For the seventh straight year, the Aspen Art Museum has handed over responsibility of its upper gallery to the kids.
Well, more accurately, the 32 members of this year’s Young Curators of the Roaring Fork program are high school students from Aspen to Rifle. They’re charged with the task of coming up with a theme, soliciting artwork, whittling down the submitted works from their peers, promoting the show, and installing the selected pieces in a one-week exhibition. That exhibition debuts tonight, Friday, April 27, with an opening reception starting at 4 p.m. at the museum. The program is open to students grades 9-12 in the greater Roaring Fork Valley.
“Our first step is to talk to the kids about what they do and don’t know,” says museum youth programs manager Genna Collins. “We pitch the program in valley art classes, so most of the kids have art experience. But outside of maybe helping to hang their high school art show, none of them really have curatorial experience.”
Starting last September, the students met more than two dozen times, first discussing and learning the art of curating, then deciding on a theme, creating a call to artists, and accepting submissions. For this year’s iteration of the program, the students chose the theme “Re-.”
“We were throwing around a lot of ideas during the brainstorming session,” says Giulio del Piccolo, a senior at Basalt High School and an exhibit artist in last year’s Young Curators exhibition. “But what we really wanted was original artwork, which is really difficult in high school where everything is pretty derivative. So instead, we decided to embrace that whole derivative idea and try to get a new take on old things.”
So for “Re-,” the young curators wanted the artists to create works in which common ideas or everyday objects are re-purposed, re-thought, re-imagined, re-configured, re-made, etc.
“I was expecting a lot of recycled materials, which often come off as very middle school-ish,” Del Piccolo says. “I was really happy to find that people really understood the retaking of concepts idea and not just materials.”
And the nearly 140 submissions didn’t disappoint. The works submitted — and ultimately the 15 pieces that were chosen — range in medium from photography and paintings to dresses made from reclaimed materials to three-dimensional pieces that literally hang from the rafters.
For the program facilitators, one of the most important points of emphasis was to help the students move away from snap judgments about art and exhibitions, and to instead think more reflectively about the pieces.
“At first they are very quick to judge,” says Collins. “It was very much ‘I like this’ or ‘I don’t like that.’ But we tried to focus on looking and experiencing an image. Does it change when viewed with another image versus standing alone? What is the background information or intent for a piece, and how does that affect understanding a piece? And is understanding a piece even important?”
In this year’s exhibition, the young curators chose only 15 pieces from the pool of submitted works - down from last year’s 30.
“We wanted each piece to have its own space,” says Alex Menter, a two-time Young Curator participant. “And truly, the pieces we chose represent the best of the best of what we got.”
Ultimately, the goal of the Young Curators of the Roaring Fork program isn’t to create future curators. Instead, the aim is to foster a more reflective young generation of art patrons who understand not only the effort behind an exhibit, but also the role that intent and message play in any form of art. And the impact has already been felt by the students.
“I was on an experiential education trip in L.A. with Genna (Collins) and we visited a lot of museums and galleries,” says Loui Smith, a junior at Aspen High School. “And I was constantly thinking about how much time and effort went into the layout and what piece was next to what, and how that impacted my impression of the show.”
“Re-“ will be on display in the upper gallery of the Aspen Art Museum through Friday, May 4. For more information, visit www.aspenartmuseum.org .
Young Curators of the Roaring Fork “Re-“ exhibition
Presented by the Aspen Art Museum
Opening reception Friday, April 27, 4 p.m.
Runs through Friday, May 4