Ashcroft Ghost Town alive with artist Kaitlyn Tucek’s installation
Denver artist’s ‘The Lilac Hour’ exhibition on view through Sunday
As the morning sun crested the mountains and finally started hitting Ashcroft Ghost Town around 9 a.m. on Friday, the Denver-based artist Kaitlyn Tucek had already been at the remote historic site for several hours placing canvases and unwrapping artwork in aspen groves and abandoned buildings.
It marked the unceremonious opening of her installation “The Lilac Hour,” which will run through Sunday at Ashcroft.
Tucek has more than 20 works spread across the historic town’s mining era buildings and environs, mostly paintings but also fabric and paper works and one sound piece. Presented with support from the Aspen Historical Society, which manages the site, “Lilac Hour” is an off-the-grid installation that Tucek hopes allows people to experience the art purely and without the baggage an art gallery or museum show might carry. In this remote stretch of mountains, Tucek hopes he can meet viewers, as she put it, “at neutral.”
“There’s no electricity, there’s no lights, there’s no power,” Tucek said. “There’s no (cell phone) service out here, which is which kind of plays into the idea of ‘meeting at neutral.’ Nobody has to play on social media and nobody has to post these things immediately and tell people they’re here. You can be here for a while and actually just experience it, which I think is wonderful.”
In Ashcroft’s old hotel, she has installed 10 paintings on the second floor, playing with the quality of light in the space where beams poke through gaps in walls and windows and floorboards. In an adjacent dirt floor structure, she has a fabric work juxtaposed against antique textile materials tattered on the walls. Another piece will be raised on a flagpole-like structure outside in the field.
“There is a summer camp-like feeling that I want to play with,” Tucek explained.
Her gallerist has made up a map and legend to hand out to visitors, so that they can find artworks this weekend in treasure-hunt style.
What: Kaitlyn Tucek, ‘The Lilac Hour’
Where: Ashcroft Ghost Town
When: Through Sunday, Sept. 19
How much: Admission to Ashcroft is a $5 donation
More info: Tucek will give a poetry reading at 3 p.m. Saturday
Those playful elements co-exist with an emotional depth in Tucek’s “Lilac Hour” works, evident after spending just a little time with them, that explore longing and loss. The works are filled with images of hugs and couples in intimate embraces, but rendered with many unfinished lines and swaths of white space that infuse them with the feeling of a fading memory or a daydream. There are also images of flowers and oysters, which Tucek plucked from childhood memories of experiences at home on Long Island or on vacation in West Virginia with her father (detailed also in new poems that she’ll read onsite Saturday afternoon). The short two-day run of the show amid the gorgeously dying September leaves surrounding it are of a piece.
“I like to push the idea that nothing lasts anyway,” Tucek said. “These things and this experience is ephemeral and I love that. I’m personally excited about actually seeing it all here for a few days.”
Showing outdoors was a pandemic-bred idea for Tucek, and the open-air experience allows viewers to gather without masks or COVID anxiety. But the exhibition is no escape from the pandemic – the show’s content was inspired, in fact, by Tucek’s experience as a Colorado transplant missing family members who are a plane flight away.
“I started to really question, over the pandemic, not being able to go back to New York much, where most of my family still lives,” she explained. “I was looking at that longing, wondering about it, but then also recognizing how incredible Colorado has been for me.”
Over the past eight years in Colorado, she has found creative opportunities that include representation by Denver’s Leon Gallery, which is producing the Ashcroft show. Tucek and gallery owner Eric Nord saw the ghost town exhibition as a way of breaking out of the gallery walls and making an experience true to the Colorado spirit in the open air amid the changing fall leaves and surrounded by mountains.
“It’s been a wonderful experience exploring this idea,” Nord said Friday as he assisted with the install. “People might have a real, immediate, visceral reaction.”
The space and spirit of the mountain west have served Tucek well, raising two young children here and simultaneously breaking through creatively.
“It calms you,” she said, looking up at a grove of quaking aspens. “I think it seeps into your mind and your soul, your body — you gain a sense of peace from it and I think it helps you move through life a little better.”
Showing in Ashcroft this weekend, Tucek hopes the work will surprise and delight and maybe challenge visitors, most of whom, she recognized, will be there for sightseeing or leaf-peeping and won’t be expecting an art show (certainly the case for a rambunctious wedding party crowd of dozens that unloaded off of three mini buses to tour the site Friday morning).
“To me, the ultimate audience is those people who do not expect it,” Tucek said.
Due to the historic nature of the structures, Tucek couldn’t hang art with nails or permanently alter the landscape, so she has casually leaned paintings against walls and trees and hung others with fishing wire.
A field mouse ran by as she discussed the installation with a reporter, highlighting the risk of leaving these pieces at the historic site for the weekend. Tucek is embracing the elements and their risks, she said. If morning dew, mouse, fox or bear damage a painting, she said, so be it.
The outdoor pieces include a portrait of a couple that’s positioned in a thick aspen grove — viewable from Ashcroft’s main pathway — and a stunning painting of a night sky that is dramatically positioned in an open field, setting its intense blue against the changing yellows and oranges of leaves here.
Tucek’s show follows a string of ambitious outdoor pandemic art projects here, including Anderson Ranch Arts Center’s ongoing “Sculpturally Distanced” open-air show and artist Ajax Axe’s “Aspen Space Station” on the backside of Aspen Mountain, which is staging its final public events this weekend through Wednesday (and for art-inclined visitors, makes an ideal double feature with “Lilac Hour,” as it is accessed via Midnight Mine Road down the Castle Creek valley from Tucek’s Ashcroft exhibition).
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As snow begins to dust Sunlight Mountain Resort, so will beer and brats at Saturday’s Oktoberfest celebration.