Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
I’m not what you’d call an artistic kind of a guy.
Sure, as the saying goes, “Some of my best friends are artists” ” but, being my friends just means they know firsthand what an un-artistic chump I am.
But, artistic or not, I have some thoughts on the proposed new Aspen Art Museum.
More than just thoughts ” I have concerns. A few concerns and one great big objection.
First, the objection:
I don’t like selling public land, right up on Main Street, for almost any purpose.
The new museum ” in case you haven’t been paying attention ” is planned for the land between the county courthouse and the library. It is currently the site of the Youth Center building.
That’s an extraordinarily valuable site. Not “valuable” just in real estate appraisal terms, but valuable as a significant piece of the community, a big chunk of land in the heart of town.
And once it’s gone, it’s never coming back.
Who knows what might happen to the museum ” but whatever happens, that land will be privately owned.
That alone is enough to make me unhappy about the museum plans, no matter how praiseworthy they might otherwise be.
And beyond that objection, I have those nagging concerns.
Let me start with two historic concerns (both recent history):
The first is the history of the Youth Center.
The Youth Center was in some ways very similar to the museum. It was a private project with a public-spirited goal. It was put together by a local group who said they needed little, if any, help from government in order to build their building and launch their great ” and highly necessary ” public amenity.
I’ll skip the nasty details and just point out that the Youth Center was a massive flop. And those public-spirited citizens wound up going to government more than once for financial support.
That doesn’t bode well. OK, that’s really just a karmic concern. But the site does have some bad history. Not quite haunted, but you get the idea.
The second bit of history involves the extensive underground portions of the new building, including underground parking.
The museum site is right next to the existing underground parking garage. And if you were around when that garage was being built, you might remember that it was delayed a long time ” and became a lot more expensive ” because of a water problem.
When they dug down for the garage, they ran into serious amounts of underground water. That’s a long-standing Aspen problem. In fact, Aspen’s silver mines had to be pumped out constantly or they filled up with water.
I wonder if the museum’s planners have included dealing with those floods in their budget. It won’t be cheap.
My next concern is the design for the museum.
I know, having started out by stating my complete lack of artistic sense, I can’t really criticize the design the museum has chosen.
But I looked at the drawings on the museum website and I couldn’t help noticing that there is no recognition of the surrounding city.
The drawings show north, south, east and west elevations with virtually no sign of the neighboring buildings.
There’s no sense of what the museum will actually look like once it’s built. Most of the views in the drawings will be impossible to see ” because you’d have to be standing in the middle of the library or the county jail to see them.
The museum website says its renowned architect is famous for sensitivity to his surroundings, but I don’t see those surroundings in his drawings.
Will the new building fit in? How should I know? How can I tell?
My next concern doesn’t really have to do with the building itself. Not quite.
I am curious about the changing “mission” of the museum.
If you look at the archive section of the museum website, you’ll find a list, year by year, of every show the museum has offered.
It’s an impressive roster. Over its 30 years, the museum has presented a wide variety of art.
From fiercely modern art to Rembrandt. From Edward Hopper to Buckminster Fuller to “The Shaft Tomb Culture of Ancient West Mexico.” From Georgia O’Keeffe to early American quilts to photographs of steam locomotives.
And the museum found time and space for Aspen artists: Herbert Bayer, Ferenc Berko, Paul Soldner. Even “Fifty years of ski photography in Aspen.”
In short, the museum presented a wide range of art. Shows for many tastes and many people.
But suddenly, around 2005, all that glorious variety disappeared.
Now there is nothing but modern art. Not just “modern,” but “contemporary.” It’s all contemporary, all the time.
In fact, the museum’s mission statement says that it “presents the newest, most important evolutions in international contemporary art.”
No room there for Bayer, Berko, O’Keeffe, Hopper or Rembrandt.
Obviously, the mission statement has changed, because those shows from the early years could not have been mounted under the current mission.
Now, perhaps that doesn’t relate directly to the plans for the new museum ” but it does make me a little suspicious about any promises the museum makes in its eager rush to get approval for its new edifice.
If the mission ” the heart of the museum, in a very real sense ” can change as drastically as it has, who knows what other changes might lie ahead?
And, finally, I am concerned about the museum’s proud boast that it has already raised most of the money it needs.
If you read carefully, it soon becomes clear that what they have are pledges, not money.
And most of those pledges were gathered before the financial world went to hell.
Care to guess how many of those pledges will turn into actual cash? I’m guessing they’re going to come up short of what they think they have, which is certainly short of what they think they need ” which is, I am pretty damn sure, well short of what they’ll actually need.
For an un-artistic guy like me, it just seems like a perfect little picture of a bad idea.
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