Dick Carter: Guest opinion
Ryan Summerlin October 1, 2010
Regarding the newest wave of letters opposing the proposed art museum: I can’t say that I was following architecture very closely when Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum opened in New York in 1959, and I have to admit that I’d never heard of Bilbao until Frank O. Gehry’s Guggenheim opened there in 1998. But I think that it would be safe to assume that there were critics in both cities who did a lot of squawking and ﬂapping during the run up to the construction of those two great buildings; it’s human nature. One thing that is for sure is that neither place has been accused of ruining the neighborhood lately, and to this day neither building exactly “blends in.”
I realize that New York City and Bilbao are not small ski towns in the Rockies so the analogy with Aspen isn’t perfect, but I suspect the complaints were similar to the ones we’re currently hearing. But if you were to speak to the residents of those cities today I think they would pretty much universally be appreciative of the cultural and huge economic benefits those institutions have generated. We live in a tourist economy … people travel to experience culture, this seems to be lost on our burgeoning population of Philistines here in Fun City.
I doubt if there’s anyone in the valley who misses the old Aspen more than I do; I’d trade a couple of city blocks to get the Aspen A’s and the Gallery back but, sadly, that time is over. Aspen will never be “quaint” again. That particular horse left the barn so long ago that it ran around, died of old age, and lies rotting somewhere east of Wagner Park. It’s time for people to wake up and smell the coffee. I’ve never heard one complaint about the aesthetics of City Market, approximately one block from the site of the proposed museum, and anyone who thinks the Wienerstube building is a cherished relic of yesteryear has been snifﬁng too much glue. I’d encourage anyone to stand in front of the Patio Building and look across toward the proposed site and tell me exactly what great architectural beauty will the museum deprive us of?
The neighborhood is a hodgepodge of profoundly un-special buildings now. It’s clear to me that the museum would be nothing but a significant improvement to the area. If there are realtors or lawyers out there (always a selﬂess, civic minded lot) who think the proposed museum will deprive them of some sunlight in their offices I’m afraid they have lots of company, and a short stroll around town would produce plenty of examples.
And if you just don’t like the architecture, that’s unfortunate, but taste is by nature subjective and nothing pleases everybody; this is not a popularity contest. If it were there would be no North of Nell, no Aspen Square, no Guidos and a long list of other buildings of questionable aesthetics that round out the core’s current “character.”
If you take the time to look at the plans for Shigaru Ban’s building, you will see a beautiful, practical, functional art facility. I wonder just how many of the naysayers have actually seen the plans … or can read plans? If one doesn’t like this development, a smart compromise that was worked out by the City Council, I wonder what the reaction will be to the much larger Hecht mini-mall that would result after the city got slapped down in court.
That’ll have character.
Aspen has seen enormous changes and will continue to change. Most, if not all of them, have been generated by the profit motive, in other words, greed. People wanting to squeeze the most they possibly could out of the old ski town. The proposed new museum is an opportunity to support a change motivated by altruism. But I am having a dejà vu moment…. I was one of the three artists who founded the museum, and when it was proposed back in 1976 there was a lot of the same kind of inane negativity arrayed against the idea, just as we are seeing now. In a town that fancies itself a cultural Mecca this tea-party like reaction to what is an amazing gift to the community is as puzzling as it is disturbing.
A large part of the local art community moved downvalley a long time ago as Aspen sold out to the highest bidder and an artist studio could fetch more as a time-share ofﬁce … We did not hear local realtors whining about Aspens character then, did we?
Some of the negative reaction to the proposed museum makes me wonder about who the hell moved in to fill those vacancies? Might be the same voices that fretted and squirmed about soup cans, elephant dung and a wall with 50,000 names on it that created a hue and cry when they were presented as “art.”
Art is supposed to challenge us. Embrace that concept.