By Jean Nayar | May 23, 2014 | Culture
The new Shigeru Ban-designed Aspen Art Museum makes its downtown debut, marking a new era for Aspen’s international art scene.
A rendering of the new Aspen Art Museum, which gracefully contrasts and connects with its natural surroundings.
Glistening within its earthy, yet elegant enclosure of ribbon-like wooden slats woven like a crisp basket around an internal shell of sparkling glass, the brand-new Aspen Art Museum stands as an architectural jewel box at the heart of downtown Aspen, quietly beckoning passersby to peer past its semitransparent surface and step inside. Opening this August after more than five years in the making, the new $45 million, 33,000-square-foot museum also promises to serve as a cultural nexus in Aspen, bringing broader exposure to its significant collection of top-notch contemporary art while offering a multiplicity of programs and events that will both enrich life for the local community and provide the city with an attention-getting international cultural stage.
“The museum will be the most architecturally significant contemporary building not just in Aspen, but in the entire western part of our state,” says Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, Aspen Art Museum’s CEO, director, and chief curator. “It will be a super-significant building locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally—and because our program focuses on the best contemporary art from around the globe, we needed to have a building that was of the same status architecturally.”
Designed by world-renowned, Japanese-born, New York–based architect Shigeru Ban—winner of the 2014 Pritzker Architecture Prize, internationally known as architecture’s highest honor—the understated, intriguing new structure also gracefully contrasts and connects with its natural surroundings, standing out against the backdrop of the spectacular Rocky Mountains, yet reflecting the overall environs. Unlike most museums, whose walls seal off sight lines to the outdoors and focus attention inward on the art, the indoor-outdoor concept of this museum accounted for much of what appealed to the members of the board and architectural committee during the selection process. “Shigeru Ban knows that contemporary art can be intimidating,” says Zuckerman Jacobson, whose position is endowed by museum board members Nancy and Bob Magoon. “So it was important to allow people to see the art before going in. Another part of Ban’s practice is bringing the outside in and inside out to generate a sense of transparency, which was an important part not just of the design but the function of the institution.”
RE 49, Relief Éponge Bleu by Yves Klein. Works by Klein and David Hammons are part of six inaugural exhibitions to be featured at the new Aspen Art Museum.
The creation of the new museum building was a top priority of the board of trustees as soon as Zuckerman Jacobson took her post more than eight years ago. “I didn’t want to build one just because other museums were being built all around the country, but because we deserved one,” she says. So before beginning the process, she urged the museum’s leadership to build up its board, refine its vision and mission, and increase its staff and attendance.
Since making the recommended changes, she says, the museum has experienced an unprecedented jump in attendance over the past few years to the point that the museum had indeed outgrown its previous location in a cramped city building on the outskirts of town and needed the new structure. So the board created a selection committee to undertake an exhaustive exploration and review process before unanimously selecting Ban to design it, his first US museum project. The group also identified its new site in the center of downtown at the corners of South Spring Street and East Hyman Avenue, a location that makes the museum easily accessible to residents and anchors the city with an exciting, new cultural landmark.
In addition to cultivating a sense of transparency and connection with the outdoors, Ban created 12,500 square feet of flexible exhibition space in six primary gallery areas spread over the museum’s four levels, more than tripling the amount of exhibition space in the museum’s current facility. He also infused most galleries with natural light—some with operable skylights. Upon entering the museum, visitors may choose their path through the museum spaces, ascending to upper levels either via Ban’s “moving room,” a glass elevator in the northeast corner of the new facility, or the grand staircase on the east side of the facility, which leads to the sculpture garden on the roof deck, where there is also a café with catering by Aspen-based Epicure catering, a bar, and an outdoor screening space. Other features of the museum’s architecture include education space, a bookstore/museum shop, and an on-site artist apartment on the ground floor. 637 E. Hyman Ave., 970-925-8056
photography by peter macdiarmid/getty images