather than in tamper-proof cases.

“We don’t allow children under 13 into the museum, but we do get families that come in, so this will be a place that they can wait,” Albiston said as she gestured toward a sun-splashed visitor’s lounge, which contains even more art works.

“You’re really immersed in it, rather than just taking it in as singular pieces,” Albiston said. “It forces the viewer to linger a little longer.”

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