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Denver Art Museum's Musical Chairs Bring Art Outside

Stacy Nick
Olivia and Isabelle Srodulski of Denver sit on "La Musidora" while mom, Sharon, watches.

There’s a new addition to the Denver Art Museum and it doesn’t require an admission ticket to see it. That’s because it’s outside, where its inviting looks -- and sounds -- attract not just museum visitors, but all sorts of passerby.

On their way into the museum, 7- and 6-year-old sisters Isabelle and Olivia Srodulski stop in the plaza when something unexpected catches their attention.

It’s a row of what looks like beach chairs and they rock back and forth. The girls guess at its purpose.

“It’s like a relaxing seesaw, kind of,” Olivia said. “I think you can sit down and eat your lunch here."

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
'La Musidora' is a combination of the Spanish words 'musica' for music and 'mecedora' for rocking chair.

“You can sit down and, like, tan or something like that," Isabelle added. "It’s basically like a relaxing chair at the beach, but it’s at the art museum.”

But when they lean back, they discover the tinkling bells the chairs make.

“Oh yeah, I think I get what it is now,” Isabelle said. “I think it’s a musical instrument or something like that, that is like a human body thing, I think. Like, you can make music.”

She’s onto something there.

“You don’t understand everything about the piece until you actually get on it and experience it and, ‘Oh! It makes music,” said Ann Lambson, the Denver Art Museum’s interpretive specialist for architecture, design and graphics. The chairs, she confirmed, are more than just a place to sit. They’re a work of art.

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
'La Musidora'

“‘La Musidora’ is actually a play on two Spanish words,” Lambson said. “Musica -- so music -- and la mecedora, which is rocking chair. So these are musical rocking chairs.”

“La Musidora” was designed by Mexican artists Hector Esrawe and Ignacio Cadena. The duo is known for large-scale, interactive art installations. In fact, when Lambson approached the artists about doing something for the museum, she actually had another one of their works in mind.

“We originally approached them about a piece they created for the High Museum in Atlanta,” she said. “It’s called ‘Los Trompos’ -- spinning tops.”

People could climb into the life-sized tops and spin around. But when the artists came to Denver for a site visit and saw the long, narrow space between the museum and neighboring businesses, they got an idea.

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
Signs explaining 'La Musidora' can be found on the concrete around the exhibit.

“They came back with this proposal of this row of chairs but also important to them was the sound,” Lambson said. “From the get-go they knew they wanted to do something with music.”

While the chairs can be enjoyed solo, they’re meant to be played as a duet.

“They’re actually based on a traditional chair in Mexico, the tu-y-yo chair, which means you and me, and you sit as pairs and you face one another and that's exactly what's happening here,” Lambson said. “The piece is very much about encounter and about discussion, conversation, and we’ve even seen people who don’t know each other end up sitting on the same pair of chairs and they’re having conversations, which is fun.”

For Michelle Welch and Cindy Mora, the chairs provided a welcome break from the work day.

“It looked very appealing so we had to try them out,” Welch said. “We love them.”

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
'La Musidora' is on display in the plaza in front of the Denver Art Museum.

For Lambson, that sense of fun was important. For the last five summers, the museum has brought in an interactive installation for the plaza. Last year it was “In Motion.” Made of aluminum and ribbon, the sculpture represented movement and dance.

While it’s always nice to draw in more visitors to the museum, Lambson said the goal with the summer installations is more about offering something a little different.

“We really wanted to have something that visitors could come and sit on and gather and play and so there’s a sense of whimsy,” she said.

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.