Opera Gallery aims to impress in debut at Art Aspen
If You Go …
What: Art Aspen
Where: Aspen Ice Garden
When: Through Sunday, Aug. 6
How much: $25/day pass; $75/VIP
Etc: Art Aspen is just one of the marquee happenings during the biggest visual art weekend of the summer. Additional events include the Aspen Art Museum’s annual Art Crush gala (Friday), Anderson Ranch Arts Center’s annual Art Auction and Community Picnic (Saturday) and the Red Brick Plein Air Festival (opening Sunday and running through Aug. 13).
Opera Gallery director Gregory Lahmi wanted to make a museum-quality splash at Art Aspen, the annual art fair that brings exhibitions from 28 international galleries to the Aspen Ice Garden through Sunday.
Rather than tossing the most saleable Opera works into a booth and hoping the well-heeled Art Aspen crowd will throw cash at them, Lahmi spent months curating a show that aims to educate newcomers, illuminate aficionados and impress Aspen locals.
Lahmi is eschewing the commercial imperative of art fairs and opting instead to focus on education and on sharing some of the gems from Opera’s blue chip collection with the local community.
“It’s not about selling,” he said. “We wanted to make something very special, just for the people of Aspen and for the city.”
The Opera, which opened in a massive space at the foot of Aspen Mountain last summer, is the 12th location for the gallery around the world (its third in the U.S. after New York and Miami). Each is run by a member of the Lahmi family, and built upon its vast collection of modern and contemporary masters ranging from Renoir and the Impressionists to of-the-moment artists like Andy Denzler. Most of the works in the Art Aspen show are from its collection in Europe.
Walking through the gallery on a recent morning, Lahmi recalled pitching his mother and uncle on his idea for Art Aspen.
“They said, ‘If you do Art Aspen, do it strong,’” he said.
The Opera’s booth will feature a wall of three seminal works by French expressionist Bernard Buffet, a wall of pieces by School of Paris artists — from a Renoir still-life of a pineapple and strawberries to a Chagall pastel and pencil of a bouquet of flowers and an embracing couple — and another wall of modern abstract works including Jean Debuffet and Picasso.
In keeping with the largely contemporary art fair, Lahmi is adding a splash of contemporary artists like Cerlos Cruz-Diez and Robert Indiana and three decorative tables by Yves Klein (in gold, pink and of course Klein blue).
The show aims to highlight the visual rhymes and resonance between master works from the 19th and 20th century, along with some tribal art. Lahmi has included an Oceanic tribal mask and weapon from his personal collection to stand alongside the works by Picasso (“Broc et verre,” 1959) and Debuffet (“Promenade agreste,” 1974) to highlight ways the artists were influenced by tribal art.
Alongside a haunting Bernard Buffet self-portrait from 1981, Lahmi is hanging a contemporaneous photo of the artist in the hopes of demonstrating how Buffet accentuated his features for emotional effect in his paintings (and in his 1968 “Clown”).
Lahmi has brought classes of schoolchildren into the Opera Gallery to give similar lessons inspired by its Aspen collection.
While some local gallerists have grumbled over the years that fairs like Art Aspen siphon away business from the rent-paying galleries based downtown, Lahmi sees it as an opportunity to showcase the Opera Gallery on a big stage.
The 28 international exhibitors filling the transformed hockey rink also include Aspen’s Christopher Martin Gallery and Gallery 1949. On Saturday evening, the fair is also hosting a Gallery Art Walk — a new addition to the Art Aspen lineup — that will stop at 17 downtown galleries.
Lahmi will also give a talk at the art fair today at 3 p.m. about his family’s history in the art world titled “How a Personal Taste for Grand Masters Became a Dynasty for Dealers.”
The Art Aspen show, Lahmi said, is a trial balloon for an ambitious idea for the Opera Gallery’s winter months.
If this weekend’s show goes over well, he said, he’s planning to transform the Opera into “Artist Studio in Aspen,” an immersive exhibition that would split the opera into three sections and recreate the studios of Picasso, Chagall and Buffet. He’s envisioning showing 10 Picassos in a paint-spattered room modeled after Picasso’s studio, 20 Chagalls in Chagall’s and 15 Buffets in Buffet’s. He’s enlisted a Hollywood set decorator to help put it together if it moves forward.
“If the reaction is good from this (Art Aspen) show, the gallery will be completely transformed for three months this winter,” he said.
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