Fine Arts Center addition

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Along with assorted media types, toured the FAC’s new addition yeasterday morning. The architect, David Owen Tryba, was on hand, as were miscellaneous FAC bigwigs-Mike DeMarsche, Buck Blessing, Carol Kleiner,Chris Jenkins, just to name a few.

As some of you may know, I have a long history with the FAC. My grandfather was a founding trustee, and a resident artist there, my mother was a trustee, and I’ve been a persistent critic/cheerleader/gadfly. I’ve looked at previous renovation schemes with mixed feelings-mainly disbelief, disdain, and contempt. Every previously floated idea was either ludicrous, or disrepectful to the historic integrity of the building, or clumsy and graceless.

Tryba’s addition is none of the above. It’s both a subtle, perfectly rendered, and utterly sympathetic addition to John Gaw Meem’s great masterpiece and, amazingly, a transcendent piece of architecture in its own right.

The addition is entered from the FAC’s lobby, and presents as a continuation of the east/west axial corridor. The new corridor is airy, light-filled, exuberantly classical, and perfectly proportioned.

Listening to Tryba talk about the design process, that’s not a surprise. Tryba reads the Meem building as one whose primary influence was not the Pueblo architecture of the American southwest, but the public buildings of ancient Greece. He even pointed out that the FAC, situated on a hill, overlooking the city, shares the formal elements of the acropolis, and noted Meem’s understanding of classical proportions, and his use of the Fibonacci series in certain design elements of the FAC.

Entering the new galleries, which taken together double the FAC’s exhibition space, you’re struck by how nicely they flow, how easy it is to ‘read’ the building, and how the galleries complement and enhance the art displayed therein.

An unexpected delight: the extraordinary generosity of Kathy Loo, who has not only been one of the primary donors to the new building but has also given the FAC 27 examples of historic western/Colorado art that she and her late husband Dusty collected over the last three decades.

The paintings are on display in one of the new galleries, and they’re wonderful. I remember when Dusty acquired many of them-I collected a few small historic pieces as well, but none that approached his in quality and importance.

And speaking of donors: the FAC has raised $28.6 million so far, from 376 donors. Approximately $9 million came from foundations, over $18 million from individuals, and less than 2% of the total from corporations. 33 donors, who had never before given to the FAC, gave over $25K each-an amazing statistic. Compare & contrast with the Denver Art Museum, where well over half of the project’s cost came from Denver-area taxpayers.

They’ve reached their original goal, which has been increased since, and plan to launch a small donor appeal to raise another $2 million or so in the coming weeks. I suspect that they’ll have no problem.

Conclusion: a triumph that few of us could have imagined before Mike DeMarsche arrived almost exactly four years ago. Better still, it should cure the local arts community of Denver envy. The new FAC is an infinitely better, more user-friendly, and more beautiful building than the renovated Denver Art Museum, which is, in effect, the forced marriage of two monumental architectural egos (Gio Ponti and Daniel Liebeskind), neither of whom cared much, if at all, about displaying art.

2 Responses to Fine Arts Center addition

  1. This enchanting review should encourage all readers to schedule a visit to the Fine Arts Center during the month of August. Well done, John.

    July 18, 2007 at 11:52 am

  2. JH,
    I couldn’t agree more with you. I went through the new addition last week prior to a donors dinner. WOW! it is spectacular. The El Pomar Gallery is HUGE!
    No matter what I’ve said in the past ,DeMarsche has truly done our community a great service in pushing this expansion through.

    July 18, 2007 at 12:46 pm