ART SPACE(s): Museum of Contemporary Art Denver

Five Takeaways from the MCA Denver

The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver successfully breaks down barriers between communities and contemporary art through its architecture, content, and programming. This post concentrates on five elements that impressed me during my recent visit to this modern trove located on the fringe of Denver.


Rooftop Terrace
The museum’s grand entrance is a ramp running behind a wall of glass windows. The transparent threshold is at the heart of the museum’s mission and architectural intent.
“MCA Denver is an innovative forum for contemporary art that inspires and challenges all audiences, creating understanding
and dialog about the art of our time.”
The museum founded in 1996, was designed by acclaimed architect David Adjaye of Adjaye Associates (UK). The museum’s contemporary structure serves to minimize boundaries between the city’s community and the interior spaces of the museum.  The architects bring the city to the museum and the museum to the city through tall windows, skylights, and a rooftop terrace. The building’s sharp angles and components of metal and glass are offset by warm wooden elements.


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Tara Donovan, Untitled, (Mylar), 2011/2018
MCA Denver’s three floors of lofty exhibition space are divided into several intimate galleries. Hidden skylights combined with window lit passageways provide ample natural light. As visitors walk around the galleries, they can stop and several points to look out and around at other artworks or spaces in the museum. The current show explores the transfiguration of everyday materials through the art practice of Tara Donovan and her exhibition Fieldwork. For the first time, the artist’s freestanding and wall-based objects are presented together at MCA Denver. The interior galleries compliment Donovan’s work in that both the architecture and the artwork synthesize industrial-inspired forms with the natural geometry prevalent throughout Fieldwork. The museum’s layout is the perfect space to create an enthralling solo show.


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Installation View of Fieldworks at MCA Denver

The galleries do not have object labels or wall text. Instead, the museum offers laminated sheets listing artworks on-view or concise gallery guides in both English and Spanish. The advantage of this kind of presentation is that it provides an uninterrupted aesthetic experience for visitors. Wall-based works hang against white-washed walls, and freestanding sculptures pervade pristine galleries. The gallery guide opens with an excerpt from an interview with Curator Nora Burnett Abrams and the currently featured artist, Tara Donovan. The snapshot of this interview is an intriguing beginning because it allows participants to hear the artist’s voice and intention. The remainder of the gallery guide is broken down by photographs of each gallery space and about three sentences of interpretation. This might seem uninteresting, but as someone who writes gallery guides, I am impressed with the museum’s ability to clearly create connections between audiences and contemporary art, a form of art that many find intimidating (example below).

“The juxtaposition between these two bodies of work asks viewers a question about an artistic idea realized in two different ways–how does it affect perception and vision? The implication here is that the experience of one body of work complicates the experience of the other. But, it also invites the viewer to reevaluate the way in which one perceives images versus objects. The works provoke questions as to what is concrete and what is material.”


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Teen Space at MCA Denver
Teens are intricately involved in the world of contemporary art at MCA Denver. The museum offers two principal programs, Failure Lab and POV. Teens need to apply to the courses that range from a semester to one-year. Program participants are also eligible for generous college scholarships. Many of the gallery guides I encountered during my visit were teens that participate in one of the teen programs. One of the attendants  I spoke to, Joy, enthusiastically shared her positive experience as a student in the program and its long-term impact on her high school education. Joy returns to the museum at least once a week and is now working with fellow participants to curate a teen art exhibition. The MCA Denver the museum’s rooftop level also has a dedicated exhibition and studio space just for the teens.


View from Rooftop Cafe

Aside from the dedicated studio space for teens, MCA Denver’s rooftop boasts an indoor cafe and generous outdoor seating. The modern cafe is a mixture of reflective surfaces, dark wood paneling, white wire furnishings, and potted terrariums. The sun deck surrounding the cafe offers a sprawling view of downtown Denver and the central Platte Valley. They make a mean chai but also have a selection of beer and wine. The visitors gathered around the deck on a brisk Saturday morning were mostly people in the mid 20’s to mid 30’s sipping hot drinks.  There were also a couple of families with young children.

Regardless of your age, if you find yourself in Denver, or have friends and family in the area, encourage them to visit the progressive museum and their engaging art exhibition, Fieldwork.

Interested in learning more? Check out the links below for people, places, and artworks referenced in this article.

MCA Denver

Teen Programs

Tara Donovan

David Adjaye of Adjaye Associates


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