Denver Art Museum

Photograph courtesy of the Denver Art Museum

Every successful museum director leaves a legacy with the institution he or she leads. In the case of Christoph Heinrich, who has headed the Denver Art Museum since 2010, that will most likely center around the significant expansion of 19th-century European paintings in DAM’s collection.

That’s saying something, since Heinrich has, in the same period, guided the museum through considerable development of its physical space, including the addition of a 50,000-square-foot administration building and the about-to-debut renovation and expansion of its historic, Gio Ponti-designed Martin Building. Both are benchmark moments in DAM’s 128-year history.

He also has brought the masses to a cultural warhorse that needed more excitement and more visitors, occupying the driver’s seat as the museum staged off-beat exhibitions that turned into blockbusters. Some have enhanced DAM’s international reputation, such as the game-changing Yves Saint Laurent retrospective of 2012, and some have raised questions about its ambitions, such as the corporate movie trailer that was the “Star Wars” costume spectacle of 2016. Still, both exhibitions involved some risk, and museums are only vibrant when they experiment and evolve.

But while Heinrich was wrangling architects, contractors and curators, he also was working with collectors, and doing an admirable job of it. DAM’s collection is deeper, richer and more prestigious than it was before the Heinrich era, and in an area that remains — for better or worse — at the pinnacle of the American museum hierarchy: Impressionism and the various other styles of painting that surfaced in the 1800s.

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