A self-portrait by Elizabeth Murray hangs over the sofa in the living room. It is one of Richard Edwards’s favorites. The furniture collection includes chairs by Gio Ponti and a Felix Agostini coffee table
|Edwards on the rooftop patio with Bertie and Max, his fox terriers|
|Molded in wax, colored cups form the Tupperware 1995-2008 installation by George Stoll|
With his plummy English accent, clean-cut schoolboy looks—never mind that he’s a few decades past prep school—and vast connections, Richard Edwards is a charmingly loquacious raconteur. He entertains with chitchat about old friends from his University of Cambridge days and tales of his far-flung travels: In May he journeyed to Afghanistan with a friend, who won the trip in a charity auction. “Funnily enough, nobody bid against him,” Edwards says wryly. In October, taking advantage of Aspen’s brief off-season, he jetted to Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, South Africa, and Namibia, doing business and meeting up with various pals.
Traveling brings to Edwards’s mind his late partner, Harley Baldwin, the colorful entrepreneur who helped build Aspen into the high-glamour, high-luxe resort it is today. As a real estate developer, he brought a cohort of chic tenants, such as Dior, Fendi, and Gucci, to town, and he also opened the exclusive Caribou Club, a still-thriving members-only boite. Together, the couple opened the Baldwin Gallery, which remains Aspen’s serious contemporary-art gallery.
Baldwin, Edwards recalls, particularly loved Italy, and they would often go in April for six weeks. An inveterate collector of objects ranging from furniture to Asian antiquities, Baldwin took a liking to Barovier & Toso Murano glass vases from the ’30s and started buying them for around 500 euros a pop whenever he found one. Two years into the exercise, Baldwin and Edwards came across a vase priced at 5,000 euros. When they inquired as to why it was so expensive, Edwards says the clerk replied, “There’s some crazy American going around Italy buying them all.” Edwards laughs at the memory and says, “We used to joke that if I left him alone for a few hours in some foreign city, a container would arrive in Aspen about three months later.”
As he speaks, Edwards, 55, has the habit of twirling his tricolor wedding band. Baldwin gave Edwards the ring the night before Baldwin entered Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York for surgery, saying he felt they were married even if the union wasn’t recognized by the government. Although they were initially optimistic about Baldwin’s prognosis, a series of complications befell him, and he died just four weeks later, at age 59, never having left the hospital.
Since Baldwin’s death in 2005, Edwards has made the Aspen apartment they shared a private retreat for himself and his two fox terriers, Max, a gift from Baldwin shortly after Edwards moved in, and Bertie. “After Harley died, I really needed somewhere peaceful,” he says. “It’s very personal, the house.”
He rarely entertains there anymore, preferring to use the Caribou Club in the building’s basement, and so the apartment, grandly decorated with a decidedly anti-minimalist flare, has developed a certain secretive aura. Located on the top two floors of the Collins Block, one of downtown Aspen’s last great Victorian buildings, the apartment boasts a breathtaking, unobstructed view of Aspen Mountain, matched inside by the first-rate art collection, hung, sometimes with a wink, amid overstuffed sofas and mid-century furniture. The overall mood could be called modern Baroque.
Aspen-based decorator Peter Hans Kunz first did the apartment for Baldwin nearly 20 years ago. “At the time, Aspen was all log cabins and A-frames, and things like that,” Kunz says. “Harley thought it would be cool to do a New York-Park Avenue apartment.” Edwards’s influence has helped give it the feel of a “21st-century English country house.”
Indeed, Edwards jokes that when he first moved in, the apartment was “sleek and glamorous. After about three years, Harley said, ‘Oh my God, you’ve made me English —all these dogs and books.’”
A Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (for BAM), anchors the two windows, and a Carroll Dunham, Beach, hangs over the fireplace
|The breakfast nook, resplendent with a painted ceiling by Joseph Stashkevetch. Paintings by Henry Inman|
|Opening onto a rooftop terrace, the bedroom features a Donald Baechler sculpture and a piece by Anselm Kiefer, Die Ungeborenen (The Unborn), above the bed|
But Kunz says that Baldwin also started gravitating toward mid-20th-century pieces. He even opened a furniture store, Baldwin Modern, and went on a European shopping spree to fill it. However, Baldwin decided to move the best items from the store upstairs. “Suddenly we had a house filled with great things,” Kunz recalls. “I always thought in the back of his mind it’s what he wanted to do. He used having the store as an excuse.”
For the lucky few who are invited upstairs, it’s the art collection, bold and sometimes racy, that leaves the biggest impression. There are works by Cy Twombly, Jean-Michel Basquiat, James Rosenquist, John Chamberlain, Eric Fischl, David Salle, Richard Serra, and Anselm Kiefer. Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, a friend and the director, CEO, and chief curator of the Aspen Art Museum, shares Edwards’s fondness for Carla Klein paintings, which he has “hung in some idiosyncratic places, [like] above a doorway and inside a bookcase. In a way, the paintings are windows to exterior places, so they’re smartly placed.”
Edwards, in a typically English way, downplays his collecting and even hesitates to call himself a collector at all: “I like to have good art at home the same way I like to have good furniture. I don’t collect to [have it] sit in storage. Harley was more a collector than I am.”
If he had to choose a favorite work, he says it would be a self-portrait by the late painter Elizabeth Murray. “It was probably the first big piece Harley and I bought together,” Edwards says. “We showed Elizabeth [at the gallery], and [that painting] was from the first show.”
The apartment’s third floor is actually a terrace with a small pavilion set back to satisfy landmark laws. In the pavilion are Edwards’s bedroom, a sitting room, and three dressing rooms. “I accumulated a lot of clothes over the years,” he explains, including Baldwin’s wardrobe, which Edwards has had tailored and frequently wears. “These pants are his,” he says, referring to the pair he is wearing. He reserves suits primarily for trips to New York City, where he keeps an apartment, also with an amazing view, on Central Park South. “In Aspen, you have to be dressed casual because everyone is in ski clothes or hiking gear. If you wore a suit and tie, you’d look like you were going to court.”
Although most of the time Edwards keeps the apartment off-limits, he makes exceptions for close friends and visiting artists. Rather than reserving rooms for them at The Little Nell, Edwards puts them up in his three guest rooms. “He’s a terrific host,” says Will Cotton, who has had two shows of his paintings at the gallery, including one last winter. On Christmas, he recalls, “we had breakfast, and Richard’s tradition is to take everyone skiing on Aspen Mountain, followed by lunch at the top of the mountain. Then we went to a movie in the afternoon—True Gri —then dinner at the Caribou Club. For Christmas Day, it was about as good as it gets.”
Edwards found himself moving to Aspen in 1994 by dint of a happy accident: He had met and fallen in love with Baldwin. It was not where he imagined he’d end up. Edwards spent his childhood outside London, the second of six children. His father was a business executive. “I always think of England as being an intensely literary culture,” Edwards says. “My parents were cultured—books and music—but not particularly visually cultured.”
Edwards, however, was drawn to art and began collecting prints from the likes of David Hockney, Richard Hamilton, and Lucian Freud at age 21. After attending the University of Cambridge, he worked in London as a lawyer in the late ’70s and early ’80s. “The art market used to be very small in London,” he says, adding that the competition to buy wasn’t nearly as fierce as it is today. He moved to New York in 1986 and began adding American artists, like Donald Baechler, to his trove. Baldwin shared Edwards’s interest, if not his experience, in art. “It was his idea to open the gallery, not mine,” he says. “I wasn’t necessarily going to work in it fulltime, but in order to make it a success, you have to be there.”
The downtown apartment is located in the historic Collins Block building
|The dining room is aglow with Barovier and Toso Murano glass, and a Georg Baselitz painting, Die Kreuztragung (Carrying the Cross), is reflected in the table, made from a door handcrafted in India|
|A sculpture by Stephan Balkenhol|
From the get-go, they were determined not to show “regional art.” The goal was to bring top contemporary art to the Rockies. Early shows included Baechler, Pat Steir, and Jennifer Bartlett. “We opened in a small way because we were not quite sure if anybody was going to buy anything serious in Aspen.” Indeed, they had to combat what Edwards describes as misconceptions about what kind of art the gallery was showing. But the gallery picked up momentum. The fact that they’d opened during a recession, Edwards says, actually helped them lure some major artists. “It enabled us to forge relationships with people who, in a more boom economy, might not have had time to do a show in Aspen,” he says. Once they came—and saw the A-list crop of collectors who converge on the resort town in both summer and winter— word got around.
After three years, the gallery moved to a bigger space. It has shown artists as varied as Robert Mapplethorpe, James Turrell, Tom Sachs, Tony Oursler, and Christo and Jeanne-Claude. “Someone said, ‘I don’t get your point of view,’” Edwards says with a chuckle, noting that galleries in New York’s Chelsea tend to limit their programs to very specific styles of art. Baldwin Gallery, on the other hand, offers more like the art world’s greatest hits. “We’re basically a one-man Chelsea.”
While many assume Baldwin provided the business expertise and Edwards the aesthetic judgment, Edwards says he and his partner collaborated on the curation, even if they didn’t always see eye to eye, so to speak. “It’s good to have somebody else who makes you look at things differently,” he says.
And on the flipside, Edwards isn’t too shabby on the business end. “He’s able to sell work, which is something not every dealer can do,” says artist Matthew Weinstein. “There are certain collectors there who have supported my work for four or five years, and those introductions were made by Richard.”
In Zuckerman Jacobson’s view, Edwards is the real deal. “I really consider Richard a professional peer, and I’m grateful to have someone with his knowledge and commitment to contemporary art here in Aspen,” she says. “He has a very brilliant eye.”
Since Baldwin’s death, Edwards has entrusted the other businesses to Baldwin’s longtime right hand, Billy Stolz, to manage on a day-to-day basis. That’s not to say Edwards doesn’t get an awful lot of enjoyment from them, particularly the well-staffed kitchen a couple of flights down from his abode. He admits his own culinary skills are limited to toasting bagels and he much prefers room service from the Caribou Club. “Somebody brings the food up on a tray,” Edwards says with a gleeful laugh. “It’s very indulgent.”
November 19, 2014