New Aspen City Hall becomes palette for valley artists
Local artisans bring works, inspiration to interior of Aspen government’s 37,000-square-foot building
The relationship between art and politics intersects in an intentional way in Aspen’s new City Hall as an inaugural exhibition showcases local artists who have created site specific pieces meant to inspire and evoke deep thought.
Nine artists were hand selected last year by the Red Brick Center for the Arts Gallery Committee, with guidance by Sarah Roy, the Red Brick’s executive director.
Roy was tasked by City Manager Sara Ott to curate a collection of work that represents the best of what local artists have to offer.
“Sara had given a directive by saying she wanted art that was cheerful as we were coming out of COVID,” Roy said. “She wanted celebratory, cheerful, something that when people walk into the building can enlighten and inspire you.”
What the committee and Roy came up with is a theme of exemplary artworks by artists working in the Roaring Fork Valley.
The new 37,000-square-foot building on Rio Grande Place served as a blank palate, with its wide-open hallways and large walls.
That sterile environment was an exciting prospect for artist Chris Erickson, who created his site-specific piece titled “Enchantment I, II, III” for the third floor of City Hall.
The large and colorful work looks at the intersection of nature and the constructed world using pure color and geometric lines; it’s an expression of the harmony that can exist between our natural world and the encroachment that we impose on our environment, according to Erickson.
After being approached by Roy, Erickson toured the building last summer and began thinking about how to express architecture integrating into the environment.
When he returned to the space in December for the building’s grand opening, Erickson said he was awestruck by the exhibition that had been curated.
“The work is tremendous, (Roy) got the best from all of the artists,” he said. “It’s a really great mix of artists.”
Isa Catto Shaw, whose piece, “Charting e”, hangs on the first floor of City Hall, echoed Erickson’s sentiments and said it’s refreshing the focus wasn’t on blue chip artists.
“I’m so pleased City Hall had the vision to celebrate the local artist climate because it does exist,” she said. “There are artists who are working in sheds all over the valley.”
One of them is Vanessa Porras, who calls her workspace in Glenwood Springs a “shedio.”
A first-generation Latina in the valley, Porras created two companion pieces titled “Suelta Mi Trenza & Madre Linea” that are woodcut, ink on paper.
The descriptor of the work explains that the series of studies explores heredity through patterns and lines found in hair and nature.
What began as an exploration of line work, eventually transformed into abstract prints inspired by undulations, topography, braids and lineage.
“I see myself as a researcher in being an artist and I try to answer a question,” she said. “There are interpersonal traumas passed down through lineage that are tragic yet beautiful and I found that connectedness through braiding and creating lines that are separate but also connect.”
Perhaps more important for Porras is that her abstract work being displayed in a public space represents a separation between upvalley and downvalley, and Latino workers traveling between the geographical locations to work and home.
Whether it’s customers of the city, people working in City Hall, cleaning the building or members of the public visiting, Porras is grateful to display her work and represent the Latino population.
“It’s so motivating to see names of Latinos on plaques and it’s important for other Latinos to see that,” she said. “This was an amazing opportunity and the support for local artists and the art itself and as a Latina artist it is important to me.”
The public hasn’t been able to experience the space much since the grand opening due to temporary shutdowns as a result of COVID.
But now City Hall is now fully open for business and City Council will begin meeting there this month.
While not intentional, Catto Shaw’s piece could be paralleled to local politics, as it looks for a pattern of irrationality.
It’s inspired by the irrational number of Euler’s number. Catto assigned a color palette pulled from her high-altitude garden to her established algorithmic process and charted the first 2,244 expressions of the famous irrational number.
“We wanted art that is bold and impactful that would fill the large foyer space,” Roy said in a YouTube video explaining the exhibition. “Aspen’s City Hall is a public space that welcomes all to share their opinions and ideas around current discussions.
“The art on display not only adds to the discourse but it also visually represents openness and encouragement to having a multitude of voices and experiences in the governmental process.”
DJ Watkins, who has curated the late artist Tom Benton’s posters representing 50 years of local politics and the campaigns of candidates running for office, has loaned the city a portion of them that are lined up on the wall in the East Maroon Pass conference room on the second floor of City Hall.
They all feature City Council and mayoral candidates, with inspirational quotes from their campaigns.
“It really speaks to the role that art can play in that political space,” Roy said in an interview last week. “Putting the collection in this room made sense because it’s used by the public with (citizen) boards and commissions.
“I like that people can sit here and realize that they are part of this history, they are part of this lineage where citizens are asked to or feel impelled and then want to participate in the process and run for these offices.”
Down the hall from the city’s Bauhaus collection of prints done by various artists with inspirational quotes taken from the influential art movement that began in Germany in the 20th century hangs on the walls where staff members gather for meetings and to contemplate their work.
“I feel like this is a good reminder to staff to be innovative and forward thinking so hopefully they come down this hall and get inspired,” Roy said.
Artist K Rhynus Cesark created one of those prints and selected a quote from Alfred Arndt, a German architect and student at the Bauhaus art school in the 1920s: “To build not only houses, but first and foremost a community is the task because great things are always carried forward by the community.”
She used house forms in her piece on display on the first floor of City Hall titled “Mapping Aspen” that honors Aspen’s past, present and future.
The site‐specific work is inspired by the catalog of historical map images of the city of Aspen that Rhynus Cesark bought from the Aspen Historical Society.
Reflective silver lustre is used in celebration of the impact of the local silver mining industry.
Her piece, along with the eight other artists, are on exhibition at City Hall for 18 months and are for sale. There are QR codes on the plaques next to the pieces that can be scanned to find out more information.
“I’m hoping they just keep it forever because I made it for them,” Rhynus Cesark said. “I did it out of respect for the city and for everybody who lives here, loves it here and fights to protect it.”
Catto Shaw said she’s glad the city is putting a lens on local artists.
“I hope the program expands,” she said. “There is such an opportunity to have more art in public spaces and this is a step in the right direction.”
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