Denver Art Museum

The Denver Art Museum is an art museum in Denver, Colorado located in Denver's Civic Center. It is known for its collection of American Indian art, and has a comprehensive collection numbering more than 60,000 works from across the world.

History of the Museum

  • 1893 Founded as the Denver Artists Club.
  • 1916 Renamed the Denver Art Association.
  • 1918 Moved into first galleries in City and County building and became Denver Art Museum
  • 1954 Moved into first purpose-built building, now called the Morgan Wing.
  • 1971 The current building, designed by Gio Ponti and local architect James Sudler (D. 1982), is completed. A 24-sided, 7 story construction, the exterior of the building is clad in gray tiles designed specially for the building by Dow Corning. The building is adjacent to the Denver Public Library, designed by Burnham Hoyt (1955) and Michael Graves (1996).
  • 2006 February -5,700 SF Duncan Pavilion, a second story addition to the North Building that will come to receive the bridge traffic from the new Frederic C. Hamilton and the existing 1971 North Building once the renovation is completed. The Duncan Pavilion is designed as a temporary structure intended not to compete architecturally with the existing historical buildings or the new Frederic C. Hamilton building, but some have said it is the most powerful space in its simplicity.
  • 2006 The completion and opening date of a major expansion, the Frederic C. Hamilton building, designed as a joint venture by Studio Daniel Libeskind and Brit Probst (Architect of Record) of Davis Partnership Architects. The new building opened on October 7, 2006, and is clad in titanium and glass. The project was recognized by the American Institute of Architects as a successful Building Information Modeling project


The museum has eight curatorial departments: architecture, design & graphics; Asian art; modern and contemporary; native arts (American Indian, Oceanic, and African); New World (pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial); painting & sculpture (European and American); Western art; and textile art.

Architecture, Design & Graphics

Formed in 1990, the department opened its first permanent galleries in 1993. Changing exhibitions drawn from its collection of fine and decorative arts are displayed on the sixth floor, featuring pre-1900 European and American decorative arts. 20th-century design galleries are located on the second floor.

Asian Art

The museum's Asian art collection, the only such resource in the Rocky Mountain region, includes four main galleries devoted to the arts of India, China, Japan and Southwest Asia. Additional galleries offer works from Tibet, Nepal and Southeast Asia, while thematic galleries display religious art and traditional folk crafts.

Modern and Contemporary

The modern and contemporary collection of 20th-century art contains over 4,500 works with an emphasis on both internationally known and emerging artists. The department also includes the Herbert Bayer collection and archive, an important Bauhaus artistic and scholarly resource, containing some 2,500 items including works by artists such as Man Ray, Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Robert Motherwell, Damien Hirst, Philip Guston, Dan Flavin, John DeAndrea, Gottfried Helnwein and Yue Minjun.


One of the museum's most popular and frequently asked-about pieces is part of the modern and contemporary collection. Linda, by Denver artist John DeAndrea, is a life-size realistic sculpture of a sleeping woman. Made of polyvinyl, this piece is sunlight-sensitive and is therefore shown only for short periods of time. The museum also owns another piece by the same artist, Clothed Artist and Model (1976).

Native Arts

Native American

The museum has an internationally-known collection of American Indian art, with over 16,000 works representing over 100 tribes across North America. The Denver Art Museum was one of the first museums to use aesthetic quality as the criteria to develop such a collection, and the first art museum in this country to collect American Indian arts. The museum is important in the fact that it exhibits these items as art, rather than anthropological artifacts. The range of Native American art styles is reflected in such diverse objects as Northwest Coast woodcarving, Naskapi painted leather garments, Winnebago twined weaving, Plains Indian beadwork, Navajo weaving, Pueblo pottery, and California basketry.


The Oceanic collection, on view in the Hamilton Building, includes all major island groups, with particular strength in late 18th and early 19th century wood carving and painted bark cloth from the islands of Samoa, Tonga and Hawaii. Most impressive is the Melanesian collection, consisting of masterpieces from Papua New Guinea and New Ireland. The contemporary Oceanic works, including paintings, drawings and prints, add distinction to the collection and demonstrate cultural continuities and innovation in Oceanic artistic traditions.


The African collection consists of approximately 1,000 objects, and focuses on the diverse artistic traditions of Africa, including rare and exquisite works in sculpture, textiles, jewelry, painting, printmaking and drawings. Although the strength of the collection is west African art, with emphasis on Yoruba works, there are important masterpieces from all regions and mediums of expression including wood, metals, fibers, terracotta and mixed media compositions. The hallmark of the collection includes contemporary expressions, comprising paintings, sculptures, drawings, videos and prints from prominent living artists with international reputations. Interactive elements in the gallery include an iPod station with African music selections, an area where you can create rubbings using African designs and a movie hide-away for the kids.

New World (pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial)

Internationally, the Denver Art Museum is unparalleled in its comprehensive representation of the major stylistic movements from all the geographic areas and cultures of Latin America. The New World Collection, comprising over 5,500 objects, is exhibited in a unified presentation of the arts of Latin America. Included are pre-Columbian masterworks of ceramic, stone, gold and jade, as well as paintings, sculpture, furniture and silver from the Spanish Colonial Period.

The Frederick & Jan Mayer Center at the Denver Art Museum is dedicated to increasing awareness and promoting scholarship in the fields of Pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial art through the New World collections of the Denver Art Museum. To this end, the Mayer Center sponsors annual symposia and publication of their proceedings, the publication of additional volumes as it sees fit, research opportunities including a resident fellowship program and periodic study tours to Latin America and Spain. The programming of the Mayer Center is developed and administered by the staff of the New World Department, Denver Art Museum.


The Denver Art Museum Pre-Columbian Collection is encyclopedic in breath and depth, and exhibited in an open storage gallery, allowing scholars to view the entire collection. The Pre-Columbian collection represents nearly every major culture in Mesoamerica, lower Central America, and South America. The collection’s greatest strength is the Mayer Central American collection which includes gold, jade, stone and earthenware from Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama. Mayan art from Mexico, Guatemala and Belize is especially significant and contains a large number of very important works. Other significant holdings from Mesoamerica include our West Mexican, Teotihuacan and Olmec collections. South American collections are especially strong in Ecuadorian and Colombian art and in several of the Peruvian styles, particularly Moche, Wari, Tiwanaku and Chimu.

Spanish Colonial

The Denver Art Museum holds the finest collection of Spanish Colonial painting and furniture in the U.S. The collection is especially strong in Mexican painting, largely due to the collecting interests and generosity of the Mayer family. Another area of great strength is Peruvian Colonial paintings from the Freyer collection. Silver holdings, comprising the Appleman and Stapleton collections,and furniture holdings from all over Latin America represent the most comprehensive collection in this country. The Anne Evans collection of Spanish Colonial art from the southwestern United States is yet another significant strength of the collection.

Painting & Sculpture (European & American)

The over 3,000 objects in this department is composed of American and European painting, sculpture, and prints through the early 20th century. The European collection is richest in Renaissance and 19th-century French paintings. The American collection consists of paintings, sculpture, prints, and drawings representing all major periods in American art before 1945. Artists represented include Botticelli, Defendente Ferrari, Pissarro, Monet, Matisse, Picasso, and Georgia O'Keefe.

The Berger Collection

Works are also on view from The Berger Collection, one of the largest private individual collections of British art in the world, with more than 150 pieces by British artists such as Thomas Gainsborough, Edward Lear and other artists of the English School that covers a period of 6 centuries.

Textile Art

The collection ranges from Coptic and pre-Columbian textiles to contemporary works of art in fiber, overlapping culturally and chronologically with all but the Native Arts Department. A nationally-recognized collection of American quilts and coverlets, the Julia Wolf Glasser Collection of samplers, and the Charlotte Hill Grant Collection of Chinese Court Costumes are among the strengths of the department.


The Petrie Institute of Western American Art at the Denver Art Museum was established in 2001. Also that year, the collection was augmented by the Harmsen Foundation's donation of over 700 paintings. The Harmsen Collection joined a collection already rich in 19th-century photographs of the West and with such masterworks as Charles Marion Russell's In the Enemy's Country, Frederic Remington's The Cheyenne, and Charles Deas' Long Jakes.

The Harmsen Collection

The Harmsen Collection contains works by artists and photographers who charted the colonization of the American West in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Frederic Remington, Charles M Russell, Frank E. Schoonover, and Frank Tenney Johnson as well as more modern interpreters of American & Western art, such as Gerald Curtis Delano, Harvey Dunn and Raymond Jonson.

Selected Past Exhibitions

  • 1999 Impressionism: Paintings Collected by European Museums, which received 215,000 visits.
  • 2000 Matisse from The Baltimore Museum of Art which received 155,000 visits.
  • 2001 European Masterpieces: Six Centuries of Paintings from the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia
  • 2002 The Cos Cob Art Colony: Impressionists on the Connecticut Shore
  • 2002 Metamorphosis: Modernist Photographs by Herbert Bayer and Man Ray
  • 2002 US Design 1975-2000
  • 2002 Art & Home: Dutch Interiors in the Age of Rembrandt
  • 2003 Antarctica: Through the Eyes of Those Who Live It
  • 2003 Bonnard
  • 2003 Sargent and Italy
  • 2003 El Greco to Picasso from The Phillips Collection, which received 191,000 visits
  • 2003 RETROSPECTACLE: 25 Years of Collecting Modern and Contemporary Art
  • 2004 Frederic Remington: The Color of Night
  • 2004 Painting a New World: Mexican Art and Life, 1521-1821
  • 2004 Tiwanaku: Ancestors of the Inca
  • 2005 Heaven and Home: Chinese Art of the Han Dynasty from the Sze Hong Collection
  • 2005 Amish Quilts: Kaleidoscope of Color from the Collection of Faith and Stephen Brown
  • 2005 Blanket Statements, an exhibition of Navajo Weavers
  • 2005 New Classics, contemporary pieces from the Museum’s American Indian collection, by a variety of artists like Dan Namingha, Emmi Whitehorse, Mateo Romero and Kevin Red Star.
  • 2006 RADAR: Selections from the Colorado Collection of Vicki and Kent Logan
  • 2006 Breaking the Mold: The Virginia Vogel Mattern Collection of Contemporary Native American Art
  • 2006 Japanese Art From the Collection of John and Kimiko Powers
  • 2007 Artisans & Kings: Selected Treasures from the Louvre
  • 2007 Color as Field: American Painting, 1950-1975
  • 2007 Maria: American Icon
  • 2007 George Carlson: Heart of the West
  • 2007 Clyfford Still Unveiled: Selections from the Estate
  • 2008 Inspiring Impressionism
  • 2008 Landscapes from the Age of Impressionism


The museum’s Education Department has taken a leading role both nationally and internationally in three areas: research in making museum visits successful and enjoyable, the creation of innovative installed learning materials (e.g., audio tours, labeling, video and reading areas, response journals, and hands-on and art-making areas), and interactive learning for young people both in school and family groups. Family-friendly programs such as the Just for Fun Family Center, Eye Spy gallery games, the Discovery Library, Kids Corner, and Family Backpacks have been both popular and successful. In particular, the Family Backpack program has been adopted and adapted by other institutions, ranging from the Victoria and Albert Museum to the Henry Ford Museum.


The museum is run by a non-profit organization separate from the City of Denver. Major funding for the museum is provided by a 0.1% sales tax levied in the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD), which includes seven Colorado counties in the Denver-Aurora metropolitan area. About 60% of this tax is used to provide funding for the Denver Art Museum and three other major science and cultural facilities in Denver (the Denver Botanic Gardens, the Denver Zoo, and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science). In addition, the museum receives large private donations and loans from private collections. Over the past five years, the Denver Art Museum has averaged 465,000 visitors a year. Total revenues for the Museum in 2003 were $23 million.

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