The street artist known as Alex Monopoly visited Aspen’s Eden Gallery over the weekend, seeing for the first time in-person the new gallery that has made Monopoly’s wealth-centered artwork a centerpiece of its two-story showroom and more than 7,000 square feet of exhibition space.
“I’m blown away,” he said Friday at Eden, sporting sneakers tagged with his name and dollar signs and wearing a black face mask (as a street artist, he was well-prepared for face covering mandates amid the novel coronavirus pandemic: Until recently, he wore a mask at all times in public to hide his identity from authorities who might arrest him for vandalism).
A New York native, Monopoly began as a street artist creating tags and broke through during the Great Recession, around 2008 and 2009 when he began spray-painting the face of investment scammer Bernie Madoff on the body of the Monopoly Man from the classic board game.
It fit with the iconography of the Occupy Wall Street movement of the moment and was embraced by those in the camp of the 99%.
“It was a negative connotation back then, and I ran with that,” Monopoly said.
The distinct Monopoly Man tag got attention in New York and served as a launching pad to a studio art practice, international fame and some art world infamy as he found success without the usual trajectory of a contemporary artist. These days he is represented by Eden Gallery – which also has locations in New York, London, Miami and the Greek Isles – and has more than 1.2 million Instagram followers keeping tabs on his art and his jet-setting lifestyle.
As his practice has expanded, the artist has continued to use the Monopoly Man and other familiar illustrated characters – Richie Rich, Scrooge McDuck, Jessica Rabbit – to depict cartoonish conspicuous consumption.
Whether he is seeking to condemn or celebrate this frivolous wealth culture is in the eye of the beholder.
“For a lot of these works, it’s kind of like a celebration of life and wealth and success,” he said. “It’s a token of good luck. I have a lot of Wall Street guys who keep my art in their offices like a good luck charm.”
Recently he has made a series of Aspen-centric pieces for the local gallery that play up the extreme wealth here: Scrooge McDuck, Richie Rich and the Monopoly Man throwing cash out of the Silver Queen Gondola, for instance, or skiing down Aspen Mountain.
“When I do gallery shows in specific places, it’s nice to make a piece that relates to what’s going on here,” he said. “And it’s kind of like a souvenir from when you’re here with your family and you’re having great memories of your vacation.”
His evolution as a studio artist continues, years after his move from the street into the gallery. At first, Monopoly recalled, he made simple canvases with the Monopoly Man on them, and gradually they grew more ornate with detail and setting-specific detail.
Among the newer pieces on display at Eden is a multi-layered mixed media piece depicting Richie Rich and the Monopoly Man heli-skiing – it’s made from the pages of vintage “Richie Rich” comic books, spray paint and acrylic paint.
“I’ve gotten so much better as an artist throughout, because I’ve spent so much time in the studio rethinking ideas, learning different techniques,” he said.
Monopoly had visited Aspen for fun and for snowboarding a few times before, he said, but last weekend’s visit was his first time seeing Eden’s space. His sales at Eden have been strong, he said, although owner Cathia Klimovsky opened the gallery — in the remodeled building previously home to Boogie’s Diner — in October amid the pandemic and economic crisis.
“We’re very fortunate that the gallery has been doing amazing,” he said. “I feel like a lot of people were at home looking at their empty walls or redesigning their houses. So we were selling great during all of this.”
Before his weekend visit to Aspen, which included a small private reception in the gallery, the artist designed a series of ice sculptures for display on the sidewalk outside of Eden which include his tag, Richie Rich and the Monopoly Man. During his visit, Monopoly said, he checked out other galleries and took note of some of the commercial core’s street art, including Shepard Fairey’s mural off Hunter Street just half-a-block from Eden.
“We’ve got to find a wall for me to do one,” he said, later adding: “I want to spend more time here. It’s such an amazing place and such a good art town.”