Ryan Gander: A trickster in the Aspen Art Museum

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Magnus Opus, 2013 by Ryan Gander. Courtesy the artist and Ishikawa Collection.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

If You Go …

What: Ryan Gander, ‘Make every show like it’s your last’

Where: Aspen Art Museum

When: Through Feb. 7

How much: Free

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There’s a coin on the floor of a basement gallery in the Aspen Art Museum. Bend down to pick it up, and the joke’s on you — it’s glued there as part of Ryan Gander’s playful new exhibition “Make Every Show Like It’s Your Last.”

The London-based artist — in his first U.S. solo show — has filled three lower-level galleries with his conceptual works, including gags and pranks and poignant moments along with the many amusing ones.

The coin piece was inspired by his father, Gander explained in a talk at the show’s opening. He used to glue a coin to the sidewalk outside the family home every April Fools’ Day to trick passers-by. Gander’s version features a future American currency that he imagines fell from the year 2031 — the coin itself suggests some troublesome geopolitical changes in the coming years. Many things are not what they appear in this show.

A pair of animatronic eyes looks on from a wall, following people around the room with motion sensors. Its eyebrows raise suggestively, eyelids snapping open and closed as it watches.

“I wanted to make the institution of art the spectator and make you the object,” Gander said. “So you know what it’s like to be a piece of art.”

A black, helium-filled balloon appears stuck on the ceiling, having presumably been let go by a child (it’s actually a sculpture of such a balloon, screwed into the ceiling). Empty comic-strip panels are on view for your perusal.

“For me, the frames are more interesting than the content,” Gander said.

The unfilled frames encourage the imagination to work, he said. Imagination also gets an endorsement in a video piece, for which Gander hired an advertising firm to make a commercial selling imagination on behalf of the British government (Gander told the ad team that he was from the Department of Imagination).

One wall is filled with 100 clear palettes smeared in paint. These are portraits. Each is the palette that Gander used as he attempted a more traditional portrait, not included in the show (“I’m a terrible painter,” he said). A printed gallery guide includes often-lengthy descriptions of precisely what he was painting with each of them and when — they range from casual moments with friends and family to a 2005 Paris riot.

He pulls off another nontraditional form of portraiture in a series of sculptures depicting the way people have left napkins on a table after a meal. Small things, like the way a person might sweep a room or fold a napkin, he suggested, are a key to that person’s mind.

“Essentially that, for me, describes what creativity is,” he said. “What everyone is wearing in here is creativity. What you cook for dinner tonight is creativity.”

The show is touring venues internationally, but the Aspen stop includes several new works that haven’t been exhibited elsewhere. Gander visited the museum during its 2014 grand opening and said he was inspired by the space.

“Make Every Show Like It’s Your Last” is on view through Feb. 7.