I recently did a summer-time trip to Denver, Colorado. Being a lover of art myself, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the cool art scene here. From the comprehensive Denver Art Museum to the trendy dreamland Meow Wolf, I spent a good chunk of my time exploring the art world here. If you are looking for things to do in Denver with an artsy twist, this is the one for you!
Denver Art Museum
Located in the Civic Center, this is a huge museum of two building connected joined together, where the iconic Martin Building was designed by the famous Italian architect Gio Ponti. It is the largest art museum in Denver – in fact, it is one of the largest art museums between the West Coast and Chicago.
The museum has collections of over 70,000 diverse works. It feels like a melting pot of art from all over the world, and you get a taste of it all here. Despite its size, the museum itself is not too overwhelming.
I loved the variety of well curated exhibits here, such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Photography, a great sneak peak into the famed artist’s point of view behind her lens; Disruption, an eye-opening (and some disturbing) exhibit of contemporary works that tell political narratives, challenge social norms, and conjure up dystopian realities; Carla Fernández Casa de Moda: A Mexican Fashion Manifesto, an exploration of the fashion designer’s vision for incorporating ancient, artisanal techniques into contemporary clothing design. I also loved By Design: Stories and Ideas Behind Objects, showcasing “everyday” objects such as furniture and tableware that are so fascinating to look and at and will leave you with a new-found appreciation for design.
Overall, I would describe DAM as a comprehensive museum with a good balance of everything. With the large size of the museum, I suggest focusing on the curated exhibits first, and then exploring the vast, more permanent collection. It took me a solid afternoon to circle around the buildings and feel satisfied, so be sure to allow at least a few hours if you’d like to see most things. Also, be sure to check out the level 7 terraces, where project architects Machado Silvetti and Fentress followed Ponti’s vision and designed this relaxing roof space featuring beautiful views of downtown and the front range.
Kirkland Museum of Fine Arts
Located right next to the DAM, Kirkland Museum of Fine Decor & Arts is a different flavor. Originally the studio and art building of painter Vance Kirkland, this quiet 38,500 square foot building houses a great collection of declarative arts, sculptures and objects.
The entire museum is on one floor, and as you walk through the galleries, you can explore the three primary collections: (1) International decorative arts, which travels back in time and explores design movements from Art Deco, to Bauhaus, to Surrealism, to Modern Italian and Post Modern design; (2) Regional collection with a focus on Colorado art; (3) A retrospective of Vance Kirkland’s works that span 55 years and all five of his artistic “periods.”
Wandering through this salon is really fun. The museum has a very quiet and contemplative ambience, with quiet jazz playing in the background, making it a relaxing, meditative experience. I loved the works by Kirkland scattered throughout the museum, especially this large painting, Four Suns in Space (1973) . It is trippy with a large scale that draws you in, and detailed textures that create an optical illusion-like sensation. You will also wander into Vance’s studio, which is a really cool, airy room displaying parts of the artist’s creative process.
I was pleasantly surprised by this museum. It definitely is more niche, and took me a while to settle in. But once I started focusing on the objects, the museum space really grew on me. Each object, whether its a sculpture or piece of furniture or even a small set of cup and saucer all have design elements to study. As all the galleries are located on one flat floor, it doesn’t take too long to go through the museum, so I would recommend spending an hour or two here. Before you leave, be sure to view Forces of Energy from a Sun in the Open Star Cluster K1, as this was Kirkland’s last finished work before he passed away in 1981, and did in deed feel like a grand finale to the exhibit.
Clyfford Still Museum
The last but not least museum located within the Golden Triangle district is the Clyfford Still Museum, which houses works by the notable Abstract Expressionist artist. His works often consist of abstract shapes, colors, and lines that express ideas and feelings on large-scale canvases.
Located right across from the Kirkland Museum, this museum has a very different feel. It’s a very open, airy space with large-scale paintings spread out across the galleries. The walk through the galleries feels very exploratory, as there isn’t much background information being offered (and most of the paintings are untitled, as Clyfford Still intended), so it’s a very open-ended experience.
The architecture of the building is definitely worth checking out, especially the outdoor yet enclosed terrace design. It takes about an hour or less to explore the space so it’s perfect if you are short on time but wanted to visit one of the 3 museums in the area.
Museum of Contemporary Art
Located near the Union Station, this is a small contemporary art space that is very up to date on the current art & world landscape. Perhaps for that reason, rather than having a permanent collection, it rotates through several exhibits each year.
Overall, it’s a very focused space with only a handful of exhibits, each commenting on a very current issue (for example, the loss & suffering from the pandemic, space exploration, and climate change). The rooftop terrace here is my favorite highlight – definitely visit the rooftop café for a drink and get a nice view of the Denver downtown area.
Meow Wolf is hands down my favorite spot. It’s not only my favorite as a visitor, but a local favorite as well. I previously mentioned the Meow Wolf in Santa Fe from my New Mexico Road Trip, but the location in Denver is quite a gem on its own.
Meow Wolf is a collective of artists focused on creating immersive and interactive experiences that transport audiences of all ages into fantastic realms of story and exploration. The Denver location, Convergence Station, starts you off at a space metropolis that is also the heart of a multi-universal transit station, where you get to explore four different alien worlds and dimensions.
This massive space features mind-blowingly creative works by over 300 artists, all interwoven together by a cool storyline of space travel between alien civilizations, and the cosmic event that allows space inhabitants store memories in a crystal and trade it for money. Some of the “scriptures” suggest ideologies where without memory, humans may actually be happier and live in better harmony with one another. It all really plays with your mind!
I don’t want to spoil too much of the fun, but Convergence Station is definitely worth the visit for both adults and children. It takes at least 3 hours (seriously, at least 3 hours) to explore all the dimensions, so definitely allow plenty of time to make your trip worth it, and make sure you get a sneak peak at their website here.
If you are with friends and want a good laugh with some cool photos, check out the Selfie Museum, located in the downtown area. Here, you can explore a dozen of different rooms where the lights and camera stands are already set up for you to take some creative shots.
The “infinity” room here is quite cool, and so are some of the other room designs. As there aren’t too many visitors around, you can take your time going around the spaces and unleash your inner creativity. $25 for a ticket felt a little steep, but it’s a fun place to goof around and have a good time if you are in the area.
It’s hard to visit Denver without checking out the fantastic natural landscapes surrounding it. I call these spots nature’s art because they are shaped by nature’s design and are truly wondrous spots to visit.
Alpine Ridge Trail
If you are visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, the Alpine Ridge Trail is one of my favorites. Despite being a relatively short trail (about 0.7 miles around trip), it takes you on at an elevation of over 12,000 feet, where you get a sweeping view of the landscape. The environment up here is harsh – plants only grow and bloom in a three-month season, and the wind is not for the fragile. However, the view is absolutely gorgeous and lets you see nature’s beauty in a different way.
Red Rocks Amphitheater
The famous Red Rocks Amphitheater is a massive open-air amphitheater built right into a natural rock structure. Considered one of the most beautiful music venues in the country, red sandstone rocks surround both sides of the space, creating a natural amphitheater. The view is really awesome, but what elevates it even more is to actually enjoy an evening concert here. You get to arrive right before sunset, then watch the beautiful changing of colors along with some cool summer night breeze. It’s quite an unforgettable experience that you can’t really find elsewhere in the country. Check out the calendar of events here, and even if you can’t make it to a concert, be sure to still stop by and walk around the site!
Garden of the Gods
As the name suggests, this is a rare place where you can see some really amazing rock formations that are the result of nature’s push and pull over millions of years. Ancient mountains were eroded and buried; sand dunes moved across the land; oceans encroached and retreated. The resulting work is what we see today.
There are lots of cool rock formations to spot here along the walk, and there are also lots of rock climbing enthusiasts. If you have time, be sure to check out the “Balanced Rock” at the south edge of the park, where a giant rock is literally “balanced” on another one. It’s definitely a rare sight.
Other Art Spots Around the City
Denver is a cool and vibrant city. Walk around and you can easily see artists’ footprints everywhere. Explore the alleyways of Dairy Block, or the Big Blue Bear peering into the Denver Convention Center. There are just so many cool places where you might be pleasantly surprised. Overall, if you are in Denver and wanted a fresh perspective, I hope you hit up some of these artsy spots and get inspired!