Kind Words: Aspen Art Museum hosts Robert Montgomery text sculpture on rooftop
IF YOU GO …
What: Robert Montgomery, ‘The City in Their Echo’
Where: Aspen Art Museum
When: Through May 19
How much: Free
More info: aspenartmuseum.org
The Aspen Art Museum’s rooftop sculpture garden offers, arguably, the most dramatic mountain views from anyplace downtown. This free public space gives you an unobstructed up-close look at Ajax and a straight-shot look up the Roaring Fork River to the white-capped splendor of Independence Pass.
But it’s taken more than four years since the space opened for the Aspen Art Museum to install a piece in the sculpture garden that interacts purposefully and directly with this powerful mountainscape.
Robert Montgomery’s text-based “The City in Their Echo,” which opened Dec. 21 and runs through May, comments on and complements this awe-inspiring backdrop. It features a two-line poem on a billboard. Beginning “The mountains must have imagined the city in their echo and they drew it in the sky for us,” the piece calls on the public to read it with the pine forests of Aspen Mountain or the snowy depths of the Pass or the clear Colorado sky as its backdrop. At night, the piece lights up and reads starkly against our starry nights.
The rooftop garden has hosted memorable pieces like Danh Võ’s Statue of Liberty reconstruction, Wade Guyton’s “X” painting, Sarah Lucas’ phallic gourds, Larry Bell’s transcendent “Aspen Blues” glass sculptures and Cai Guo-Qiang’s infamous tortoises. But nothing has grounded the space so squarely in the mountains, no work has harnessed the awe of that humbling view.
“I think the piece offers the opportunity to talk about where we are — where we’re physically located and how the environment affects us — and how different spaces contain and evoke different memories,” Aspen Art Museum director Heidi Zuckerman said in the fall. “I feel like there’s an opportunity there.”
Text-based art, Zuckerman noted, can be at once the most accessible and most challenging work for the viewing public. Anybody who can read can get what it’s about, yes. But some scoff at words as visual art.
“Sometimes people say, ‘Oh, that’s words. That’s not art,’” Zuckerman said, referencing the negative reactions the museum got from some quarters regarding Jim Hodges’ “With Liberty and Justice For All” on the museum’s street-level commons in 2014 (that piece also drew scrutiny from city officials who questioned whether it violated municipal sign codes).
“There are more banal conversations you have to have, but you can also have more profound conversations when you work with an artist who works with text,” she said.
The second line of the poem in the piece reads, “And the sea birds carried messages from the water to the mountain birds as the sea rocks walked here slowly,” evoking the freedom of birds, the slow movement of mountains and the connections from sea to mountaintop.
“It’s about connecting the sea to the mountains and how we move from one space to the other,” Zuckerman said at the exhibition opening.
Montgomery’s poetic works have drawn inspiration from commercial billboards and the “situationist” movement of the 1960s, using text in lights and fire to interact with built and natural environments. The Scottish artist and poet’s mission is one of simple and sincere kindness. As he once put it: “I always thought the whole point of art was to touch the hearts of strangers.”
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