Letter: Praise for the Aspen Art Museum

I can no longer sit silently by and allow the vapid criticisms of the new Aspen Art Museum to continue unchallenged. As an experienced arts professional, I’ve worked over the past decade as an art dealer, curator and critic before moving to this incredibly beautiful mountain town 11/2 years ago. I’ve written on art and culture for The New York Times and have been invited to curate exhibitions in New York City, Berlin, Moscow, Abu Dhabi and Kazakhstan, but I couldn’t imagine a more exciting place to be in terms of culture and art than Aspen right now.

This is because of the new museum and Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson. Her extraordinary work has given Aspen an arts institution on par with those in major metropolitan and cultural capitals. As such, I find the onslaught of criticisms directed at the new museum to be not only disappointing but also disturbingly arrogant, egocentric and ill-informed.

“Art” is not meant to be easy; it’s meant to be difficult, to challenge assumptions and drive culture forward. To do so requires controversy and discussion. It also is not an opiate for the masses (for that we have reality TV). “Easy” art, pretty art, art that is instantly understood and will look great over the sofa is not actually “art” — the correct term for that would be “decor.”

“Art” is philosophy, history and politics manifest — difficult topics afforded material form by the artist. None of those subjects is easy, and all require the participation of the student to further one’s own understanding. Good art is the same in that it often necessitates the viewer to self-educate in order to fully grasp the significance of a particular work in relation to historical context or to an artist’s overall vision.

Walking into a museum without having any context for understanding the works on view is something akin to getting on a pair of skis and expecting them to do the work for you without ever taking a lesson. At best, that’s just idiotic and irresponsible, and at worst, it can be dangerous.

So, instead of automatically assuming that because an artwork is not obviously “artistic,” immediately digestible or attractive, it must not be art, I invite visitors to the museum to realize that in order to fully appreciate artwork, they may just have to learn something new first. And while this may not be easy, it is ultimately good for the viewer, as it broadens education, cross-cultural understanding, discourse and empathy. And, in Aspen, access to the art museum is free, which is neither typical nor trivial.

So, just in case it hasn’t yet been stated in print, I would like to thank the Aspen Art Museum staff and patrons for their incredible contribution to Aspen’s cultural landscape, on behalf of myself and my peers.

Thank you. Please keep up the good work.

Emilie Trice

Director, 212GALLERY