Inside the making of artist Sung Jang’s temporary Anderson Ranch installation |

Inside the making of artist Sung Jang’s temporary Anderson Ranch installation

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times

Working out of the basement of a firehouse in Snowmass Village this week, the artist and designer Sung Jang transformed 15,000 small, modular pieces of plastic into a massive installation that will serve as the stage backdrop at the 23rd annual Anderson Ranch Arts Center Recognition Dinner.

Jang’s final product measures 40 feet across and 12 feet high, constructed entirely from interlocking plastic pieces that fit in the palm of his hand. For the labor-intensive build, the Ranch put out a valleywide call for volunteers and got a team to make the work with the artist over two days.

The artist has used and reused the same recyclable polypropylene materials for installations around the globe over the past three years, crafting site-specific pieces for the Art Institute of Chicago, art fairs like The Armory Show in New York and the Shenzhen/Hong Kong Bi-City Architecture Biennale. He ships the pieces from place to place in cardboard boxes.

“It goes around to different parts of the world and I don’t know, until I get to the site, how it’s going to be,” the Chicago-based artist explained.

Local volunteers helped piece it together in groups of four to five people Monday and Tuesday. The interlocking plastic pieces formed honeycomb-like clusters that — as the hours passed — combined into interlocking story-high wall pieces, eventually turning into one piece temporarily for Thursday’s event at the Hotel Jerome.

“It was like assembling a wall out of Legos,” said volunteer Amy Mountjoy, who learned about the project through an Anderson Ranch email blast. “It wasn’t the most complicated thing, but it was fun. And it was nice to be a part of something like this in a small way.”

Jang’s work has straddled fine art and commercial design, creating phones for Samsung and lending his skills to brands like Louis Vuitton, making functional furniture as well as sculptures and installations. Based in Chicago, he teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Design.

In this modular work, he’s exploring ideas of elegance and extravagance, taking the simple small pieces and making something lavish with it.

“It’s these two ideas that seem to work together to create things that we generally appreciate formally,” he explained. “Conceptually it’s very simple. This simple form creates this complex pattern and creates a sense of extravagance.”

Thursday’s gala includes a live auction and the presentation of three awards: the International Artist Award to visual and performance artist Nick Cave; the Service to the Arts Award to philanthropist and filmmaker Sarah Arison; and the Extraordinary Leadership Award to longtime Ranch leader Doug Casebeer, who is retiring after 34 years on campus.

The fundraising dinner is the culmination of a week of events for the Ranch, including a preview of auction artwork at the Skye Gallery in Aspen and free public talks by each of the award honorees. The last, with Arison, is Thursday at 12:30 p.m. on campus in Schermer Meeting Hall.