Public art up against the wall in Aspen’s civic space

City of Aspen commissions mural artist Koko Bayer, granddaughter of Herbert Bayer, to install piece on Rio Grande staircase

Koko Bayer installs her mural on the staircase beside the new Aspen City Hall building on Thursday, May 19, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The city of Aspen has commissioned a Denver-based mural artist to create an outdoor art installation on two large concrete walls of the Galena Plaza stairwell leading to Rio Grande Place.

Koko Bayer, granddaughter of 20th-century artist and former Aspen resident Herbert Bayer, started the project Thursday and is scheduled to be done by Tuesday, weather permitting.

“Paper and snow don’t really go together,” Bayer joked of the looming winter weather advisory.

The mural, which pays homage to Herbert’s famed 1959 “In Search of Times Past” photomontage, is made of paper, is glued to the wall and is weatherproof but not while being applied.

“I wanted to do something special for Aspen,” Bayer said. “I selected something that meant something to me … ‘In Search of Times Past’ should be a Colorado icon.”

The mural was designed specifically for the staircase walls and is being applied next to the new City Hall, where an exhibition of artwork has been curated by the Red Brick Center for the Arts as part of the city’s art in public spaces effort.

The art on display not only adds to the discourse, but it also visually represents the openness and encouragement to having a multitude of voices and experiences in the governmental process, according to Sarah Roy, director of the Red Brick Center for the Arts.

Bayer’s mural will be located on the east and west sides of the staircase, allowing those entering and exiting the parking garage or walking the civic area to interpret the images of Aspen trees and their famous “eyes.”

“The good thing about public art is that everyone gets to see it,” Bayer said. “The best conversations about art is when people are asking me what I am doing.

“The magic of murals is that they take these charmless sports and turn them into something beautiful.”

Galena Plaza, located between three civic buildings that holds open views of Aspen Mountain and the Roaring Fork River, serves as a physical and conceptual connector between two natural icons of the community, as well as a central hub between Aspen’s governmental institutions, according to Roy.

“When you step back from it, it will be really visible,” she said on-site Thursday.

Bayer added that she wanted to transform the concrete wall into a connection to nature.

Koko Bayer installs her mural on the staircase beside the new Aspen City Hall building on Thursday, May 19, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

“I wanted something beautiful but harmonious to the surroundings,” she said.

That is in the spirit of Herbert Bayer, who shared his creative genius and the Bauhaus philosophy with Aspen through design, architecture, sculptures and more, Roy said.

Instrumental in the selection and approval of the artworks inside City Hall, the Red Brick Gallery Committee reviewed and advised on the final design of Bayer’s mural.

It was agreed the mural would be a temporary installation for up to three years.

A dedication date is being scheduled in July when the public will be invited to meet the artist and hear her speak about the work. Additional community engagements are being discussed and planned as well, according to Roy.

The cost of the design and installation of the mural is $17,200 with a $3,000 contingency that will be paid through the Red Brick Center for the Arts savings and asset management savings.

Prior to the curation of the City Hall exhibition, staff has been furthering their knowledge of art in public spaces through conversations with leaders, curators and artists, and through research of different programs, according to Roy.

In addition, interest for a public art program has been expressed by various community members, she added.

“The takeaway is that there is a range of public art programs with each municipality or organization defining its own scope and mission, crafting it to reflect their communities’ values and aspirations,” Roy wrote in a memo to Aspen City Council informing it about the mural project. “Public art is made accessible for all and can be used for diverse cultural expression, place making and as a community connector. In addition, it serves to support artists and creative expression and facilitates powerful experiences for community engagement.”