From vibrant street art to world-class museums, Denver’s burgeoning art scene is a celebration of expertise, innovation, and vivid imagination.
by Jamie Siebrase
When The New York Times named Denver one of its 52 places to visit in 2018, it revealed a secret Denverites have delighted in for decades: Art has seized the city, and there’s no sign of retreat. You’re only in town for a limited time, so here’s what you do… Choose your own adventure in the pages ahead to experience Denver’s artistic highlights and hotspots.
See Where Art is Made
Local artists Tracy Weil (weilworks.com) and Jill Hadley-Hooper (hadleyhooper.com) breathed new life into Denver’s industrial corridor in 2005, when they formed the River North Art District. Known as RiNo to locals, this hip downtown neighborhood has become an incubator for Denver’s artsy types, and home to an estimated 400 artists, illustrators, photographers, architects, designers, and makers.
“We’re where art is made,” Weil says, reciting the district’s catchy motto.
Weil isn’t exaggerating. In addition to art studios galore, RiNo clenches 22 galleries and a handful of creative collectives. The district also boasts the largest concentration of breweries and cideries in the region — and that’s a good thing, seeing as craft beer is to art viewing what Marilyn Monroe was to Andy Warhol. (Just trust us on that.)
You can roam the district at your own pace, but the best time to experience RiNo’s explosive energy is during the first Friday of the month, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., when area artists open their doors to the public duringFirst Friday Art Walk.
If you only have one afternoon to spare, make it count with this RiNo cheat sheet.
Start on the south side of town, at The Temple, 2400 Curtis St., and Redline, 2350 Arapahoe St., two community pillars with impressive studio artist programs and beautiful galleries.
Explore the galleries and businesses on Walnut Street beginning with Great Basin Studio at 2540 Walnut St. Here, the fabulous works of internationally acclaimed artist William Matthews adorn the walls. Stop in for a quick flight at Stem Ciders, 2811 Walnut St., before cutting over to Blake Street, where you’ll find B-SPOT Pop Up, 2750 Blake St., and the Studios on Blake, 3040 Blake St., featuring a cutting-edge gallery and 14 studios.
Order whatever’s on tap at Ratio Beerworks, 2920 Larimer St., or Epic Brewing Company, 3001 Walnut St., then visit Dry Ice Factory, 3300 Walnut St., fooLPRoof contemporary art, 3240 Larimer St., and Millers & Rossi, an art speakeasy with delicious bites and a strong craft cocktail program.
Helikon Gallery & Studios, 3675 Wynkoop St., is next, followed by Zeppelin Station, 3501 Wazee St., Denver’s latest food hall, containing the RiNo Made store, open daily at 11 a.m., stocked with unique products from neighborhood artists. Wander a block east to Beloved Community Village, Denver’s first tiny home community, a radical experiment and architectural marvel. Head north to Blue Moon Brewing Company, 3750 Chestnut Pl., for another flight, before catching a ride to Blue Silo Studios, 4701 National Western Dr.
The artful afternoon ends at the Globeville Riverfront Art Center, 888 E. 50th Ave., a conglomerate where more than 80 visual artists work in a variety of media, from painting, photography, and ceramics to printmaking, jewelry, illustration, and fiber.
Get Street Smart
You won’t find colorful graffiti and spray-painted murals in a traditional museum, and that’s the whole point of street art, an outsider form that’s activating many Denver neighborhoods, most notably the River North Art District.
There are 140 outdoor murals on display in RiNo, where art is accessible and impermanent — and all the more appealing to Thomas “Detour” Evans, one of Colorado’s hottest street artists.
“In a rapidly changing city, things are going to be temporary, and you have to try not to hold on to too much,” says the unassuming 33-year-old painter. Blame it on his transitive military upbringing: Evans mastered the art of letting go in adolescence, after discovering that his creative prowess helped him connect with unfamiliar faces in an exhaustive succession of new communities.
Evans moved to Colorado to pursue a degree in business. When he took a side job painting live art onstage at Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, he found himself at home – at last – in Denver’s lively community of nontraditional artists.
Evans painted his first mural in 2016, at CRUSH, RiNo’s blowout street art and graffiti festival, held annually in September. In addition to learning a new medium (spray paint), Evans had to “scale up,” from small canvases to a garage door- sized wall on Larimer Street, where he created a portrait of a woman he’d just met.
Evans “caught the bug,” he says. At the same time, Denver got hooked on Evans, gravitating toward his bright, bold images of diversity and the immigrant experience.
Evans has embellished dozens of walls, alleyways, and garage doors throughout RiNo and the greater Denver area. Some of his murals have been covered, but Evans estimates at least 10 are currently on view.
One of the artist’s favorite projects is his avant-garde depiction of pianist Charles Mingus, brightening a garage door near the entrance of Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club, 1330 27th Street. To get a sense of his range, visit the Volunteers of America Building at 2600 Larimer St., where Evans produced large-scale flowers to accompany a portrait by Patrick Kane McGregor. His latest mural, off Helikon Gallery & Studios, 3675 Wynkoop St., depicts – in the artist’s hallmark, colorful style – a friend named Sophia.
You can catch Thomas “Detour” Evans anytime on Instagram (@detour303) or at his studio at Redline, 2350 Arapahoe St., until late 2018, when he plans to return to his previous digs at The Temple, 2400 Curtis St.
Accessible from the flagship REI store, 1416 Platte St., the Cherry Creek Trail is an outstanding addition to Denver’s public art program, with murals painted by teams of local and international artists, including Denverites Jaime Molina, Pedro Barrios and Joseph Martinez, as well as Brazilian street artists Bruno Novelli, Claudio Ethos, Alexandre Orion, and Alex Hornest. Hosted by Denver’s Urban Arts Fund, bike mural tours take off throughout the summer months, from the Denver B-cycle area east of REI. Psst: B-cycle is Denver’s bike share program; if you’re visiting from out of town, rent a bike through B-cycle prior to joining a tour group.
Take a Free Public Art Tour
If you’re adamantly opposed to PDAs (public displays of art, not affection), then you’ve landed in the wrong city. Through its public art program, Denver has amassed more than 400 public pieces of outdoor artwork — approximately three-fourths the amount lining New York’s streets.
Free guided public art tours are offered all summer long in 14 Denver districts. For a full list of public art tours, visit http://www.artsandvenuesdenver.com/public-art/denver-public-art-tours, where you can reserve your spot on a tour in advance.
The 14th Street Public Art Tour meets on June 7 at 5:30 p.m., near The Corner Office, 1401 Curtis St., at the All Together Now streetscape, composed of a 60-foot- long yellow aluminum wall and 45-foot-tall urban toy. On this tour, art lovers explore the Denver Theater District’s playful collection, which pairs some of Denver’s oldest murals (by Allen True) with recent works, such as Jonathan Borofsky’s immense fiberglass Dancers.
Kicking off at 6 p.m. on June 6 and June 20, the City Park Public Art Tour introduces spectators to half a dozen artworks, including the historic sculptures, fountains, and gateways of City Park, as well as Avian Front, located along the south end of the Denver Zoo. Meet at the Thatcher Fountain at 17th Avenue and City Park Esplanade to participate.
Golden Triangle Public Art Tours cover a wide range of historical and contemporary public artworks, from the classic 20th century bronze sculptures of Alexander Proctor’s On the War Trail and Broncho Buster, to the big red chair with a miniature horse by Donald Lipski. Tours begin at 5:30 p.m. on June 13, June 27, July 11, and July 25. They meet at McNichols Civic Center Building, 144 W. Colfax Ave.
3 Essential Pieces of Public Art Every Tourist Must See
A full list of Denver’s public art collection is available at artsandvenuesdenver.com/public-art (click “The Denver Public Art Collection”). If you don’t have time to view everything, our must-sees are as follows:
Lawrence Argent’s I See What You Mean, the big blue bear at the Colorado Convention Center, on 14th Street between Stout and California streets.
2. The 23 bronze and aluminum sculptures cast in metal comprising the Fourteenth Street Overlay, created by Pennsylvania artists Wes Heiss and Marek Walczak.
3. Patrick Marold’s solar-illuminated, beetle-kill log masterpiece Shadow Array, on display near Denver International Airport, where you’ll also find Mustang, the infamous, neon-eyed fiberglass beast that killed its creator, sculptor Luis Jimenez.
Visit Denver’s Museums
Known as the Golden Triangle Creative District, Denver’s unofficial museum district is concentrated in the triangular area bounded by Speer Blvd., Colfax Ave., and Lincoln St. Here, visitors discover a sophisticated neighborhood comprised of eight museums, 50-plus galleries, and plenty of fine art studios and specialty stores.
Denver Art Museum’s (DAM) 146,000-square-foot Hamilton Building, 100 W. 14th Avenue, anchors the Golden Triangle Creative District with its high-caliber collection, international exhibits, and some really inventive programming.
General admission is free for all DAM visitors 18 and under, and the museum caters to young connoisseurs with an array of hands-on DIY projects scattered throughout 10 gallery spaces, as well as a first-floor studio space, where guests of all ages can create art projects keyed to the theme of the moment and, on weekends, watch live demonstrations by practicing artists.
DAM rings in the last Friday of every month with Untitled, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., an opportunity for guests to mingle with artists over drinks and live music. The programming corresponds with the Final Friday Art Walk – often called “Final Fridays” – a chance for art enthusiasts to check out the restaurants, museums, galleries, secret studios, and storefronts in the Golden Triangle Creative District, June through September, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Denver Art Museum packs a lot of punch, but it certainly isn’t the district’s only gem. Next door, the Clyfford Still Museum, 1250 Bannock St., is a seductive, 28,500-square-foot minimalist institution dedicated specifically to the work of its namesake, an abstract expressionist, the bulk of whose work was hidden from public view for decades.
In March, the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art relocated to 1201 Bannock St., bringing to the Golden Triangle three collections containing more than 30,000 works by more than 1,500 artists and designers. The museum also keeps the estate collection of Vance Kirkland, the Colorado painter whose works have received more than 350 exhibitions at 70 museums and 35 universities across 13 countries.
Unlike a traditional museum, Kirkland Museum arranges its art salon- style, showing its fine art (paintings and sculpture) alongside a vast assemblage of international decorative art that has been recognized as one of the most important displays in North America, with notable examples of every major design period from Arts & Crafts through Postmodern.
Technically speaking, The ART, a hotel, isn’t a museum. But step inside the portico-like entrance of this 165-room boutique hotel, and you’ll definitely get an expertly curated, museum-quality vibe, owing in part to the fact that the chic building’s 38 pieces of artwork were arranged by Diane Vanderlip, Denver Art Museum’s former curator of modern and contemporary art.
While some pieces adorn open spaces and meeting rooms, many are concentrated in Portico Gallery, where you’ll find commissioned work from renowned national and international artists. It’s impossible to miss Leo Villareal’s Untitled , an entryway spectacle made of 24,000 LED lights that illuminate in a sequence that will never repeat itself. Be sure to look for Frank Gehry’s laminate, silicone, and wood Fish Lamp , Big Sweep, as well as the polyurethane coated steel and aluminum broom and dustpan created by European artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bru.
Bonus: FIRE Lounge (inside The ART, a hotel) is a great spot to rest your legs between museums. You can’t go wrong with Colorado lamb sliders and a smoked Manhattan.
Summer Exhibits at the DAM
Through August 12, see the first major museum exhibition of Brooklyn-based Choctaw-Cherokee painter and sculptor Jeffrey Gibson. Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer chronicles a pivotal moment in the artist’s career, when his contemporary artistic practice converged with his Native American heritage. The exhibit includes 65 objects created from 2011 to present, encompassing beaded punching bags, painted works on rawhide and canvas, and video.
New Territory: Landscape Photography Today launches on June 24, with more than 80 contemporary landscape photographs exploring the dramatic ways artists stretch the boundaries of traditional landscape photography.
Eyes On: Julie Buffalohead opening July 29, showcases new work by the Minnesota-based artist, who is a citizen of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma. The exhibition corresponds thematically with Eyes On: Shimabuku, a video by Japan-based artist Shimabuku, as well as Stampede: Animals in Art.
Our Golden Triangle Gallery Obsession
Walker Fine Art, 300 W. 11th Ave., is one of the neighborhood’s best-kept secrets. Manna for contemporary art addicts, this space features realism and abstraction through mixed media, experimental photography, installation, and sculpture. A balanced mixture of local, national, and international artists cycle through four exhibition-level galleries. Summer exhibitions include Mark Makers, closing July 7, featuring Ellen Moershel, Patricia Finley, Brigan Gresh, Julie Maren, Brandon Reese, Mary Mackey, Ana Zanic, and Conscious Surrender, opening July 13, with work by Anna Charney, Ben Strawn, Sara Pittman, Deidre Adams, Carol Browning, David Mazza.
Denver’s Other Big Art Museum
The 27,000-square foot, environmentally sustainable Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, 1485 Delgany St., elevates the local art scene from Denver’s lower downtown district, with its experimental brand of rotating contemporary exhibits. Directed by mastermind Adam Lerner, MCA Denver is a truly innovative forum that never fails to inspire and challenge patrons of all ages and artistic leanings. Case in point: Honey. On view through August 26, Denver-based photographer Kristen Hatgi Sink’s sticky exhibition is a series of videos featuring the subject (honey) dripping and pouring over composed objects and people.
Go Gallery Hopping
Claiming the largest concentration of art galleries in Colorado, Denver’s 15-year-old Art District on Santa Fe is the best place to gallery hop. On the blocks of Santa Fe Dr. between 5th and 11th Avenues, visitors are greeted by 30 galleries interspersed with studios and cooperatives, theaters,
museums, murals, breweries, and international restaurants. (The full district is a rectangle running north-south from 13th St. to W. Alameda Ave., and east-west from Inca to Kalamath streets.
We’re currently digging artist Scott Young, represented by RULE gallery, 530 Santa Fe Dr., whose sexy neon pieces are literally lighting up the town, starting with Wish You Were Here, the flickering sculpture attached to the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, 1485 Delgany St.Denver’s Art District on
Santa Fe is a membership-based organization, and its affiliates are constantly hosting their own events, openings, and exhibits. For a calendar listing of all district happenings, visit denversartdistrict.org/events.
Rain or shine, the First Friday Art Walk draws thousands of art enthusiasts the first Friday of every month, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., when artists open their studio doors, and galleries throw down, too, with appetizers, drinks, music, and live performances. On these bustling nights, every corner and cranny in the district is packed with art, and parking is limited — which is why we recommend taking the RTD Light Rail to the 10th and Osage station, eight blocks south of Santa Fe Dr.
On third Fridays, Collector Preview Events are a tinier version of First Fridays, offering a more intimate experience for aficionados interested in one-on-one time with gallery owners and artists. Art on Film is a popular summertime offering; on the final Wednesdays in June, July, and August, artsy films are aired al fresco, in the parking lot of Su Teatro, 721 Santa Fe Dr., a nonprofit arts complex emphasizing Latino heritage.
10 Notable Stops on Santa Fe Drive
• SPACE Gallery, 400 Santa Fe Dr., an airy modern gallery highlighting emerging regional and national artists
• Mai Wyn Fine Art, 744 Santa Fe Dr., the studio of Mai Wyn Schantz, known for her contemporary landscape and nature-based oil paintings on stainless steel
• ReCreative Denver, 765 Santa Fe Dr., a creative reuse store and community art center
• CHAC Gallery and Cultural Center, 772 Santa Fe Dr., one of Denver’s most unique gallery spaces, featuring the art and culture of the town’s Chicano/Latino community
• VFW Post 1 Gallery, 841 Santa Fe Dr., a community space for artists of all mediums who have served in the Armed Forces
• Museo de las Americas, 861 Santa Fe Dr., the Rocky Mountain region’s premier Latin American art museum
• Spark Gallery, 900 Santa Fe Dr., Denver’s oldest cooperative gallery
• Access Gallery, 909 Santa Fe Dr., an inclusive gallery ensuring people with disabilities experience and benefit from the arts
• Niza Knoll Gallery, 915 Santa Fe Dr., an intriguing minimalist space specializing in c onceptual exhibits
• Center for Visual Art, 965 Santa Fe Dr., Metropolitan State University of Denver’s impressive off-site gallery