About 8,000 feet above sea level, in the Rocky Mountains, blessed by Buddhist monks, in a special little valley that I call my happy place, Aspen, Colorado, is a new sight to behold. An art museum that is as much about the building site as it is about the art. The Pritzker prize winning architect Shigeru Ban was a gutsy choice to design this small museum that has deep pockets, a philanthropic cadre of world class art connoisseurs and assorted interested parties with strong views; all the while still keeping a sense of the small town feel, because he is known mostly as an architect of temporary disaster relief shelters.
The building is described as "ugly-beautiful." A boutique museum with no permanent collection, keeps it "light on its feet" with the ability to reinvent itself anew. It is a three story glass cube encased in recyclable treated paper lattice, that when entered is supposed to mimic the experience of skiing.
You go up to the top of a stairs (mountain), enjoy the view ~
|(to the left is the outer staircase, to the right the inner staircase)|
The grand staircase is divided into 2 parallel parts, one on the outside, one on the inside. This in- between space is called "engawa"in Japanese. The ability to see those going in the opposite direction or almost anywhere within the walls of the museum creates an active and alive environment.
The ski slope view is charming and a highlight of the restaurant and roof garden.
Then you go down the stairs (mountain) ~ You did get a sense of expansiveness; much more so being on the inside looking out as opposed to being on the outside looking in.
The Tom Freidman's "Green Rock" hanging above the reception desk reminds us that what hangs over our heads can be ignored or consume us. I will have to remember this visual for my life coaching practice!
When I visited, the street floor gallery featured Mexican artist, Gabriel Kuri. His works examine the banality of everyday items taken for granted, then discarded. The residue of daily life, elevated in size and proportion, the things we take for granted asking, "What is our role in everyday consumption and waste?"
Among other things, Mr Kuri's receipts; some tapestry, some sculpture, as well as collages and photography make his installation compelling
My friend told me that teenagers in town (after one too many) take to climbing the trellis or outdoor cage as some call it. A big no no that comes with a hefty fine! So funny ~ there are pictures of people attempting the climb and bets are taken on how high one can reach before getting caught.
It's a far cry from what the original art museum looked like! Originally a hydro-electrical plant, just out of the main part of town, that had a grassroots approach. Many say this environment is more in keeping with the character of the town; on land that allows for sculpture and outdoor events.
I understand both points of view: the need to modernize and bring forward thinking international artists to this small upscale town, and a cultured, philanthropic crowd but personally, the placement of the museum and the look in relation to what is around it feel awkward, forced. I think if it was a little further away on land that enhances it, it would set a better tone. It lacks the charm of the setting of the old location down a wandering path by a stream. To me, that's the Aspen of old, the Aspen I love, and the Aspen I miss, because over the many years I have been coming here the quaint mom and pop stores are being replaced by the likes of top designer outposts from Madison Ave. I guess you can't stop change, or progress, or greed.
Sometimes starchitecture is not better architecture, or keep it in context. What do you think?
* ph:Shigeru Ban