When it comes to art museums, expansions mean more than a little extra space. "When you open a new building, there is a new beginning," says Heather Nielsen, the Denver Art Museum's master teacher of native arts and director of community and family programs.
Nielsen speaks, of course, of the DAM's Frederic C. Hamilton Building, which, when it opened almost a year ago, added an expanse of galleries and a theater to that museum's facilities.
Certainly, having almost a year's experience under their belt, the folks at the DAM must have some advice they can share with Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, which will unveil its own expansion next week. Right?
Well, yes and no. In many ways, the FAC already has taken a page from the DAM's playbook, starting with its headline grand-opening exhibit, The Eclectic Eye: Pop and Illusion, Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation. It's very similar to RADAR: Selections from the Collection of Vicki & Kent Logan, which just recently ended its tenure at the DAM and was one of several shows to front the opening of the Hamilton Building.
Both The Eclectic Eye and RADAR shows consist of edgy modern and contemporary works. And both collections, while not always pretty, have a certain striking quality to them: They challenge an audience's ideas of art with pieces that have a certain personal quality.
"The works are very much a part of our everyday world," says Blake Milteer, the FAC's newly appointed curator of 19th through 21st century American art, "which is what pop art is all about."
Until recently, Milteer worked as the DAM's assistant curator in the modern and contemporary art department. The similarities he notes between the two shows are confirmed by Alison Carlman, communications associate at the DAM.
"People want to make deeper and more personal connections with the art," she says, when asked for the reasoning behind the DAM's opening with RADAR.
The pieces at both shows also create some problems for any museum hoping to accommodate them: Large and electronic-art works force the curator to carefully design the exhibition, working with the pieces and the architecture of the space.
"Art and architecture have to speak to each other," Milteer says.
That's where the FAC's new addition could give Colorado Springs' curators a leg up on their Denver peers. For RADAR, the DAM curators were forced to adjust certain walls with build-outs and mount pieces. Some works were even commissioned precisely so they would draw attention to the sharp, obtrusive edges of Daniel Libeskind's design.
"The [DAM] building is innovative, like an innovative piece of art," Milteer says. "It takes people a while to wrap their minds around it."
Meanwhile, the new, massive El Pomar Gallery on the second floor of the FAC's expansion was built with an 18-foot-tall ceiling and with thousands of square feet in floor space to specifically accommodate traveling exhibits such as RADAR and The Eclectic Eye. That should prevent space limitations from being a major issue in Colorado Springs.
And that is something the FAC is, rightfully, quite proud of.
"This is the space that will change Colorado Springs for the better," FAC President/CEO Michael De Marsche said during a recent tour of the El Pomar Gallery. "Now, culture is right here, in Colorado Springs."
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