Hamilton Wing launches new era for art in Denver

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The Hamilton Wing at the Denver Art Museum will open tomorrow.

On Oct. 7, the Hamilton Wing of the Denver Art Museum opens to the public.
Designed by Daniel Liebeskind, the 146,000 square foot addition more than doubles the museum’s size.
The building is an angular, titanium-clad structure. Denver taxpayers contributed $62.5 million of the $100 million-plus cost, with the remainder coming from private sources, including the Colorado Springs-based El Pomar Foundation.
The Denver arts community is delighted; and so is the business community, which anticipates immediate and long-term benefits from Liebeskind’s gleaming creation.
Museum officials project that attendance will quadruple during the first year, increasing from 236,000 during the 2004-05 fiscal year to 1 million, injecting millions of dollars into the local economy.
Such projections are driven by the so-called “Bilbao Effect.”
In 1992, when the Frank Gehry-designed Bilbao Guggenheim opened, more than 1.5 million tourists visited the museum during its first year. The impact upon the city, and upon the regional economy, was immense, especially since most of the museum goers would not otherwise have visited Bilbao, Spain.
Other cities took note, and the last 10 years have witnessed the creation of many new, or radically renovated, arts facilities throughout the world.
In the United States, buildings have risen in New York, Milwaukee, Toledo, and Minneapolis. In Colorado Springs, the Fine Arts Center’s new wing is scheduled to open a year from now.
In every case, proponents have sought to portray the projects as richly beneficial to their host cities, not just culturally, but economically.
Jina Pierce, fine arts curator at Pueblo’s Sangre de Cristo Arts Center, thinks that the impact of a spectacularly designed cultural facility is lasting and positive.
“So far, the Bilbao Effect works — even with our own library,” she said. “It’s an amazing building. But it’s not just eco-devo; it’s the general effect. When you go to the library, it’s always full — people just love being there. It’s really had an impact on the city, and on the region.”
Pueblo’s Robert Hoag Rawlings Library, completed in 2003, was designed by Albuquerque architect Antoine Predock, who also was selected as the architect of Colorado College’s Cornerstone Arts Center. Now under construction, Cornerstone is scheduled to open in early 2008.
The Denver museum’s opening is generating national buzz. A recent article in the Sunday New York Times included a double-page color photo of the Hamilton Wing.
Deanna Person, the museum’s communications director, is confident that the projected visitor numbers are realistic.
“Most of these visitors will be from the region,” she said. “We don’t have to count on a lot of ‘architectural tourism’, but we are aware that the building is attracting a lot of attention, even internationally.”
Visitors likely will be struck by the building’s complex, playful geometry. The exterior, all angles, planes and dreamlike shapes, clad in softly gleaming titanium, almost defies description. It provokes curiosity, and it works very well.
Visitors enter the building from a skybridge, extending from the museum’s original, Gio Ponti-designed building. Once inside, galleries flow easily into one another, and small, confined spaces give way to vast, light-filled halls, reminiscent of the great cathedrals of the Middle Ages.
Media Director Kelly Hurley said that the buzz and the museum’s anticipated increase in patronage shouldn’t hurt other area arts venues.
“We expect that the new wing will energize the arts community,” she said. “We’re working very closely with the neighborhood, with the galleries, and we think everyone will benefit.”
John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com