Paul E. Anna

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June 13, 2014
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High Points: The summer of ostentation

And so it begins.

With the Dow tickling 17,000, property listings in Aspen scraping $90 million and parking spaces for the private jets at Sardy Field getting scarce, it would seem that our long national nightmare is over. Yes, when we went into the “financial crisis” back in 2008 it seemed like the entire world was in danger of collapse. That’s what the Titans of Wall Street told us as they accepted their bail-outs, bought out their struggling competitors for pennies on the dollar and began the foreclosure and write-off spree that would transform their companies by magically ridding them of debt.

Fortunately, they were wrong. The world did not collapse, and here we are, less than six years later, and the world is back on track. Well, at least it is for those who accepted their bailouts, bought out their struggling competitors for pennies on the dollar and began the foreclosure and write-off spree that would transform their companies by magically ridding them of debt.

And this summer they are all coming back to Aspen with vigor, confidence and swagger.

For a couple of years, things seemed to slow a bit here in terms of open ostentation. There were fewer mountains being leveled for polo fields, fewer fences dividing the haves and have-nots, fewer purchases in the mega-millions by those with mega-billions. One could almost see a slight, white-ish lining to the recession/depression. But those who cannot contain their “irrational exuberance” have returned to the Valley with the singular goal of reshaping paradise in their own image.

The kickoff event of the summer of ostentation is scheduled for this weekend on the back side of Aspen Mountain where Robert King Steel, known at the Aspen Institute where he serves as Chairman of the Board of Trustees as “Bob,” will be giving his daughter a wedding that she will not soon forget. May we all hope that this marriage will be a once in a lifetime event for her. The 27,000-square-foot “temporary” structure that has been constructed to ensure that the guests will remain dry during this moist June is a third larger than the tents that are going up in Wagner Park for the Food & Wine Classic that will attract more than 5,000 participants.

Think of that. These people, who obviously could have used say, the Institute and the Music Tent for their celebration of marriage, felt it necessary to build a cathedral on top of a pristine space to hold a once-in-a-lifetime event. Damn the neighbors. Forget the excess.

Fortunately the Steel’s have a dear, dear friend in John Miller, who, once he discovered that the nuptials were for Bob’s daughter, waived any commercial involvement and opened “his” land to the wedding party.

Not that there won’t be more ostentatious happenings in the city between now and then, but the Aug. 9 grand opening of the new Aspen Art Museum certainly will be an event worthy of a 24-hour celebration.

Thirty-thousand feet of architectural elegance and simplicity (just slightly bigger than the steel cathedral), this is a building that would have been beautiful on say, 63rd and Park Ave. I’ll leave it up to you decide if it is an amenity or an intrusion, but, there is little doubt that for the investors/benefactors and the management of the museum, this is an exercise in monument building. I’m sure they all love art. And I’m sure they all love Aspen. But this building is all about self-aggrandizement.

If it wasn’t, then the plan of attack would have been to accept the will of the voters (who rejected, by a margin of nearly 2-1 the original museum plan in 2009) and find a way to fund and build a new museum that would utilize, say, the land where the current museum exists.

In both cases, and in so many more, the will of the few to use their influence and loopholes and connections to do things that benefit themselves exclusively, affects us all.

Welcome to the Summer of Ostentation.


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The Aspen Times Updated Jun 13, 2014 08:04AM Published Jun 16, 2014 03:43PM Copyright 2014 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.