The new era for the Aspen Art Museum will begin, quite literally, with a bang Saturday afternoon.
Explosives artist Cai Cuo-Qiang is scheduled to set off a daytime firework 700 feet above Aspen Mountain at 2:30 p.m. and again at 2:32 p.m. Named Black Lightning, the firework is supposed to form a lightning bolt and then dissipate into the air.
“The only good thing about all the rain we’ve been having this summer is that there’s no fire ban, so we can do it,” museum Director and CEO Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson said this week on a tour of the new museum.
The big bang coincides with the official ribbon cutting for the museum’s new Shigeru Ban-designed, $45 million, 33,000-square-foot downtown building on Hyman Avenue and its private opening for members. The members weekend includes the annual ArtCrush gala, in Rio Grande Park, three days of private events and a weeklong members opening.
The building has not received a certificate of occupancy from the city of Aspen.
Zuckerman Jacobson said Wednesday that the museum expected to get its final sign-off from the city Building Department on Thursday. But the museum was not yet up to code at day’s end.
“We are all working together and diligently to complete the final items here,” chief city building official Stephen Kanipe said Thursday.
The public will get its first look inside the new building on Aug. 9, when a free 24-hour celebration kicks off at 5 p.m. The all-night, all-day party boasts two film screenings in the museum’s education workshop, a 24-hour piano performance of Erik Satie’s “Vexations” on its roof deck and a concert by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy on Spring Street beside the commons adjacent to the building along with guided tours of the eight opening exhibitions, dream interpretations, a “silent disco,” cooking demonstration in the rooftop cafe, sunrise yoga and activities throughout the building. Admission to the new museum is free and is endowed to remain so in perpetuity.
Walking through the building this week, as contractors hustled to put final touches on it, Zuckerman Jacobson noted its five signature architectural elements: its woven screen shroud; its handmade wooden trusses; its glass elevator on the corner of Spring and Hyman; its walkable skylights throughout the building, bathing all but two of its galleries in natural light; and its grand staircase.
The staircase — consisting of a 10-foot-wide side for downward traffic from the third floor to the ground and a 6-foot-wide side for upward traffic — is bisected by a glass curtain wall. The simultaneous up-and-down movement of visitors is intended to mirror downhill skiers alongside those ascending Aspen Mountain on ski lifts and the traffic on local hiking trails.
“There are these subtle things that reflect our community and that are maybe conceptual and haven’t been done before,” Zuckerman Jacobson said. “But I think it’s really solid in its thinking.”
Benches made from paper tubes — not unlike empty paper-towel rolls — are distributed throughout the building. Ban also made use of paper tubes in features throughout the museum, adding flourishes to walls and configuring them honeycomb-like in a few areas. The tubes are a key part of his work in humanitarian architecture — the focus of a show in the museum’s largest gallery space. For that exhibit, Ban has rebuilt the groundbreaking structures he made for people in disaster zones. In the 4,000-square-foot gallery, visitors can walk through schools, shelters and churches that Ban designed and used after disasters. Photos on the gallery walls show them in use in Rwanda, China, India and the Philippines along with Ban’s sketches and designs for them.
The lead exhibition is a joint show of work by Yves Klein and David Hammons in what Zuckerman Jacobson called “a conversation between the two artists around unconventional topics.” It shows the French postwar master’s and the American postmodern artist’s work side by side in work that reflects on religion, sexuality and other topics, along with photos of them staging public performance art and juxtaposed works that demonstrate some of their shared aesthetic tendencies.
Other opening shows include drawings by Tomma Abts, ceramics by Rosemarie Trockel, a sidewalk installation by Jim Hodges, a collection of Colorado minerals on loan from the Aspen Historical Society, and “Moving Ghost Town,” by Cuo-Quiang. Made under the supervision of the Turtle Conservancy, “Moving Ghost Town” features three turtles — two sisters and a cousin, according to Zuckerman Jacobson — in a pen on the rooftop. They will have iPads attached to their shells showing footage of Colorado ghost towns, filmed by the same turtles via iPad video cameras.
“I really wanted the opening exhibitions to show the depth and breadth of what we could do — so we have modernism; we have work that was commissioned specifically for us; we have work directly out of the artist’s studio; we have work from all across the U.S. and Europe,” Zuckerman Jacobson said. “We have ceramics, drawing, sculpture and architecture. We have environmental installations.”
The fate of the museum’s success, she said, will be in the quality of the shows inside. High-caliber exhibitions, she said, would carry the museum through any concerns about the new building itself.
“Eventually people will forget whether it was on time, which it will be, and whether it was on budget, which it will be, and they’re only going to care about whether the art is great, which it will be,” Jacobson said. “And if the art’s not great, there’s no point in doing this thing at all — it’s all about the art.”