Letter: Aspen Art Museum falls flat

Over the weekend, a friend and I took a trip to Sante Fe, New Mexico. I hadn’t been in awhile, and I had heard that the area down by the train yards had turned into something to see.

On Saturday morning, I found my way by following various musical sounds. I was blown away by an eight-piece marimba band wailing away on hybrid wood and PVC instruments; the music wiggled my innards! The farmers market is similar to Aspen’s but has more variety of goods to offer. The dahlia crop was in, and as I walked, my vision was overwhelmed with soft orange blossoms.

The market led me to a large, retro-industrial-style warehouse-type building with super-graphic-brutalist signage saying: “SITELINES.” It looked a bit pretentious. I went in anyway.

Similar in size and projecting similar artistic intent, I figured this was Sante Fe’s equivalent to Aspen’s new museum. Time to “compare and contrast.”

This facility is labeled “Sante Fe SITE” and tries to be nothing other than a repurposed warehouse on one level. The Aspen Art Museum is, and was always meant to be, a showplace enclosing art. The Aspen structure really makes a show of itself; the Sante Fe structure recedes into its neighborhood.

At first it seemed to be a display of crafts —uh oh. But upon getting a guide and a bit of an understanding of what I was about to see, my antennae went up. The guiding idea for this collection of art was “Creativity in the Americas.” Start with a conceptual piece by a Upik artist at the Artic Circle. Extending to the indigenous people at the southernmost tip of Patagonia. The art was to reference the phrase “Unsettled Landscapes,” which referenced the environmental pressures in their communities.

I write this letter not to be a schill for Sante Fe but to make a point.

A month ago, I did a quick tour of the new museum in Aspen. It was still suffering the opening-night jitters, so I came back a few weeks later. I transited from gallery to gallery, looking for the one piece that would grab me and make me stay. It never happened.

The “bronzed” deli-meat display was my only memory, and it was kind of troubling. I hope the future brings better work.

The reason I wanted to write of this is that in the week before going to Sante Fe, I made my second trip to Aspen’s new art museum to see if my first impressions held up.

My first visit took all of 20 minutes; I figured the museum’s cosmic mojo wasn’t happening yet. My second visit took less time. Shigeru Ban’s work related to refugee housing is commendable, but is it art? There was a display case of minerals found in the Roaring Fork Valley, just like the one in my high school. I saw a piece that was a panel of bronzed deli meats, including tongue.

Hopefully this a case of freshmen jitters.

David Panico