Ranking Aspen’s Artsy Lift Tickets
February 1, 2018
The Aspen Art Museum quietly ended its lift ticket partnership with the Aspen Skiing Company this ski season, after 12 winters of curating artists and artwork for passes to the slopes.
They're continuing their joint "Art in Unexpected Places" program, the phenomenal initiative that gives us pop-up artwork on the mountains and on the mural wall at Elk Camp and that has been the subject of two books.
But the SkiCo is now on its own to design its lift tickets, beginning with the ill-advised and underwhelming Paula Crown "Solo Together" works on the 2017-18 ski passes. These pieces depicting crushed or stacked red Solo cups may work as sculpture, but on the ski pass cards these photos of Crown's hand-painted plaster sculptures lose whatever power or social message or magic those sculptures carried. They simply look like photos of keg party trash.
Crown is a formidable artist. Her "Inside My Head" project, an immersive work based on her MRI brain scans, which showed at the Aspen Institute in 2013 and has been picked up by other institutions around the country since then, was a fascinating new spin on the self-portrait. But the form of a two-by-three inch ski card doesn't suit her "Solo" work. It also leaves a bad nepotism-y taste in the mouth that a member of the family that owns the SkiCo gets to showcase their work through the lift ticket art tradition, which had over the years under the Aspen Art Museum become a forum to introduce skiers to works by contemporary artists they probably hadn't seen before.
My disappointment in the Paula Crown lift tickets left me thinking about what makes for good lift ticket art, and which of the dozen entries in the museum-SkiCo partnership best pulled it off.
I believe it comes down to size and surprise: what artworks best translate onto this very small canvas? And which of them are truly unexpected, offering a taste of the sublime in something as traditionally bland and disposable as a lift ticket?
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The best of them transformed this little card you may have clipped to your jacket zipper– or, with the advent of walk-through scanners a few years ago stuck in your pocket – into a passport to a small but spectacular experience with creativity. They offered a taste of whimsy or beauty in something that, before, you didn't think a bit about. Looking back on 12 seasons of lift tickets and my memories of winters spent with them, I found that my favorites of these artworks actually had nothing to do with skiing or mountains. This is my critical ranking.
12. Peter Doig, 2006-07
The washed out silhouettes in a wintery outdoors scene by the Scottish artist looks pretty cool, but you'd have to see a bigger version of it to really dig in and see what's going on in it.
11. Carla Klein, 2009-10
A windswept mountainscape that's gorgeous, but that is precisely the kind of image you expect to see on a lift ticket. It misses the mark on the stated "unexpected" mission of the program.
10. Yutaka Sone, 2005-06
The one that started it all, this whimsical and impressionistic painting of a skier in action – with the abstract contemporary touch of white lines and cirlces in the foreground suggesting snowfall and icicles – now seems like the perfect first entry in the lift ticket series.
9. Mark Bradford, 2013-14
This five-edition entry adapted from the venerable Los Angeles artist's "merchant poster" series offered the juxtaposition of bright colors and unexpected text on your ski pass, including "Create a New Credit File Legally!" and "Sober Living." Taken from posters found on the streets of L.A. these works invited skiers to think, if only for a moment, about the world beyond the mountain.
8. Anne Collier, 2014-15
Close-up photos of three different vinyl recordings of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," these weren't all that aesthetically ambitious – less so than the massive photo show at the Aspen Art Museum that accompanied them – but they were clever and fun.
7. Karen Kilimnik, 2007-08
This one incorporated the mountains but skewed things a bit by blending the purple and white of a jagged mountain peak into a tutu-clad ballerina. (It's also a personal favorite, because this was my first winter in Aspen).
6. Jim Hodges, 2008-09
This text work by the American conceptual artist marked a radical departure from the previous artist lift tickets, which stuck to mountains and skiing. Hodges' "Give More Than You Take" was a timeless bit of wisdom but also a timely challenge to Aspen skiers at a moment when the SkiCo and the local community were grappling with sustainability and environmental responsibility.
5. Mark Grotjahn, 2011-12
Seven years into the lift ticket project, the acclaimed Los Angeles painter upped the ante with the first multi-edition series of lift tickets. He photographed five of his cardboard mask sculptures against bold backgrounds, matching his installations on the mountains.
4. Mamma Andersson, 2010-11
The Swedish painter was in the middle of a body of work that blended home interiors with snowy landscapes at the time, making her an inspired choice for the ski pass and resulting in one of the most memorable tickets: a swirling aspen grove that doubles as a gallery wall.
3. Laura Owens, 2016-17
The most ambitious of the multi-part entries in the lift ticket tradition, Owens made 11 different options for skiers. All depicted falling lemons, in various configurations and colors, rendered in a flat and poppy style. Owens pulled off something that, surprisingly, no other artist really attempted on the lift tickets: it depicted motion and action.
2. David Shrigley, 2012-13
This six-part series of line drawings was the best conversation starter of all the ski passes in the museum-SkiCo collaboration. They gave us memorable bits of wit and irony, like the stick figure on the slope of a mountain-like triangle captioned "You're doing O.K," the one reading '"Please do not show this to anyone" and the hatchling captioned "Welcome to the World We Hope You Like It."
1. Takashi Murakami, 2015-16
This one was an only-in-Aspen coup of a collaboration and the pinnacle of the artist-made lift tickets. These ski passes made by one of the world's best-known and most acclaimed contemporary artists – a guy cool enough to design Kanye West's "Graduation" album cover and luxe enough to have designed a most-coveted Louis Vuitton bag – drew notice around the world. And Murakami didn't phone it in. He crafted a series of four exuberant, psychedelic passes in his signature superflat style, depicting smiley-faced flowers, anime-esque creatures and dog rising above the clouds. I still have two of these hanging on the wall of my office.