Letter: A mixed review for Aspen Art Museum

As Aspenites are divided about the new art museum, I, like perhaps others, am divided within myself.

I’ve waited until the crowds cleared to check out the interior, and I like what I found. Starting with the deck, whose height ironically blocks from street level the panorama it reveals, the experience leads downstairs with an agreeable floating sensation past doors that lead to each floor’s exhibits. Friendly guides provide information on, in sequence, museum architect Shigeru Ban’s humanitarian projects and then two floors of artworks along with a geology display with a free booklet worth memorizing. I would give the interior highest praise.

The exterior, meanwhile, collides with a lifetime saturation in Frank Lloyd Wright, whose homes vitalized the area where I grew up. I became a lifetime member of the Frank Lloyd Wright Society, devour the quarterly, have read endlessly about his works and have added a few words of my own. I am even lucky enough to live in and love a 1947 log cabin built by Wright alumnus, Fritz Benedict.

Wright’s first rule for a building was that it harmonize with its setting, and in this primal requirement the new museum flat-out flunks. The architect, faced with the requirement to maximize interior space on a quadrangular plot, embellished two sides with an eye-trapping wood screen, and the foursquare result has the charm of a vast shipping crate. In a more urban setting the structure might provide relief, but in intimate Aspen it is wildly out-of-place.

Now that the building is a done deal, we can only hope that the interior will redeem it with art to engage us. The notorious tortoises with iPads bode more of the one-trick surrealism that has characterized the reign of art museum CEO Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, and we can only hope for more engrossing content, like the display of the architect’s non-Aspen works, for what has become known on the street as Heidi’s Hideaway.

Bruce Berger