Blending Art, Wine and Commerce at the Aspen Art Museum’s ArtCrush |

Blending Art, Wine and Commerce at the Aspen Art Museum’s ArtCrush

Kelly J. Hayes
For the Aspen Times Weekly

At the close of World War II, Baron Philippe de Rothschild was inspired to marry his first-growth Bordeaux wines with art from the greatest living artists of his day. Over the decades, names like Picasso, Chagall, Miro, Motherwell, Koons and Haring were commissioned to create works to adorn the labels of what remains one of the most famed luxury brands in wine, Château Mouton Rothschild.

The baron’s notion is just one example of how the worlds of art and wine have converged for commerce through the ages.

Yet another notable union of art, wine and, yes, money takes place each summer in Aspen at the annual ArtCrush gathering, which celebrates its 15th anniversary July 31 through Aug. 2. As the primary fundraiser for the Aspen Art Museum and as Aspen’s premier summer gala, ArtCrush brings together well-heeled donors with the world’s top art collectors, artists and wine connoisseurs for three evenings of showings, auctions, dinners and, perhaps most importantly, wine tastings. It’s all designed to raise funds for the non-collecting institution, which does not own art but rather presents rotating exhibitions of the work of the world’s most significant contemporary artists.

“Aspen, as we know, is a town of oenophiles,” said Aspen Art Museum director Heidi Zuckerman, “and many AAM donors and patrons are among the most knowledgeable international collectors of both art and wine anywhere.”

The pairing of art and wine has proved successful for the museum. Since its inception in the summer of 2005, ArtCrush has raised a cumulative $28 million for the museum, housed in the downtown building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Shigeru Ban that opened in August of 2014.

Last year, $2.5 million was raised to fund the museum’s mission of year-round curatorial and educational programming.

“I won’t speculate on just how ‘in vino veritas’ assists in the success of ArtCrush auction bidding,” Zuckerman laughed in reference to the power of wine to inspire bidders.

The three nights are a culinary and cultural bacchanalia for attendees. It ping-pongs between guest interactions with great works and the artists who created them, and over-the-top food and wine extravaganzas. Guests say what makes ArtCrush special, aside from the natural beauty of its location, of course, is the casual camaraderie that develops from an event that would be overly stuffy in most major cities. In past years the guest list has included starry names from entertainment (Kris Jenner), sports (Lance Armstrong) and business (Jamie Tisch) along with Aspen locals and second-home owners. It is a week when the “heavy metal” fills Sardy Field to the brim as private jets shuttle the elite for one of Aspen’s most exclusive annual events.

ArtCrush 2019 opens on Wednesday, July 31, with the sold out, $2,500-per-seat, “Ruby Red”-themed WineCrush. This extravagant sit-down dinner for 235 guests is hosted at the Red Mountain home of museum national council member and ArtCrush event chair Amy Phelan and her husband, John Phelan, who is the museum board’s executive committee chairman (see breakout box). It features hand-selected fine wines from prestige vineyards poured with each course.

The house displays art by contemporary luminaries including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ellsworth Kelly, Takashi Murakami, Damien Hirst, Marilyn Minter and Jenny Holzer. Amy, who is a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, and John have been instrumental in bringing collectors to Aspen for the ArtCrush from other cities over the years.

The following day, guests will mingle with featured artists before the focus shifts to the streets and galleries of Aspen. That evening, patrons stroll between the Baldwin and Casterline|Goodman galleries perusing the art that will be on the auction block. These PreviewCrush and PreviewExtra events are free and open to the public.

The main event is the ArtCrush dinner and auction at Buttermilk Ski Area on Friday night for up to 650 paying guests. Here, tables of eight (some sold in Ultra Premier Packages with VIP extras for $35,000) will take part in the auction of donated artworks from esteemed artists and galleries. This year there will be work by Nari Ward, John Armleder, Sam Gilliam and Danh Vo, among many others. Nine live auction items had been announced at press time, with 50 silent auction pieces up for bid. A high point of the evening will be the presentation the of 2019 Aspen Award for Art to Lisa Yuskavage (see box, page 15). ArtCrush culminates with a ticketed concert following the ArtCrush auction at Belly Up, which this year features arty pop duo The Bloom Twins.

And there will be wine.

“We drop 10 bottles of wine on each table, and let me tell you, they are spectacular,” said Jay Fletcher, who hand-curates the selections.

Over the years, ArtCrush guests have been feted with the finest wines from the world’s most prestigious producers as they bid on the auction items. The aforementioned Chateau Rothschild from Bordeaux, the Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay from Australia’s Margaret River and, of course, a collection of fine burgundies featuring names like Domaine Gros and Domaine De La Romanée-Conti, have all been poured over the years at ArtCrush.

“We pour 800 bottles of wine each year and every one of them is a keeper,” Fletcher said with pride.

A master sommelier, Fletcher has been the wine director for the Aspen Art Museum for 20 years. He began in the days of the “Howl at the Moon” party at the Gitalong Ranch in Woody Creek, which preceded ArtCrush as the museum’s summer fundraiser. Each year, he relies on his relationships with the wine world to obtain hard-to-find bottles, many of which come from Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, where he serves as executive director of fine wine of Colorado.

But some also are sourced from one of the finest old and rare wine cellars in the country: “In 2002, Jeff and Kathy Johnston donated approximately $1 million of wine to SommFoundation for educational purposes,” he explained. Fletcher serves as cellar master for the SommFoundation, rare vintages from which are used to fund educational opportunities for up-and-coming sommeliers.

Each year, Fletcher also corrals a posse of Aspen’s top sommeliers — including fellow Master Sommelier Jonathan Pullis from 7908, Csaba Oveges from The Little Nell, Greg Van Wagner from Jimmy’s, Todd Clark from Matsuhisa, Oliver Jaderko of the Caribou Club, Alex Harvier from Cache Cache, Gerald Theron from Baroness wines and his wife, Lynn Fletcher of the SommFoundation — to pour for the event. Zuckerman, clearly, is a fan: “The ‘Crush’ in all four annual ArtCrush events (WineCrush, PreviewCrush, AfterPartyCrush) references crushing grapes to make wine for a celebration, so there’s certainly that celebratory aspect that event Master Sommelier Jay Fletcher literally brings to the table.”

Along with Fletcher, the Phelans and Zuckerman have been key players — the Baron de Rothschilds, if you will, of the annual event.

2019 will be Zuckerman’s final ArtCrush as director of the museum, as she announced in late June that she will be stepping down from her current position when her contract ends Sept. 30. She conceived the first ArtCrush, a one-night tented affair held in the summer of 2005 outside the old Aspen Art Museum, and has ushered its growth for the past decade and a half.

In 2019, the numbers align, as the Aspen Art Museum celebrates not only its fifth anniversary in the new location, but its 40th year as an Aspen institution. In 1979, local artists Richard Carter (who opened a pop-up gallery next door to the downtown museum this summer), Laura Thorne and Diane Lewy held the first exhibitions in the old 1885 hydroelectric power plant on the banks of the Rio Grande River in what was then christened the Aspen Center for the Visual Arts. The inaugural show, “American Portraits of the Sixties and Seventies,” included work by Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Chuck Close, Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Mapplethorpe, Claes Oldenburg and Andy Warhol. Since then the museum has not only undergone a change of name, but has morphed into one of the premier non-collecting, free-admission museums in the U.S.

Over its 40 years in Aspen the museum has not always enjoyed universal acceptance in the community. Some object to the size and volume of the downtown building or consider the institution elitist. But with free admission to all patrons, a healthy roster of educational programs, workshops and lectures, and the casual and affordable rooftop SO Cafe open to the community, many have warmed to both the space and the museum’s mission over the years. And, thanks in large part to the funding that has been secured through private donations at ArtCrush, the museum has found its footing. ArtCrush is a celebration of all that has been achieved.

Art. Wine. Commerce. Three things that define modern Aspen.


Jay Fletcher has not only procured fine wines for ArtCrush, he has also seen to it that they are paired appropriately to the menu, served at the right temperature and properly poured. Here are just some of the global wines that have made their way to the tables of ArtCrush’s annual event in past years:

Château Mouton Rothschild 1990 (label by Francis Bacon)

Domaine De La Romanée-Conti, La Tache 1988

Penfolds, Grange Hermitage 1985

Aldo Conterno, Barolo Riserva Gran Bussia 1990

Jaboulet-Isnard, Côte-Rôtie 1964

Domaine Ramonet, La Montrachet 1989

Domaine De La Romanée-Conti, Romanée-Conti 1988 Six (6) Liter Format

Domaine Gros, Richebourg 1971

Château Haut-Brion 1961

Coche-Dury, Corton-Charlemagne 1995

Château Rayas 1990


In 2008 Amy and John Phelan made a donation to the AAM that ensured admission to the museum would be free of charge for everyone for the following three years. This despite the fact that the new facility had not even been built.

They then funded a further gift.

“We saw the direct results of that gift through the doubling of attendance within about a year’s time,” said Heidi Zuckerman about the initial donation. “When they gave us word soon after that the gift would be extended in perpetuity, my final word on their generosity to both the museum, and each and every person of the well-over 350,000 who will have walked through the doors of our new building since August 9, 2014—priceless.”


Each year one of the highlights of ArtCrush is the presentation of the Aspen Award for Art. This year New York-based artist Lisa Yuskavage, who is well known for her painting of human figures and nudes, often in sexual context, that create tension and controversy, will be receiving the honor for her work on Friday night at ArtCrush.

On Valentines Day, February 14, 202 the Aspen Art Museum

will debut a solo presentation of the artist’s work entitled “Wilderness”

Yuskavage will be giving a talk at the AAM on August 1, 2019 at 5 p.m.


15 Years of Art Crush

$2.5 million- raised in 2018 at Art Crush

$28 million- raised since first ArtCrush

500- glasses of wine for each course

800- bottles of wine poured at each ArtCrush

2,000- glasses of wine poured at each ArtCrush

11- Master Sommeliers that have helped Fletcher over the 15 years of ArtCrush:

Bobby Stuckey, Richard Betts, Fred Dame, Carton McCoy, Sabato Sagaria, Sean Razee, Jonathan Pullis, Brett Zimmerman, Doug Krenik, Jason Smith, Shayn Bjornholm

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