Aspen Art Museum exhibit opens a dialogue on local art |

Aspen Art Museum exhibit opens a dialogue on local art

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesJon Hagman, an installer at the Aspen Art Museum, prepares the Roaring Fork Open exhibition, which opens Thursday with a 5 p.m. reception. The exhibit runs through Nov. 29.

ASPEN – For much of its existence, the Roaring Fork Open – the Aspen Art Museum’s non-juried show of work by local artists – was a paint-it-and-drop-it-off affair. Every other year the valley’s creative contingent would simply deposit a latest piece at the museum’s doorstep, then wait to see how it looked on the wall, and what else was exhibited next to it.

Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, who became the museum’s director and chief curator four years ago, decided to put more of an imprint on the show. She instituted a process that had the artists show up at the museum with three pieces, and engage in a quick – eight minutes or so – but hopefully enlightening discussion with herself and, at times, other curators. The goals were to give some measure of cohesion to a show that featured more than 100 artists, to raise the overall quality of the exhibition, and to ensure that the participants – many of them non-professional artists, some showing their work for the first time – had a connection to the bigger art-making world around them.

“If artists aren’t a part of a working community – like a graduate program – they create work without an opportunity for critical feedback,” Zuckerman Jacobson said. “Introducing that level of dialogue about art has been great.”

It has also helped to provide direction. The 2009 Roaring Fork Open, which opens Thursday with a reception at 5 p.m., is, Zuckerman Jacobson believes, a more focused exhibition than the two previous Opens she has coordinated. Mostly, it adheres more closely to the aesthetic that the Aspen Art Museum has developed under its current director. Which is to say, contemporary on leaning toward the experimental. Zuckerman Jacobson says that’s a reflection of both the artistic values she promulgates, and of the exhibitions the museum has featured in recent years. A number of artists commented, when they were setting up their meetings, that they chose work – or even tailored their art – to fit with the institutional aesthetic.

“People are getting more comfortable with my aesthetic. So they’re bringing work that will appeal to that,” Zuckerman Jacobson said, adding that Christoph Heinrich, the deputy director and soon-to-be executive director of the Denver Art Museum, participated in a portion of the meeting and selection process. “I was surprised, actually. Surprised and flattered that the artists had pre-selected their work based on what they thought would fit in the museum.”

Among those who has made art with an eye toward the Open is David Notor. An award-winning painter who first made his name with traditional landscapes, Notor said he brought in an impressionistic plein air landscape – “the kind people have been painting for hundreds of years,” he said – as well as a far more abstract, modern oil painting titled “Skeleton Barn.” Notor was not surprised that Zuckerman Jacobson chose the contemporary piece.

“I knew what Heidi liked. I know what the art museum is like,” said Notor, a Carbondale resident who is also a professional musician and runs a hot tub servicing company. Notor has often experimented with different techniques, mediums and styles, but for the past year he has had the Roaring Fork Open on his mind, and was using the exhibition to push him further. “It was an opportunity for me to see art in another light, looking at artists who have moved from the traditional into another direction. With 125 artists, you’ve got to be as creative as possible to stand out.”

Mike Otte didn’t bother to bring any of the plein air paintings he has specialized in. He is represented in the show by the more cutting-edge “Blue 8 Ball Blowing Up.” Connie Madsen, whose previous work had been mostly limited to watercolors, employed collage elements for the first time in “Eggland’s Best.” Kim Floria created a striking and original pyramid sculpture specifically for the Open.

Zuckerman Jacobson says the enhanced contact between the museum and local artists is enlightening for the institution.

“You create an exhibition in a vacuum – you have no idea what effect they’re having,” she said. “So it’s nice for me to see that what we’re doing here has a positive impact on what’s being created in the valley. That’s something museum always reckon with: What’s the impact we have on people who come in?

“First people thought it was an annoyance [to have a meeting before they could enter a piece in the Open]. But this year in particular, people felt open to the dialogue about their work and eager to have a critique and enthusiastic about the fact that we were talking about it. That takes boldness, to hear our thoughts in a positive and constructive way.”

This year’s Roaring Fork Open has been opened up to local creative types outside the realm of visual arts. In conjunction with the exhibition, the museum will present a series of evenings devoted to dance, music, literature, poetry and theater, with programs selected by local performers. The series starts Tuesday, Nov. 3 with a Stand-Up Comedy evening, with performers selected by Alexa Fitzpatrick.

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