Powerful art facility planned for Carbondale
October 28, 2010
CARBONDALE – Over the course of his life, the late Carbondale resident John Powers amassed one of the most extensive collections of pop art in the country. By the end of the year, a portion of the Powers collection, focusing heavily on Jasper Johns, will be on permanent display in a new facility, the Powers Art Center, in Carbondale.
Melissa English, director of the art center, said that the institution, just off Highway 82, is intended as a memorial to Powers, who died in 1999. The center is the brainchild of Powers’ widow and art-collecting partner, Kimiko, who still has a house in Carbondale. John Powers, a one-time president of Prentice Hall publishers, was instrumental in the Aspen Center for Contemporary Art, a program of The Aspen Institute that brought to town artists James Rosenquist, Roy Lichtenstein and others in the late ’60s.
“John and Kimiko collected lots of different contemporary artists,” English said. “But one of their favorites, whom they really admired, was Jasper Johns. So to honor John’s memory, they’re focusing on Johns.”
The not-for-profit Powers Art Center has a collection of 120 pieces, all limited edition works on paper, by Johns. While the space covers approximately 15,000 square feet, there will only be room to show some 80 pieces of art at a time. In addition to galleries, the center will have a library and a conference room. English expects to open before Jan. 1; once up and running, the center will be open Monday through Thursday, with weekend hours by appointment. Admission will be free.
The building itself, powered by solar energy, is part of the tribute to Powers.
“It’s really impressive. I think everyone will enjoy it,” said English, who has worked in local art galleries; she also ran Crystal Travel in Carbondale with Kimiko Powers.
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But the building has a lot to compete with. Johns, who was raised in the South before moving to New York in the late ’40s, and who currently lives in Connecticut, was, along with Robert Rauschenberg and Roy Lichtenstein, a leader of the pop art movement of the ’50s and ’60s. The National Gallery of Art bought, in 2007, some 1,700 proofs of his prints; Johns’ 1959 oil painting “False Start” was reportedly sold, in 2006, for $80 million, thought to make it the most expensive painting by a living artist.
“It’s a great, great asset for the art community in this valley,” said David Floria, owner of Aspen’s David Floria Gallery and a former director of the Aspen Art Museum. “I think it’s appropriate that their collection be opened to the public and shared with the wider community. I know I’ll be one of the people going down there to see it.”
While the name says Art Center, English noted that the facility is more like a museum in character. It has a permanent collection, and while English expects there will be some activities on-site – possibly an exhibition of art by local school kids – the primary activity will be viewing the art of Johns and, maybe in the future, other artists represented in the Powers collection.
Whatever it is called, the Powers Art Center will be unique. It will be the only art institution in the valley with its own collection. The Aspen Art Museum, following the kunsthalle model, presents temporary exhibitions and does not collect art. And with its Carbondale location, it will be an unusually high-profile facility for a small town.
“Most major collections of that scale and status are in major urban areas,” Floria said. “For that to be in Carbondale is extraordinary.”
English said that the center will keep its focus local. But she expects it to draw a wide crowd without much effort on her part.
“I think we’ll draw people visiting Aspen,” she said. “And John Powers had many friends in the art community in New York. I’m sure they’ll come visit.”