...the criticism, that is. Check it out:
"Art is made to disturb," Georges Braque, the cubist painter and Pablo Picasso buddy, once said. But art museums?
The new Denver Art Museum addition, it seems, is disturbing some visitors by making them dizzy. Staring up at the soaring walls is - in a few people - causing tiny crystals to tumble around the inner-ear balance center, hitting cells and making the visitors woozy. Add the building's unusual angles and curving stairways, which can confuse the eyes, and the results can be stomach-churning.
"My patients are not going to the art museum," said Carol Foster, an ear specialist and balance expert at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. "You could bus a bunch of them over there and they'd be flopping around on the floor," she joked.
Museum officials say the effect is tiny - there has been only one official complaint of dizziness.
"There was never intention on the part of the museum to create a perceptual challenge," said Andrea Fulton, the museum's communications director. Still, with the reports of vertigo, the museum - designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, who could not be reached for comment - joins a list of buildings with high-profile architecture and unintended consequences.
There is the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles designed by Frank Gehry, for example. The building, a swirl of shiny metal, caught and reflected so much Southern California sunlight that it raised the temperature on a nearby sidewalk to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
And the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. - designed by Edward Durrell Stone - has a massive awning with no visible supports that triggers anxiety in some people, creating an urge to flee.
"Architecture is a speculative project," University of Colorado architecture professor Taisto Makela said. "Just by drawing things, making models, thinking about things, you can't tell how that space will be experienced until you do experience it."
Only one of the 223 official comments at the Denver Art Museum mentioned dizziness, Fulton said. Others suspect the problem is more widespread. When CU's Makela visited the museum last month with 11 students, three of them said they felt dizzy and uncomfortable.
"I was really quite surprised," Makela said. "I didn't experience it, but these students did." Makela has been a critic of the building not for its ability to induce vertigo, but as a strange and difficult place to display art given its tipped walls and odd spaces. The museum's space is challenging the ears and eyes, which work together to keep people balanced and comfortable on their feet, said CU's Foster. The inner ear's gravity sensors - the saccule and utricle - form a chairlike structure with a "seat" and "back," she said. When you tip your head up, the seat's now vertical and the back is horizontal, Foster said. In the new museum, she said, "not only are the walls interesting overhead, but they bend backwards over you, which is a really, really unusual position." "Ice skaters get used to it, but the average person doesn't practice that position enough to have reflexes for it," Foster said. So we feel dizzy - or fall down, she said.
Many people, especially those who are older, also have small defects in otoconia, a system of crystals in the inner ear that help people orient in space. "They're heavy, and they're stuck together with this sticky glue," Foster said. The glue becomes less sticky with age, letting some crystals float free, and whenever you bang your head against the car door or when crawling under a table - that can fling crystals free, she said. Eyes are also critical for balance, Foster said. Unconsciously, we're continually using objects within 6 feet for visual reference in space.
In the new art museum, walls slant away from the edges of the winding "canyon walk" staircase. Visitors descending the long stairways often clutch the guardrail. "People who are a little more visually dependent for balance ... you're gonna want to hang on to a railing," Foster said.
That was true for Trevor Pyle, one of the CU students who accompanied Makela. Pyle said he experienced slight vertigo when standing at the balconies. "I actually enjoyed the motion caused by the angles," Pyle said. "I thought it added to the experiential aspect of the building. None of the motion sickness made me uncomfortable, but it was present."
Craig Ruff, a Boulder resident, sometimes feels mildly motion sick when a passenger in a car, but the museum was worse.
"There were these sloping walls, bright lights that draw your attention other than where you're supposed to be walking, angles that were worse near the top," he said. Ruff said he overheard one museum docent advising visitors to "concentrate on a piece of art and not look around too much."
Inside the new museum, paintings hang on angled walls. Explanatory videos play on surfaces that tilt away from the viewer, or on trapezoidal walls, making a projected rectangle appear distorted. "Our approach in general is that not everything has to fall into the normal boundaries of what you might expect. We like that," Fulton said. "We like the conversation it's created."
Denver Post/9News staff writer Ernie Tucker contributed to this report. After which he promptly packed up for the weekend and left for the equally dizzying experience of the Rocky Mountain National Park...most probably. He is currently writing on his experiences, and the experiences of other climbers and outdoors men and women and the article will take a critical view on the effects of mountains and other natural expressions on unsuspecting, ill-prepared humans.