For the First Time in Forever
Red Brick opens for an exuberant post-vaccine summer season
On the heels of the city of Aspen dropping its mask mandate on Tuesday last week and Pitkin County following suit on Thursday, the Red Brick Center for the Arts hosted its first in-person art opening since before the novel coronavirus struck last year.
It capped a monumental stretch of days on the Aspen culture scene as it moves quickly from a sleepy pandemic stretch into the sprint of a full-on post-vaccine summer season as the public health threat wanes. In the few days before the Red Brick celebration, Belly Up had announced a flurry of summer concerts, Jazz Aspen Snowmass upped its planned capacity for the June Experience and the Wheeler Opera House opened its box office to sell tickets for the Aspen Fringe Festival, the historic theater’s first event in 15 months.
It was fitting that a Red Brick reception – celebrating the opening of three new exhibitions – marked the first in-person event of the season, picking up the tradition of community gatherings there.
The opening didn’t draw the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds that have typically come out for Red Brick receptions in recent years, but it did draw a steady stream of visitors through the evening with crowds spread through the galleries (where masks were required) and the front lawn and rear bike path viewing new scuptures and installations.
In addition to the exhibition openings, it marked the first evening of open studios for its 12 resident artists – selling work and showing in-progress pieces to visitors – since the pandemic began.
“It’s nice to see people, that’s for sure,” said ceramicist Michael Bonds. “It feels really great.”
Resident artists have been working in their studios throughout the pandemic but haven’t had visitors or the usual buzz of the Red Brick, which also hosts the offices for eight local nonprofits.
Bonds said he was excited to share what he’d been working on and for the possibility of a bump in sales.
Down the hall, resident artist Kate Flynn said she moved her jewelry business largely online during the pandemic and found success through Instagram and her own site. Without open studios at the Red Brick, limited capacity in local stores that carry her pieces and without her usual slot at the Aspen Saturday Market in 2020, she was forced to go digital and had a productive year as the Red Brick was closed to the public.
“It was great to be able to come in and put my head down and pivot really hard to online,” Flynn said.
She was excited to be welcoming the public back into the space where she makes her handcrafted gemstone jewelry and to figure out how she’ll combine artisan markets – she was in the Snowmass and Basalt ones last summer – with her expanded online business.
“This is the first time I’ve really seen people in the building,” she said. “I’m definitely ready to try to get back to some semblance of normal after such a year.”
On the lawn, visitors snacked on Silverpeak Grill quesadillas – the Red Brick didn’t open its traditional indoor wine bar for this first offing – and took in the first outdoor sculpture exhibition at the Red Brick in recent memory.
Among the sculptures are some large-scale and dramatic works that already have the public taking notice, chiefly Wally Graham’s “Peace Balloon” – with a two-story blue “balloon” pluming into the sky from a chunk of Yule marble – and Jason Mehl’s new sculpture on the front lawn riffing on what he calls “the intuitive geometry of nature.”
Mehl, who recently moved from Aspen to Loveland, came back for the opening and was thrilled to see people interacting with his sculpture (including kids climbing it, which he prepared for) and talking about it.
“It’s nice being out and being a little social again,” he said.
The large wood abstract sculpture, painted blue, he said, was inspired by the shapes of seedpods and lotus roots, though a viewer might also note how its resemblance of industrial equipment.
It’s complemented, on the far end of the lawn, by Griffin Loop’s large-scale steel sculpture of a paper airplane, part of his “Launch Intention” project, which has been on site since last summer.
Inside, the Red Brick unveiled a solo exhibition by Koko Bayer – granddaughter of Aspen icon Herbert Bayer – and the five-artist group show “Line and Form.” Bayer also made an installation out of the trash shed behind the building, with day-glo hearts continuing her “Project Spread Hope” project that began in Denver during the COVID-19 lockdown. Bayer’s outdoor pieces, along with Graham’s “Peace Balloon,” sit along the heavily trafficked bike path behind the Red Brick, spilling out of the building as evidence of the enthusiastic rebirth of Aspen’s creative community this summer.
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If you are jonesing for some Spanish wines this June, you are in luck because you live in the Roaring Fork Valley.