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Aspen Times Weekly: Herbert Bayer in Miniature

by Andrew Travers
"Articulated wall for 1968 Olympics," Herbert Bayer, 1965. A 54-foot-high version of the wall still stands in Mexico City.
Robert Millman / Todd Babos |

If You Go …

What: ‘Herbert Bayer: Maquettes and Sculptures’

Where: Paepcke Gallery, The Aspen Institute

When: Through Aug. 2017

How much: Free

Walking around the new Herbert Bayer exhibition at the Aspen Institute’s Paepcke Gallery, one imagines the Bauhaus great and Aspen icon at work in his Red Mountain studio — crunching numbers, studying a color wheel and cutting paperboard pieces.

The new show, “Maquettes and Sculptures,” collects eight of Bayer’s miniature handmade models for his sculptures alongside three posthumously realized ones. It offers a tantalizing look at Bayer’s process.

The wood, paperboard and metal maquettes are small versions of what the artist imagined to be monumental installation pieces. He made more than 50 maquettes during his life, many of which are permanently displayed in a wood chest at Peyton Wright Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. and are now on loan to the institute. There are untitled maquettes of intersecting shapes and a wood-and-steel miniature of his 1963 “Memorial Sculpture” honoring Walter Paepcke, along with undulating and articulated walls.

“They’re playful pieces that he envisioned being enlarged on a greater scale,” says Aspen Institute art registrar Lissa Balinger. “But there were many, many maquettes he made there were never made on a larger scale. Actually, during his lifetime very few were.”

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The three sculptures in the show were made — using Bayer’s specifications and with the blessing of his family — by the Peyton Wright Gallery. Among them is a tabletop-sized version of his wooden “Aspen Column,” a full-sized version of which is installed on the lawn of a private home east of Aspen.

Fabricated in the 1960s and 1970s, the maquettes are contemporaneous with Bayer’s “Chromatic” series. Like those works, they are concerned with geometry, symmetry and vibrant coloring.

“They’re so interesting because they’re these perfect little objects,” says Ballinger. “I have these great visions of him playing with paper board.”

Among them is his wood and acrylic maquette for “Articulated wall for 1968 Olympics.” The full-sized 54-foot highway sculpture still stands in Mexico City, where it was installed outside the Olympic Village.

A similar 85-foot-tall canary yellow highway sculpture also is still standing beside Interstate 25 in Denver. The Paepcke Gallery show includes a poster commemorating its dedication in June 1985, showing the progress of its installation. Layers of concrete were stacked on top of one another — a long steel rod running through the centers of them. Between the bright yellow and the piece-by-piece assembly, it looks like a super-sized Lego project.

With the interstate highway system still young in the ‘60s, Bayer saw the roadside and the tedium of long drives as an exciting new canvas for artists.

As Bayer himself put it: “Sculptural treatment towards beautification of the highway is a task for the contemporary artist and a necessity. … Visual interest of sculptures placed in such areas would also ease the driving and would, on long monotonous stretches, help to keep the driver alert.”

One can’t help but imagine how Bayer would react to today’s increasingly distracted driving environment, with PSAs warning against the dangers of texting behind the wheel and local authorities placing signs on Highway 82 warning motorists not to play “Pokemon Go” on the road.

“I always wonder what he would think about texting and driving and whether this would help at all,” says Ballinger.

The exhibition also includes a metal model of an alternate version of Bayer’s “Kaleidoscreen,” a full-sized version of which has been on the Institute campus since 1957. Beside the maquette are two Ferenc Berko photos of “Kaleidoscreen” in its original placement beside the campus pool (it is currently outside of the Aspen Meadows reception center). In keeping with the Bauhaus ideal of functionality, its screen panels are adjustable and were originally meant to give sunbathers the ability to shade themselves poolside.

“Maquettes and Sculptures,” which follows a yearlong exhibition of Bayer’s tapestries, continues the Institute’s investigation and display of lesser-known aspects of Bayer’s artistic career. Since 2014, the Institute has focused exclusively on collecting buyer — not accepting gifts or loans of work by other artists, focusing the nonprofit’s Paepcke and Resnick galleries solely on preserving and studying Bayer’s expansive oeuvre. The show will remain in the Paepcke Gallery through August 2017.

atravers@aspentimes.com


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