Housed in the former studio of Vance Kirkland (1904–81), one of Colorado’s most distinguished painters, every inch of the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art is filled with fascinating art, furnishings and objects. From Kirkland’s own vivid abstract expressionist works to a collection of rarely seen 20th-century Colorado artists, you’ll quickly see why the Denver Post called the Kirkland “Denver’s most interesting museum.”
Much of Denver’s greatest art isn’t in museums. One percent of any capital improvement project over $1 million in the city is set aside for the creation of public artworks.
The result is a wealth of exquisite — and often enormous — open-air pieces all over Denver. Use this story on the most fanciful pieces as a scavenger hunt around the city.
“The Big Blue Bear.” This benign ursine presence peers curiously into the center, providing visitors with an essential Denver photo opportunity. Just a short walk away at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, two 50-foot-tall figures frolic near Speer Boulevard as part of Jonathan Borofsky’s “The Dancers.”
A few blocks away, the jagged edges of the Daniel Libeskind-designed Hamilton Building, part of the Denver Art Museum, jut out over 13th Avenue. The museum houses Western art, contemporary masterworks and traveling exhibitions.
Across the street, the Clyfford Still Museum, dedicated to the legacy of one of the most important painters of the 20th century, is one of only five one-artist museums in the nation. The Kirkland Museum is another!
Take the afternoon to explore the hub of Denver’s creative community, with the largest concentration of art galleries in Colorado. The Art District on Santa Fe is home to more than 40 art galleries and studio spaces devoted to photography, painting, sculpture, mixed media, textiles and more.
Be sure to stop in at the Museo de las Americas, a unique museum highlighting both traditional and contemporary Latino art and culture from Central and South America. If you happen to be in town on the first Friday of any month, take part in the First Friday Art Walk, during which galleries stay open late and lively crowds create a street-fair-like ambiance across the entire district.
The River North Art District, known by locals as “RiNo,” is also a Certified Colorado Creative District and lively community of furniture makers, sculptors, edgy artists and culinary pioneers. If you happen to be in town on the first Friday of any month, take part in the First Friday Art Walk: galleries stay open late and lively crowds create a street-fair-like ambiance in both districts.
Continue your artsy adventure the next day with a morning stop at Tattered Cover’s historic LoDo location. Called “a bibliophile’s paradise” by the New York Times, this multileveled bookstore boasts tens of thousands of volumes covering every topic under the sun.
The store’s wide selection of Denver- and Colorado-centric books is particularly notable. Ask the friendly staff for a calendar of events to see which famous author is stopping in next — everyone from Stephen King to David Sedaris has held readings here.
Just around the corner from Tattered Cover, you’ll find one of the crown jewels of Denver’s art scene — the Museum of Contemporary Art | Denver. You’ll encounter five galleries with a constantly refreshed series of exhibits showcasing innovative and creative minds, each with a fresh perspective, and each with a bold way of seeing the world.
Once you’ve had an eyeful, head to the museum’s serene rooftop garden and cafe. High above the hustle and bustle of downtown Denver, you’ll be able to relax and reflect on what you’ve seen. On your way out, browse a bit at the MCA Shop on the first level, where you can buy eclectic books, music and clothing.
Photo: Museum of Contemporary Art | Denver; courtesy of Visit Denver, The Convention & Visitor's Bureau/Steve Crecelius.