A very pleasant surprise - the Mile High City
11.09.2007 - 14.09.2007 30 °C
Tuesday September 11
Because this was the anniversary of 9/11, the airport was quiet and on arrival in Denver, that was also quiet too.
I stayed at the economical Ramada Inn on East Colfax, a down at the heels main street east of central Denver. At $90 a night this was well below other Denver prices. The driver of the shuttle van from the airport told me not to walk around at night in this area, but I think he was just a big sissy. Most of the people on the street were down and out but did not seem to be criminals and there were plenty of people walking about (there were two major pop music venues nearby). I soon became comfortable in the area and there was the added advantage of an hourly free shuttle service from the hotel to any destination within 3 miles ; this dealt with my need to get to the Amtrak station.
Quick trip to Union Station, the Amtrak station, to collect ticket for my trip to Grand Junction. It is well maintained Beaux Arts building, but absolutely dead. It was busy when I departed early Thursday morning but lacked the frisson of Union Station is Los Angeles.
I’d planned a visit to Denver to see DAM (Denver Art Museum) an Daniel Libeskind building. More highly polished steel in a wacky profile (similar to Frank Gehry’s Disney Music Center). Perhaps it is simply saturation but I am finding this style of building tedious. It screams and does not really live up to its initial attraction ( for example I prefer the Milwaukee Art Museum by Calatrava.
The real disappointment of this building is how poorly it serves the function for which it should have been designed. Quirky corners, odd planes and lacking a logical layout, the building obstructs the purpose of displaying art .. even the unconventional art displayed in this modern wing of the museum.
The collection is high quality but (for me) the best was Anthony Gormley's "Quantum Cloud XXXIII"
This figure of a man ‘disappears’ when you get close to the sculpture and find that it is a collection of short steel rods fixed together in apparently random pattern. Steel in the inner parts is dark coloured ; the exterior is stainless steel which shimmers and gives the work a luminous quality.
A link bridge leads to the main part of the museum and several great collections. This provides a real contrast to Liebeskind’s quirky space and proves that a more conventional space with square or rectangular rooms emphasises the art .. and not the structure. The Asian art is good but I was most impressed by the Spanish Colonial and pre-Columbian collections. The latter included thousands of works (gold, jade, ceramics) from South and Central America.
The Spanish Colonial which I wanted to acquire for my Faith Trash Collection is Death Cart by Jose Herrera (active 1890 – 1910 ), Comment on a modern artwork explains the tradition:
Death Cart can be traced to the Penitente sect of Catholicism, which developed in the remote hill towns of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, in the absence of priests to maintain standard rituals. Carts are still dragged through the streets by Penitente members during Holy Week to remind the faithful of their mortality. As the carved wooden skeletons rattle along the roads, participants see that death is always just a few steps behind.
I had never heard of the American painter Clyfford Still, but a room is dedicated to 12 of his major works and a whole museum will be built adjacent to DAM to house Still’s works (and only his works). One of the first Abstract Expressionists, this is exciting art.
The nearby Denver Public Library provides free Internet access .. it has a pleasant lively atmosphere.
Normally when I see or hear the word ‘mall’ I flee. Denver’s 16th Street Mall is an exception. I probably would have avoided it were it not for the fact that the Amtrak Station is at one end of it, the library and Denver Art Museum at the other. Free shuttle buses are the only traffic on the street and (at least in the lovely September weather) sidewalk cafes and restaurant terraces can be found all along the street. Many of the buildings are historic ones which have been restored and there is a general air of prosperity about the whole area. There are new hotels and shopping malls off 16th Street but it does seem to show that with proper planning, this type of pedestrianised shopping area can be something other than the wind swept, litter plastered parking lot found in so many cities.
Perhaps it was the altitude (I only became aware of its effect later in the week), but the walk to Denver Botanical Gardens was uphill in more than one way. The few watering spots on 13th Street proved to be either closed or totally inhospitable. The Botanical Gardens are next to spacious Cheeseman Park and that is a very posh residential part of the city ; grand homes in spacious surroundings.
Frankly, the gardens were a disappointment. Perhaps it was the sculpture from Zimbabwe were littered (sorry, ..dotted ..) around the gardens .. or the wrong time of year .. the flowers were burnt and tired. The redeeming feature was the Japanese Garden. Dwarf pines looked from one viewpoint like bonsai then from a distance it could have been a mountainside scene. Reminds me that I really need to explore the theory of these gardens .. they are places which really appeal to me.
My rant: Well, not quite a full scale rant, but the problem of homelessness in Denver is really shocking. It is hard to find accurate information but a 2006 survey says that there were over 9,000 homeless people .. but there are claims that this problem has been reduced of late (moved on?). An article in this month's New York Times estimates the homeless in downtown LA as 10,000 to 12,000
(NYT 11 Oct 2007 'Los Angeles to permit sleeping on sidewalks'.
My rant is twofold .. I feel sorry for some of these people who obviously need help .. and threatened by some of them who are threatening and aggressive. It is a disgrace that entire zones in the centre of these major cities (Market Street and 7th Street in San Francisco has the same problem) are effectively off-limits because of this is problem.