The Gonzo Museum will vacate its space in the Benton building on April 15 as the landlord undertakes a multimillion-dollar renovation and construction project incorporating the corner parking lot next door.
The Benton building, once the home and studio of Tom Benton, the Aspen artist known for his stirring anti-war imagery and Hunter S. Thompson-for-sheriff poster-prints, has been a well-suited home for the Gonzo Museum, said curator and director D.J. Watkins. The museum showcases Benton’s work, memorabilia from the life of Thompson and other gonzo-inspired material.
Watkins, with his extensive collection of Benton art, moved into the space in March 2012. He said that while it’s sad to be moving out of the building with no solid plan for the future at this point, the next two months will be fun.
“We are going to make the most of it, do it right, and use the space right,” Watkins said.
The home stretch of events kicks off today at 7 p.m. with a reading of Benton’s poetry, as well as an open poetry reading going later into the evening for anyone who wishes to participate. The event is part of the ongoing “Liberty Salon” series, which Watkins said is centered around “interesting people talking about things they are passionate about.”
After April 15, property owner Aspen Core Ventures, led by local businessman Nikos Hecht, will undertake a $2 million renovation of the Benton building, and will begin constructing a three-story building on the open lot next door. That project will include retail storefronts and residential development on the top floors, including a 6,900-square-foot condo. Hecht won the right to build the large apartment, which exceeds the underlying zoning capping condo sizes at 2,500 square feet, in negotiations with City Council where Hecht agreed not to tear down the Benton Building and the Little Annie’s Eating House next door.
Stephen Kanipe, Aspen’s chief building official, said Aspen Core Ventures applied for a building permit on Jan. 3 and is “tracking through the review process” with an expected project start on April 15.
Watkins said that he would ideally like to return to the renovated Benton building when it reopens, but that may not be in the cards financially. He is currently paying “minimal” rent, but that offer is not likely to be on the table after the landlord sinks millions of dollars into the space.
He also is looking for a place in town to move the Gonzo Museum while the Benton renovation is underway.
“The problem is it’s just so cosmic and cool when it’s in the Benton building,” he said.
If a post-April location doesn’t materialize in Aspen, Watkins said he may take the Gonzo Museum on the road, perhaps setting up a pop-up gallery in Venice Beach, Calif.
He said he wants to return and continue building what he started a year ago.
“I think [the landlords] have realized that what I’m doing is good for the community, that I’m championing a lost history of Aspen.”