One of the best things to do in Colorado, the Denver Art Museum, located in downtown Denver is a world-class museum with the largest collection of American Indian art in the world. It is additionally renowned for its large and eclectic offerings, pre-eminently its collection of modern and contemporary design, one of the largest in the United States. There are eleven permanent collections: African History; American Indian Art; Architecture, Design, and Graphics; Asian Art; European and American Art; Modern and Contemporary Art; Oceanic Art; Photography; Pre-Columbian Art; Textile Art and Fashion; and Western Art. Scroll to see the full list with photos or jump to the table of contents.

The Denver Art Museum Permanent Collections

The Denver Art Museum Permanent Collections

© Brett Bouwer/

The Daniel Yohannes Family African Gallery houses the African Collection, made of up more than 1,000 pieces of contemporary and historic art. The gallery includes rare works of sculpture, textiles, jewelry, painting, print-making and drawing. The focus is on West African art, particularly that of the Yoruba people of Nigeria and Benin. Many of the more famous works are by Olowe of Ise (1895-1938), a master of wood sculpting who lived in a region that is in present-day Nigeria.

The museum has been careful to balance art by male Africans with that of female African artists, and seeks to explore questions of gender, rituals and the importance of group creativity in African art. In addition to visual arts, the museum also gives patrons an opportunity to view African performance art such as music and dancing.

The American Indian Collection houses works of almost every Native tribe in the United States and Canada. From the prehistoric to the present, and in diverse artistic formats, the museum displays the vibrant and continuing traditions of Native Indian art. The first museum in North America to collect Indian art, the Denver Art Museum began its collection in the 1920s, and now owns over 20,000 art objects.

The most extensive part of the American Indian Collection is that of the Plains and Plateau Indians, who are represented by six full-sized tipis, drawings, weapons, beading, horse trappings, belts, blankets, headdresses, shirts, dresses and footwear. The Southwest Indian Collection has pottery, basketry and jewelry from more than twenty-five tribes. Of particular interest are kachina dolls of the Hopi tribe, which are figural representations of spirits used in twice-yearly Hopi rituals.

The Arctic Indian collection contains archeological and contemporary Inuit art, mainly woodblock and stone cut prints of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The Northwest Coastal Indians are exemplified by wood and bone carvings of the Tlingit, Haida, Nuxalk and Kwakwaka’wakw people. This collection also includes full-sized totem poles, ceremonial items and decorated utilitarian objects such as ornate dug-out canoes. The Southeast Indian collection puts its main emphasis on the Seminole people, particularly the patchwork clothing typical of the tribe. The collection also puts a spotlight on the mid-20th century revival of basketry among the Cherokee and Choctaw people, and has some historical objects from this region, including beaded bandolier bags of the early 19th century.

The Architecture, Design, and Graphics gallery contains objects dating from the Middle Ages to the 1900s, and represents all major design developments during that span of time across Europe and North America. Some of the highlights of the collection are a collection of Georgian silver, architectural drawings by Frank Lloyd Wright, more than eight hundred rock and roll posters from the psychedelic era and original screen prints by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. Significant works by innovative Colorado designers are also featured in the gallery.

The Asian Art collection at the Denver Art Museum started in 1915 and holds works from the 4th century B.C. to the present. Works from throughout Asia are on display and include a large holding of bamboo art from China, Japan and Korea. The museum’s collection of Southwest Asian art includes works from the ancient civilization of Mesopotamia, and covers the flourishing and growth of Islamic art.

The European and American Art galleries feature pre-1900 European ar and pre-1945 American art. Significant works from 19th century France are included, as well as important Renaissance and Old Master paintings. The jewels of the collection are Winslow Homer’s Two Figures by the Sea; Camille Pissarro’s Autumn, Poplars, Eragny; and Claude Monet’s Waterlilies.

The Denver Art Museum’s Modern and Contemporary Art collection has more than 12,000 works, including art pieces by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georgia O’Keefe and Andy Warhol. There are installations of major post-war art movements, such as abstract impressionism, minimalism, pop art, conceptual art and contemporary realism. The museum studies closely the legacy of Austrian-born Bauhaus master Herbert Bayer.

The Oceanic Art Collection at the Denver Art Museum consists of an array of art forms from the South Pacific, primarily Melanesia and Polynesia. Over 1,000 pieces are owned by the museum, including historical sculpture, bark cloth and wood carvings. The collection pays particular attention to two artists from Papua New Guinea: Mathias Kauage, who was a painter and woodblock carver, and Laben Sakale, a contemporary painter.

The Photography Collection at the Denver Art Museum has the world’s most extensive collection of 19th century art from the American West. The gallery showcases the shifting environmental attitudes of 19th century Americans. The museum also has a strong holding of European and American modernist photography. The Daniel Wolf Photography Collection contains photos from all across the United States, with an emphasis on landscape photography. The Photography Collection also highlights European modernist photographers, including Gyorgy Kepes, Jaromir Funke and Man Ray.

The Pre-Columbian Art Collection includes works from every major culture in Mesoamerica, Central America and South America, as well as some artistic pieces from the Spanish Colonial Era. The collection holds pre-Columbian masterworks in ceramic, gold, stone, jade and textiles. The fine Costa Rican art holdings are amongst the world’s best, and the museum is particularly proud of its jade axes from Guatemala. Another gem is the group of intricately-carved, boldly-colored ceramics from Marajo Island in Brazil.

The Textile Art and Fashion collection contains 5,000 objects from Asia, Europe, North America and South America, dating from ancient archeological finds to contemporary works. Its corpus of 300 American quilts, and 100 samplers from the 18th and 19th centuries are the center points of the collection. Also featured are 600 pieces of Chinese textiles from the late Qing dynasty, and a compilation of ecclesiastical vestments from the Renaissance period to the early 1900s.

The Petrie Museum of Western Art is part of the Denver Art Museum. It is the international leader in scholarly research and displays of art of the American West. Famous pieces include Frederic Remington’s bronze The Cheyenne; Charles Deas’s Long Jakes, “The Rocky Mountain Man” and Charles M. Russell’s In the Enemy’s Country.

The museum offers guided tours for every patron. To fulfill a commitment to accessibility, it has custom tours for the hearing-impaired that offer American Sign Language translation, as well as tours for the visually-impaired that include descriptive narrations and tactile opportunities. Art and About tours are customized for visitors with early-stage Alzheimer’s and dementia and their caregivers.

Families with small and school-age children are given enrichment opportunities around every corner of the Denver Art Museum. Creative Corners exist in many galleries, giving all museum visitors hands-on experiences that include puppet-making, dressing in costumes, creating a treasure box or trying their hand at Samoan-inspired designs. Family Backpacks can be obtained upon admission and contain the tools for making pictures, as well as games and puzzles.

The Daniel Yohannes Family African Gallery allows visitors to connect to creative artist El Anatsui, a Ghanaian artist renowned for his large-scale wall sculptures made from discarded bottle caps. Patrons of the museum are encouraged to draw on his works to make pictures from recycled boxes. In the American Indian collection, museum visitors have an opportunity to try their hand at recreating Native beading designs. The European and American Art gallery has books, games and hands-on activities to help visitors interact with the works in the collection. In the Oceanic Art Collection, patrons of all ages can design their own patterns on bark cloth in the manner of regional masters.

Photography lectures by pre-eminent photographers and scholars are given regularly by the museum and are open to all. Conversation with a Curator talks are given monthly by different museum curators and invite lively discussion. Field trips for school groups and youth groups are offered, as are seminars for teachers interested in art instruction. Mindful Looking is a tour option that invites visitors to slow down and spend time with a work of art, guided by an experienced docent who helps museum patrons see the intricacy of an art work.

100 W 14th Ave Pkwy, Denver, CO 80204, Phone: 720-865-5000, (website link)

Back to: Things to Do in Denver

Spend a Day at the Denver Art Museum :