Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Wonderful Weekend In Denver

Joshua and I had a wonderful weekend in Denver. My brother could not have been a more gracious or more welcoming host.

This weekend was the first time I have gone to Denver to visit my brother since the summer of 2005. When I was still in school, I would generally go visit my brother twice each summer, and I would generally stay for a week or so each time I visited. In addition, when I was in law school, my brother would generally come to Washington to visit me once each semester, and he would generally stay for a long weekend each time he visited. I miss those visits very much.

My brother was waiting for Josh and me at the airport, and he immediately took us home. He gave us a splendid dinner, which he had prepared himself--steak, baked potatoes, steamed broccoli, steamed sweet corn, steamed carrots--and after dinner we stayed up late into the night, talking and catching up.

My brother lives in a one-bedroom condominium, which he keeps very clean and very neat. He does not like clutter, and he does not like an over-furnished room--his home has everything he needs to be comfortable, but there is nothing extraneous in his home. I like his condominium very much.

He allowed me to prepare breakfasts for us each morning. I know how he arranges his kitchen, and I know how he likes things done. I keep everything organized the way he likes, so he does not mind that I prepare breakfasts when I am visiting--in fact, he prefers it.

On Saturday, my brother and Josh and I walked around downtown Denver for several hours. Josh had never been to Denver before, and my brother showed Josh all of the major buildings in the center of the city. It was a very nice walk.

At the end of our walk, we visited the Denver Art Museum. We did so, not to examine the artworks, but to examine the new Daniel Libeskind building. The building opened last October, and it attracted a great deal of national attention at the time.

The design clearly was intended to make a "statement". Whatever the merits of the design, the building has not been a success thus far. Only one-third of the new structure is devoted to exhibition space, and this exhibition space overwhelms the artworks on display. The new building has not proven to be the financial windfall many persons had expected, because the museum--pleading financial distress--recently discharged fifteen per cent of its salaried staff. In the months since the new building opened, 340,000 persons have visited the museum, but ten per cent of those visitors came on opening weekend. Last month, almost six months to the day after the new building opened, the museum began replacing--not repairing, but replacing--the roof, which was leaking and causing water to fall on both patrons and artworks. The new building, clearly, is off to an inauspicious start.

Josh and my brother and I did not view the collection at the museum during our visit. None of us was interested in viewing the collection. My brother and I have seen the entire collection, more than once, and Josh was not interested in seeing the collection.

The Denver Art Museum has an extremely unimpressive collection, one of the least interesting and least important collections in the entire museum universe. The museum does not own a single important painting. The museum does not own a single important piece of sculpture. The museum does not own a single important antiquity.

In fact, much of the museum's collection is simply embarrassing. The museum owns mountains and mountains of Art From The American West and mountains and mountains of American Indian Art, almost all of which is indescribable kitsch. The museum also owns quite a lot of Asian Art and quite a lot of Contemporary Art, most of which is kitsch as well. Almost all of these portions of the collection are not of museum quality, are of practically no interest to anyone other than specialists, and are unworthy of display in a city of Denver's size and wealth. In fact, I am not confident that these items would be worthy of display in Grand Island, Nebraska.

The museum also owns a few random European paintings, most of which are 19th-Century French paintings, but none of these paintings is of the first or second rank. There is a collection of British paintings, too, but the British paintings look like remnants from an estate sale--leftovers after art experts had moved in and picked over and removed any good stuff.

The Denver Art Museum is, in many ways, an exact duplicate of the Milwaukee Art Museum and Atlanta's High Museum. All three museums have erected high-profile buildings designed by fashionable architects of the day, but all three museums are bereft of anything worthwhile to display in these new buildings. A worthwhile permanent collection, I believe, is a condition precedent to spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new buildings, but trustees in Atlanta, Denver and Milwaukee apparently hold different views on this subject.

Only eight days ago, Philippe De Montebello, Director of The Metropolitan Museum Of Art, gave an interview to The Independent, the London newspaper. In that interview, he said:

"I think the answer to what makes a great museum is irreducible--it is the collections. The activities, the programs, the exhibitions, the educational materials--all of these things are ancillary to the collections. If a museum does not have great works of art, it is simply not worth visiting. You could put on the most beautiful or timely programs, but without great works their reach will only be local."

The Denver Art Museum fails the Philippe De Montebello test. It is simply not worth visiting. Having now seen the new Libeskind building, I doubt that I shall ever return.

After our Saturday walk and our examination of the Libeskind building, my brother took Josh and me to dinner at a seafood place. After dinner, we returned to my brother's condominium and we watched, on DVD, the movie "Patton", which all three of us had seen, countless times, and which all three of us could watch many times more.

It is amazing how well this film has held up, given how many other films from the early 1970's are too-firmly-grounded in the peculiarities of that era. Contemporaneous films such as "M.A.S.H." and "Midnight Cowboy" are horribly dated and practically unwatchable today, relics of a doomed counterculture. In contrast, "Patton" could have been made yesterday.

On Sunday, we played basketball, and afterward we went to the Wings Over The Rockies Air And Space Museum, which displays aircraft from the 1920's to the 1980's. It is a magnificent museum. My brother and I had visited the museum before, but we were happy to go again and to show Josh the bombers and fighters and transports and reconnaissance aircraft and civilian aircraft on display. The museum also has a few examples of spacecraft and rocketry, as well as a recreation of the Summer White House from the Eisenhower Presidency, during which Ike spent the summer months in Denver. We enjoyed our visit very much.

After the museum, we stopped at a food store and bought some things, and we returned to my brother's place, where I prepared dinner. I made some of my brother's favorite foods. I stuffed and roasted a chicken, and I prepared some other things my brother especially likes: mashed potatoes with sharp cheddar cheese, fresh green beans, fresh parsnips, a special tomato salad our mother makes, a special cabbage and carrot salad our mother makes, and a special pear-strawberry-walnut salad our mother makes. For dessert, I made my brother, from scratch, a cranberry-orange bundt cake, with orange icing. After dinner, we watched, on DVD, the movie "A Bridge Too Far", another fine World War II epic.

Yesterday we did not do much. We had halfway planned to drive down to Colorado Springs to visit the Air Force Academy, but we decided not to go because of the crowds (this weekend was commencement weekend at the Academy, with upwards of 10,000 visitors expected to throng the grounds). Instead, we played basketball again, and afterward we returned to my brother's place, where we hung out--and cooked some food for my brother to eat during the coming week--until it was time for my brother to take Josh and me to the airport.

We were sorry to leave him. My brother is wonderful company, and I like being with him as often as possible. We shall see him again soon, because he will come home for the week of July 4, arriving on the evening of Friday, June 29.

My brother will have more visitors before the summer is over--my parents are going to fly to Denver to spend a weekend with him in August.


  1. Let's not dis Grand Island. It is what it is. My ex-wife spent her formative years there and she's a wonderful person.

    At some point you'll have to visit the Nelson -Atkins Museum in KC. The new addition opens next week. The New Yorker critic was very impressed. The locals are skeptical. I'm reserving judgment until I can tour it.

  2. Hello, David, and all best greetings to you!

    I had no intent to disparage Grand Island, Nebraska, which is supposed to be a very nice town. My attempted point was to note that the Art Of The American West and the American Indian Art on display at the Denver Museum Of Art was so meritless that it was unworthy of display even in a small town in the center of the Great Plains.

    I have read good things about the new building at the Nelson-Atkins. I hope it is a great success.

    I would like to visit the Nelson-Atkins some day--it is supposed to be the finest art museum West of the Mississippi River after the Kimball in Fort Worth.

    I am keen to learn your views of the new building, and I hope you get to visit it soon.

    I trust this finds all things well with you.