The Gonzo Museum will not go gently into that good night when, in less than two months, it is forced to vacate the Benton building as the landlord undertakes a multimillion-dollar renovation of the space.
Instead, says museum director and curator D.J. Watkins, he plans to keep doing what he’s been doing since he first leased the space in March 2012: having fun.
Fortunately for Aspen, one of Watkins’ ideas of fun is presenting historically relevant and locally significant art work in a museum who’s unpolished interior is a refreshing respite awash in a sea of perfectly polished galleries.
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, says Watkins. The museum showcases Benton’s work, memorabilia from the life of Thompson as well as other gonzo-inspired material.
He has also held nearly a dozen shows featuring the work of local and regional artists.
His next — and perhaps last — show will focus on a selection of photographs by the late, famed Nicholas DeVore III. The exhibition, entitled “Red,” will focus on the Aspen High School graduate’s more artistic works, featuring vivid colors and a pioneering use of in-camera techniques like double and triple exposures and fogging of the camera lens give that give an almost impressionistic quality to the images.
The gallery show, featuring seven large-scale prints, is actually part of a larger, collaborative project between Watkins and local photographer Tony Prikryl. The two have spent much of the past year sifting through and scanning thousands of slides from DeVore’s archive. They’ve distilled that down to 500, with the hopes of getting that number down to 150. The end goal is a book, similar to Watkins’ “Thomas W. Benton: Artist/Activist,” which chronicled Benton’s life through words and images.
“We’re working with DeVore’s friends and family to try to get a good, honest portrait of the man,” says Watkins. “But similar to the Benton book, we really want the images to speak for themselves.”
And there are similarities between the two artists. Both of their works seem as if they were digitally altered when, in fact, that were created in a strictly analog world.
“Some of Benton’s works seem Photoshopped, when they were all hand-cut stencils,” says Watkins. “And the depth and layering achieved in DeVore’s images really challenge your sense of what is possible without digital manipulation.”
As for the future of the Gonzo Museum, Watkins says he’s weighing his options. There are gallery possibilities in California, or perhaps he’ll find a pop-up space here in Aspen. And there’s always the hope of someday returning to the Benton building.
“This stuff deserves to be seen by the people,” he says. “When people come to town today, they’re not familiar with the rich history, or the fact that this was a mining town, or who Hunter S. Thompson was, or that this place was very politically active. It’s not all glitter and gold and Fendi. It’s just been a real pleasure to have a gallery in the center of Aspen the focuses on the history of Aspen.”
‘Red’ by Nicholas DeVore III
Presented by the Gonzo Museum
Opening Reception Saturday, Feb. 23rd, 6-10 p.m.