Perhaps there is no better symbol of the clout of Aspen’s art world habitués than the new Aspen Art Museum. Opening to the public August 9, following a weekend of preview parties, the museum’s latest home was designed by Pritzker prize winner Shigeru Ban, who has created a shimmering three-story building resembling a wooden crate in the center of town. Its striking latticework façade, with a woven wooden screen covering a glass curtain wall, not only lets the light in, but affords passersby a glimpse inside. Each of its many apertures is unique, “a great metaphor for art,” Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, the museum’s director, noted as she led me on a hard hat tour the other day, pointing out the Japanese architect’s love of such materials as cardboard tubes, recycled paper and wood. “Shigeru dislikes monumental architecture, “ she said. “You won’t find any marble in here.” The museum is Ban’s first in the U.S. He is best known for his humanitarian projects designing shelters after natural disasters in such places as Japan, Rwanda and Haiti.
All this week, collectors and artists from around the world have been touching down in this moneyed, cultural and athletic hotspot to celebrate the seven-year effort to build a world-class showcase for contemporary art, whose $45 million budget and $29.6 million endowment was paid entirely through private funds. The Aspen Art Museum, established in 1979, is not a collecting institution; it commissions artists to create projects or assembles exhibitions through loans. In that way, it can direct its budget to shows, rather than buying and storing art. This past Wednesday night, some of its artist alums, those who have had solo shows there, like Mickalene Thomas, Marilyn Minter, Fred Tomaselli, Lorna Simpson and Ernesto Neto, along with Whitney Museum director Adam Weinberg, British artist Ryan Gander, Gucci Group Chief Domenico De Sole and gallerists Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn and Kavi Gupta were among the revelers on hand for Wine Crush, the kick off event at the home of museum benefactors Amy and John Phelan, where works by many of the artists in attendance along with those by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Takashi Murakami, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and other brand names paved the way to a billowing white dinner tent stocked with sommeliers. The real treat will come Saturday afternoon when Zuckerman Jacobson cuts the ribbon on the new building and visitors will begin traveling by glass elevator or the open-air exterior staircase to its galleries and to the only public rooftop space and sculpture garden in Aspen, with its tough-to-beat views of the surrounding mountains.
Among the terrific opening exhibitions vying for attention are Ban’s humanitarian projects, revealing the poetry of his pragmatic solutions, ceramic works by the German artist Rosemarie Trockel and a fascinating two-hander featuring rarely-seen works by the boundary-breaking artists David Hammons and Yves Klein, who as Zuckerman Jacobson sees them here, “are in conversation on a host of difficult subjects—religion, sexuality and the body.” Hammons, one of the most influential American artists, incorporates the body and ordinary found materials—hair, chicken bones, grease, musical instruments, shovels, paper bags. Be sure to check out his sublime Kool-Aid drawings on paper, his body prints and his 1989 Rubber Dread, an assemblage made of bicycle inner tubes, a metal stand and red rubber ball that suggests a figure with dreadlocks. To attract both Aspen’s seasonal and local residents, Zuckerman Jacobson intends to “show the unexpected.” For those demanding nothing short of fireworks, on Saturday afternoon, artist Cai Guo-Qiang will ignite Black Lightning, a gigantic lightning bolt composed of fireworks and crackling sound effects, from the top of Ajax Mountain.