Aspen Times Weekly: The Art of Skiing | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Times Weekly: The Art of Skiing

The Aspen Skiing Co.'s ticket offices have transformed into de facto art factories in the last few weeks, printing Takashi Murakami pieces and handing them out to skiers as the winter season begins.

Murakami — fine art world star, best known to the public at large for his cover art on Kanye West's "Graduation" and designs for Luis Vuitton bags — is the most prominent artist to sign on for the Skico's lift ticket partnership with the Aspen Art Museum, now in its 10th year.

Four of his exuberant, psychedelic animated images – rendered in his signature superflat style – are on this year's lift tickets. My season pass features smiling, open-mouthed flower characters posing together for a crowd shot, with two anime-styled creatures superimposed over the happy gaggle. Another features similar day-glo flowers all by themselves. There's one with a toothy purple mouse-like character gazing outward and one with a dog sitting in closed-eyed contentment on a globe under a bluebird sky.

The museum approaches the lift ticket designs much like its gallery exhibitions, in that they're typically the result of years-long relationship-building with artists and that they seek diversity in terms of gender, geography, medium and content. Museum CEO Heidi Zuckerman has known Murakami since she exhibited one of his artists during her time at the Berkeley Art Museum, and invited him to design this year's tickets. Last winter, her museum screened Murakami's film "Jellyfish Eyes" and hosted its cast of creatures at a playful, kid-friendly event.

"It's through a long-standing mutual respect that the invitation was very well-received," she told me.

The program brings a new artist's work to the ski pass annually. Los Angeles-based artist Yutaka Sone opened the series with a painted ski scene in 2005-06. The 2014-15 season featured Anne Collier's photographs of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" records. Other memorable entries have included David Shrigley's quirky captioned line drawings that featured images like a stick figure moving up the angle of a triangle and the text "YOU'RE DOING OKAY" in 2012-13 and Jim Hodges' text work "Give More Than You Take" in 2008-09. They featured just one image per year until Mark Grotjahn raised the bar with five for the 2011-12 season.

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Murakami submitted nine lift ticket designs.

"We knew we couldn't use that many, but his excitement is captured in the four that we chose," says Zuckerman.

When the options came in, Zuckerman brought them to Skico execs Mike Kaplan and David Perry, then sought input from managing partners Jim and Paula Crown (herself a multi-disciplinary visual artist). Over the years, the Skico has grown more involved in the ticket art process and expanded the "Art in Unexpected Places" program to include on-mountain installations.

"I think there's a broader sense of ownership and participation than there's ever been," Zuckerman says.

In recent years, as technology has changed and automated ticket scanners have advanced, most skiers leave their passes in their pockets and don't wear them on the outside of their clothing. So, unfortunately, we're unlikely to witness slopes filled with Murakami's happy creatures dangling from everybody's coat zippers. On the bright side, everybody gets a little Murakami and they can do whatever they want with it (I've affixed mine to the bag where I keep all my gear and my wife and I have turned a few from past years into Christmas tree ornaments). And a selection of Murakami pieces will be added to the "lap maps" on chairlifts on all four mountains this winter — a first for the "Art in Unexpected Places" program — so you won't be able to miss out on his fanciful visions.

atravers@aspentimes.com