Color my post-9/11 world | AspenTimes.com
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Color my post-9/11 world

"Circling Overland," an acrylic on canvas by Torben Giehler, is included in the group exhibition Like color in pictures, opening with a reception today at the Aspen Art Museum. (Contributed photo)
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ASPEN How do you locate the genuine artiste in a crowd of people? Look for the black clothing – preferably black on black, from boots to chapeau. The absence of color is a sign of serious intent.”There’s an understanding that, to be serious, or to be taken seriously, that requires a certain subtlety,” said Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson. “Maybe that’s why most of the people in the art world wear black.”Jacobson, an art curator by profession, noticed that the serious factor was raised several notches in the years following Sept. 11, 2001. But in 2005, while walking around the Armory Show in Manhattan, she felt the air begin to shift. Jacobson had just accepted the job as executive director and chief curator of the Aspen Art Museum, and her mind was open to new ideas she could employ in Aspen.”It was almost like a sixth sense – you notice something happening, but you don’t know why. I knew something was astir, but it took a while to pin it down.”What was happening was the return of color. Just as late-night talk-show hosts observed a waiting period before getting back to their mocking humor, visual artists too were affected by the dark tone that enveloped the world.

“There hasn’t been an overwhelming use of color in the last six years. I think that has to do with Sept. 11,” said Jacobson. She added that there isn’t complete agreement on that observation; artist Mark Grotjahn, for one, said he had noticed little lack of color. But on Jacobson’s recent TV show, her two guests, artists Eric Fischl and Tony Feher, both mentioned that they continue to reckon with the 9/11 attacks in their work.That period may be at its conclusion. Like color in pictures, a group exhibit curated by Jacobson that opens at the Aspen Art Museum on Thursday, drips with color. Not all of the work from the 20 artists was made in the post-9/11 period, though most of it was. It adds up to a playfulness, a reduced measure of seriousness, and even over-the-top statements.”If you look at the two Mindy Shaperos” – a pair of rainbow-inspired sculptures that seem to exclude not a single color – “and the Mark Grotjahn” – a painting whose deep saturation is reflected in the title, “Yellow Butterfly Orange Mark Grotjahn” – “it’s bombastic,” Jacobson said. “It’s dynamic. It’s perception-altering.”The lower gallery of the museum resembles nothing so much as it does the old Valley Kids shows. And the artists here, as a whole, share much with the spirit of kids first getting their hands on a set of crayons and going nuts. In the visual realm, there’s no better way to express your wild side than with color.”I think art is a lot of different things, and I wanted this exhibit to be about that,” Jacobson said. “And one of those things is freedom, a freedom of expression. Part of that freedom is being allowed to cross the line of acceptable color.”

Jacobson happily uses the word “nonsensical” to describe certain pieces in Like color in pictures. Two whimsical pieces by Jessica Stockholder – mish-mashes of color and materials and objects – really would have looked at home in the Valley Kids show. Tony Feher, whose work in the exhibit is both inside the museum (“Ultra Fuschia,” a mound of intensely bright paper strips) and outside (“As Seen on T.V.,” a collection of bottles filled with colored liquids hung from trees), keeps the focus almost purely on color’s effect on the eye.But there is a serious, or at least semi-serious side to the exhibit. The paintings of Herman Bas are moody, using darker tones of color. But in “Lonely Martian,” his subject – head down, seemingly overwhelmed by the terrain – is bathed in a pink background. “Why does that have to be pink? Why do you need Day-Glo in the foliage?” Jacobson asked.Peter MacDonald’s paintings of alien beings pondering the artistic process seem a pointed, if humorous, commentary on art-making. In his “Teaching,” Jacobson points out, MacDonald has also incorporated two separate studies on color in the one piece. As for Chiho Aoshima’s dream-like computer drawings – in particular “Mujina,” a seascape in purple tones that is the exhibit’s show-stopper – Jacobson calls it “quintessential 21st-century work. It’s lyrical, magical.”The inescapable fact of Like color in pictures, which is accompanied by a catalogue (full-color, naturally) is that color has a naturally uplifting, almost innocent, effect. Her young kids, she said, loved their preview of the show; she predicted the exhibit would be a hit with children. The day before the opening, Nancy Magoon, the president of the museum’s board of trustees, toured the exhibit and called it “such a happy show. It’s kind of nice to smile.”Jacobson said the return of color to art indicates a shift in the national mood. Artists are said to be the leaders in taking the communal pulse, and Jacobson, for one, says the current trend toward color is an accurate reading of her emotional state.



“I feel hopeful about out country for the first time in a long time,” she said. “We’re not where we need to be. But the bleakness has left my spirit.”I think people are paying attention to color in a way they haven’t been in a while. Black hasn’t been the new black in a while.”Wait, there’s more …Also opening today is an installation in the museum’s upper gallery by Brazilian-born, London-based artist Tonico Lemos Auad. The heart of the piece is an entire wall coated in the silver-toned material used in lottery scratch-off cards. Viewers are invited to scratch away the surface until the work underneath – a photo collage expected to comment loosely on Aspen – is revealed.Additionally, the Aspen Art Museum is presenting British artist Peter Doig in a pair of off-site events. Doig will present a collection of vintage ski films at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16, at the Sky Hotel. Doig, who created this season’s single-day lift tickets for the Aspen Skiing Co., will lead the create-your-own-lift ticket day, from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18, at Buttermilk.A free public reception for Like color in pictures” takes place Thursday from 6-8 p.m. at the Aspen Art Museum, 590 N. Mill St. The exhibit continues through April 15.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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