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Darrin Alfred | Photo: Ross Kribbs | July 18, 2014
Shigeru Ban’s Aspen Art Museum brings a new, immersive cultural experience to the local landscape.
Shigeru Ban may have appeared an unlikely choice at first to design the new Aspen Art Museum, set to open to the public on Aug. 9. The recipient of the 2014 Pritzker Architecture Prize, widely regarded as the highest honor in architecture, Ban is best known for his humanitarian relief efforts. The temporary structures he has designed from transient building materials, particularly paper and cardboard, have sheltered refugees and evacuees in nations devastated by natural and man-made disasters.
For example, in the aftermath of the 1995 earthquake that struck Kobe, Japan, Ban devised temporary housing for the homeless. Plastic beer crates filled with sandbags formed the foundations of the high-quality, low-cost shelters, and walls were made of paper tubes. Since then, he has created emergency architecture in, among other places, China, Haiti, India and the Philippines, in addition to a soaring cardboard cathedral in 2013 for the earthquake-stricken city of Christchurch, New Zealand. The tall, A-frame structure, with its mosaic glass wall, has become a popular landmark and memorial for the severely damaged city. Innovative and important, yes, but not exactly what you’d think of for a prominent museum in one of the United States’ wealthiest towns.
The range and materiality of Ban’s work, however, is more varied. Take his breathtakingly beautiful Curtain Wall House in Tokyo, which re-creates the openness of a traditional Japanese home within a contemporary urban context. Its two-story exterior includes a striking white curtain that can be pulled back to open the interior to public view. Ban’s carbon-neutral office for Swiss media company Tamedia has an inventive structural system made entirely of timber. Located in the urban center of Zurich, the seven-story, glass-encased wooden structure fits together like a set of building blocks—without the need for screws or glue. Ban does this as well as he makes disaster-relief structures.
All these facets of Ban’s work factored into his selection as the architect for Aspen’s museum. “Shigeru spent the first 45 minutes of an hour-and-a-half presentation talking about his humanitarian work, and the architectural selection committee was incredibly taken by that,” says AAM CEO and Director Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson. “Mixed in, of course, [were] his incredibly innovative systems and his exceptionally beautiful aesthetic. It just seemed like the full package.”
The new 33,000-square-foot three-story museum—the subject of much community debate over its size, location and strikingly modern design—now sits confidently at the corner of East Hyman Avenue and Spring Street. It features 12,500 square feet of flexible exhibition space across six separate galleries, more than tripling the amount from that of the previous museum. An education workshop and artists’ studios have separate entrances at street level.
Ban has realized a number of arts projects, including the Centre Pompidou-Metz in northeastern France; however, the new AAM will be the architect’s first permanent museum in the United States.
From the start, Ban focused his concept on the interdependent relationship between the structure and Aspen’s mountain environment. From outside the museum, you’ll be able to engage with the building’s interior, while the inside invites you to interact with the surrounding landscape.
This approach is readily apparent on the new AAM’s exterior, a box-like, glass-walled structure wrapped in a woven wooden screen. “The initial idea was to use beetle-kill pine,” says Dean Maltz, managing partner of Shigeru Ban Architects America. “Shigeru wanted to use that in order to make the facade, but because it was not durable over time, it evolved into this Prodema material, a wood-based product made from laminated sheets of paper that are impregnated with a waterproofing agent.”
Light pours through the openings in the screen and into the building’s interior. In the evenings, when the museum is illuminated from within, the building resembles a lantern. Woven wood is a common element in Ban’s architectural language. “Metz is a good example,” says Maltz, referring to Ban’s Centre Pompidou design. An undulating, timber roof structure hovers over the entire museum, inspired by a traditional woven-bamboo Chinese hat.
And some of Ban’s beloved paper tubes have been incorporated into the design. Paper-tube ceilings hang above a portion of the building’s “grand staircase,” between the museum’s lower and street levels, as well as in a second-floor boardroom. A wall of paper tubes exists between the museum shop and an adjacent corridor.
Ban envisions that visitors will navigate the new AAM by proceeding to the top of the building and then descending from gallery to gallery to view the art, not unlike the experience of skiing. You’ll be able to walk up the grand staircase or take a large, glass elevator—referred to as the “moving glass room”—to the third floor, which offers a stellar view of Aspen Mountain. “In that sense, it symbolizes the greatest art that Aspen has to offer, which is its surrounding mountains,” Maltz says.
From there, you’ll get an up-close look at the triangular wood truss roof, distinguished by a pattern of elegant curves, that extends over the third-floor cafe as well as partially over a 2,500-square-foot sculpture garden. Built by Spearhead Timberworks in Nelson, British Columbia, over the course of several months, it was then dissassembled, shipped to Aspen and installed on-site, requiring some 20,000 fasteners and bolts. “Typically wood trusses have metal connectors, but [these connectors] are all wood,” points out Maltz. “This type of structure has never been done before. It pushes forward the capabilities of technology.”
Another technological marvel are the two 80-foot-long perpendicular glass walls between the cafe and the garden, which slide open to completely remove the barrier between interior and exterior. “That’s a fairly unique feature of the building, technically and programmatically,” says Zachary Moreland, project architect for the museum.
“It’s going to be an incredible place,” says Zuckerman Jacobson of the museum’s third floor. “Even on a really snowy day, to just be sitting up there, basically inside of a glass box looking at the view—I think it’s the kind of building that people are going to want to visit time and time again.”
Also forging the connection between indoors and out is the natural light that streams through the building. Eight translucent walkable skylights in the floors of the sculpture garden and cafe, as well as additional skylights in the lower-level floors, illuminate galleries below. “They are intended to bring natural light into the more tightly controlled gallery plan,” explains Moreland. Moreover, the state-of-the-art neutral lighting elements throughout the museum resemble natural light, so that you’ll “still feel as if you’re getting the natural light coming down through the ceiling coffers,” says Zuckerman Jacobson. (New York-based lighting design firm L’Observatoire International consulted on the AAM project.)
Continuing the interior-exterior interplay are the three-story grand staircase’s two components, one outside and one inside. The exterior portion runs between the woven screen and the building’s glass enclosure. The interior portion parallels its counterpart on the other side of the glass wall. The effect is that visitors climbing the stairs on either side can see each other, activating the skin of the building.
In addition to providing an interesting visual effect, the staircase serves as an unusual release valve. As Zuckerman Jacobson explains it, “I have personally experienced, many times sadly, the viewer fatigue that comes from walking through a museum and going through gallery after gallery and seeing show after show. It was very important for me that our visitors have the opportunity to go outside at every floor and have a visual palette cleanse—to check in, remember where you are, remember what time of year it is, remember what time of day it is, and remember what season it is. I think that is really different from any other museum I can think of.”
That difference, really, applies to the new AAM in numerous ways. It’s a place that provides a rare opportunity to view innovative contemporary art on an impressive scale in a small-town setting; a place where one can simultaneously engage with the building’s design elements and its incredible natural surroundings; and a place for visitors to interact with each other across various boundaries. Ultimately, these unique experiences, like the building’s distinctive wood exterior, will weave themselves into the fabric of Aspen, where the museum will continue to be discussed—derided by some and deeply appreciated by others—just like any thought-provoking work of art.
Members’ week starts off with a bang.
On Aug. 2, the Aspen Art Museum kicks off its members’ week with a blockbuster of a party. The exclusive, invite-only event includes a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Shigeru Ban-designed facility, with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on hand and a daytime firework performance, Black Lightning, by artist Cai Guo-Qiang. The star-studded guest list includes current AAM members and donors, plus VIPs who are also visiting for the museum’s annual ArtCrush benefit the night before. It’s shaping up to be a veritable who’s who of the contemporary art world.
Artists: Tomma Abts, Doug Aitken, Delia Brown, Anne Collier, Marc Dennis, Ryan Gander, Cai Guo-Qiang, Tony Feher, Teresita Fernandez, Matthew Higgs, Jim Hodges, Hannah Hoffman, Rashid Johnson, Terence Koh, Gabriel Kuri, Marilyn Minter, Dave Muller, Ernesto Neto (recipient of the AAM’s 2014 Aspen Award for Art), Angel Otero, Mickalene Thomas, Fred Tomaselli, Molly Zuckerman-Hartung
Gallerists: Matt Bangser (L.A.-based Blum & Poe), Sarah Hasted (N.Y.-based Hasted Kraeutler), Courtney Plummer (N.Y.-based Lehmann Maupin Gallery), Steve Turner (L.A.-based Steve Turner Contemporary), Jessie Washburne-Harris (N.Y.-based Harris Lieberman, recently closed) and Angela Westwater (N.Y.’s Sperone Westwater Gallery)
Other Notables: Shigeru Ban (architect and designer of the new AAM), Edward Tyler Nahem (art dealer) and Philippe Vergne (director, L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art) –Misty Milioto
KEEP IT KICKIN'
This 24-hour celebration puts the “art” in party.
Just one week after the members’ party, the AAM puts on the ultimate public party: a 24-hour celebration, from 5PM on Aug. 9 to 5PM on Aug. 10. The museum has partnered with six local nonprofits—Aspen Film, the Aspen Historical Society, the Aspen Institute, the Aspen Music Festival and School, Jazz Aspen Snowmass and Theatre Aspen, plus community partners like Aspen Yoga—to offer a jam-packed program filled with music, performance, film and food—and it’s all free. Events include a film screening of Alison O’Daniel’s Night Sky (7-8:30PM and 10-11:30PM); a concert by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (8:30-10PM); guided tours of the debut exhibitions (10:30PM-midnight); a silent disco dance party on the rooftop deck, during which DJ Naka G will provide a soundtrack that’s transmitted through wireless headphones (midnight-2AM); a dream interpretation activity (3-7AM); sunrise yoga (7-9AM); cooking demonstrations (noon-2PM) and much more! –MM
Navigate the new Aspen Art Museum on this self-guided tour.
The unveiling of the new Aspen Art Museum reveals not only stunning architecture but also a bevy of inaugural exhibitions in its six primary gallery spaces. Architect Shigeru Ban envisioned that visitors would navigate the new museum similar to a ski run: starting at the rooftop garden and descending from floor to floor. Here’s our mapped-out guide to the new exhibitions, following Ban’s thoughtful design.
1. Roof Deck Sculpture Garden
Aug. 9-Oct. 5
Enter the new building through the main public entry on the north side, along East Hyman Avenue. Reach the roof deck sculpture garden either by the grand staircase (a three-level passageway cleverly divided by a glass wall into a 10-foot-wide exterior space and a 6-foot-wide interior space) or via Ban’s “moving room” glass elevator. At the top, you’ll experience the only unobstructed public rooftop view of Aspen Mountain. You’ll also find an indoor/outdoor cafe and bar (glass doors open for nice weather), outdoor screening space and a new project created specifically for the sculpture garden by New York-based Cai Guo-Qiang. Moving Ghost Town features three African sulcata tortoises roaming a section of natural turf—with iPads mounted to their backs that show video footage of three local ghost towns (filmed on the iPads by the tortoises themselves).
2. Gallery 1, Second Level
Aug. 9-Oct. 5
Next up is Gallery 1, with Humanitarian Architecture. The exhibition consists of four full-scale structures representing Ban’s groundbreaking designs for humanitarian relief. They include some of Ban’s relief-work architecture, similar to the “Cardboard Cathedral” (2013) he constructed after the earthquakes in New Zealand. “Paper Emergency Shelter for United Nations High Commission on Refugees” (1995-1999), which was originally designed for those displaced by the Rwandan genocide, is one of the works on view. Feel free to enter these structures as you walk through the gallery.
3. Galleries 2 & 3, Street Level
Yves Klein/David Hammons
Aug. 9-Nov. 30
Proceed to the ground floor, and the exhibitions by the late Yves Klein and the very much alive David Hammons, two contemporary artists who shared an ability to transform common and natural elements (like smoke, fire and rain) into works of art. Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, the museum’s CEO and director, describes their art as “alchemical” because of the way the materials Klein and Hammons used morph aesthetically. “Both have the ability to take something ordinary and make it extraordinary,” she says. The eponymous exhibition showcases about 20 works by Klein (thanks to generous participation from the Yves Klein Foundation) and nearly 30 works by Hammons.
4. Galleries 4 & 5, Lower Level
Aug. 9-Oct. 26
Continue your tour on the lower level with Galleries 4 and 5. Reflecting the museum’s frequent focus on new, unrecognized or underappreciated aspects of an artist’s work is this Tomma Abts exhibit. Abts is primarily known for her abstract paintings, but Mainly Drawings explores Abts’ drawing practice, with five never-before-shown works as well as drawings created specifically for this exhibit. The Tate Modern in London has lent some important works for the show.
5. Gallery 6, Lower Level
Aug. 9-Oct. 26
Also on the lower level is Gallery 6, where you’ll find a focused look at Rosemarie Trockel’s pioneering and multifaceted work with ceramics, her first foray into this particular medium. Seven works, ranging from aquatic-like structures to strictly formed pieces, are on display.
6. Street-Level Plaza
Aug. 9-Jan. 4, 2015
Finally, as you exit the museum, be sure to linger on the outdoor plaza. Here you’ll see Jim Hodges’ new outdoor installation, which features 6-foot-tall lettering that spells out the title of the exhibition, With Liberty and Justice for All. It seeks to evoke a meditation on the current state of society, reminding us of our relationship to power, politics and change.
As you make your way through the new facility, discovering all of this fabulous art, take note of other museum features. Highlights include walkable skylights that help illuminate the second level’s Gallery 1 as well as a bookstore and museum shop. The rooftop cafe, dubbed So, will offer up innovative menu concepts from Julia and Allen Domingos of locally based Epicure Catering. And remember that, as always, admission to the AAM is free, courtesy of Amy and John Phelan. 637 E. Hyman Ave., 970.925.8050 –MM