The Aspen Art Museum has transformed into a cornucopia of locally cultivated artwork, as the Roaring Fork Open returns to its venerable galleries.
The Roaring Fork Open is a long-standing tradition, bringing artists based between Aspen and Glenwood Springs to the museum's walls for the month of October. This year some 10 dozen artists' work fills the museum, in a show guest-curated by James Surls.
The exhibition includes offerings from nearly all mediums, with a kaledoscopic array of styles, in modes ranging from playful to political.
“It's what you would call menagerie at its best,” says Surls. “The only thread that holds it all together is that it all came from the valley. That's the common denominator.”
Surls, the renowned Missouri Heights-based sculptor, spent three days selecting work for the show in September, three months after the museum registered artists for the exhibition. Upwards of 120 artists brought as many as three pieces to the museum for Surls to evaluate. He was familiar with the work of about one-third of them, he says. The rest were new to him, and among them were some cherished discoveries.
Surls' work is shown in places like the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim. A Texas native who moved to the valley 15 years ago, he works among the highest echelon of contemporary sculptors, and is subject of the developing James Surls Center for Visual Art in Carbondale. In his estimation, the Roaring Fork Valley is no artistic backwater, and he praises the caliber of working artists in the Aspen area, and on display at the Open.
“Even though there's a smaller number of people per square acre, there are some really good artists here and I saw a couple that really reinforced that,” he says. “I really think they're artists, high-caliber artists.”
The Roaring Fork Open includes established local artists — Shere Coleman, Andrew Roberts-Gray and Stanley Bell among them — whose work is frequently featured in art shows and commercial galleries. Others, like Olympic skier Casey Puckett, are better known for non-artistic pursuits.
Surls dubs the Roaring Fork Open a “generative exhibition.” It aims to foster local artists, giving their work an audience and placing them in a community of local peers.
He recalls a show early in his career, in Dallas, in 1973, when he and another artist cleared out a warehouse and displayed their work, with an opening planned on a fall Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, he laughs, they scheduled the opening at the same time as a Cowboys-Vikings game and few people came out to see his artwork. Still, he looks at that long-ago, little-seen show as a breakthrough.
While his work has since been shown in some prestigious rooms, Surls says an artist having work seen anywhere, by anyone, is what gives it meaning.
“It's the nature of what we do," he says. "You want people to see it, and when they do you get to look at yourself in relation to the field, you get a sense of where you are and what's going on."
A walk around this year's Roaring Fork Open reinforces that there is no predominant valley style.
The diverse exhibition includes abstract work like Bill Lipsey's “Two Views,” two photographs hanging next to one another, capturing distorted flares of brilliant primary colors on black. Tania Dibbs' “Price of Prosperity” is an oil painting with interwoven nest-like squiggles in the background, seemingly frosted over and covered with an overpowering white form at its center.
Philip Williams, of Carbondale, offers a quadriptych of expressionistic portraits, including a cartoonish juggler with a mouse on his knee spinning an orange and a woman posing, struggling to hold onto an intense pink poodle.
Rick Magnuson, an Aspen police officer by day, has two conceptual works in the show. “Sh aim” is a steel machine gun, with the barrel twisted to face back at the shooter. It's mounted above “Stairway to Heaven,” a Holy Bible with altered text — God replaced with “the DIRECTOR” and the Judeo-Christian characters swapped out for pop culture icons: the Book of Elvis Presley, the Gospel According to Dave Chappelle. (“And the DIRECTOR called unto Dan Aykroyd and spake unto him...”).
The natural beauty and mountain wildlife of Aspen also are a time-honored subject for local artists. This year's Open includes memorable takes on familiar scenes — aspen trees, Mount Sopris and the Maroon Bells.
“Good God, how many shots of aspens are there out there, but that doesn't mean you won't find that jewel, that great one,” Surls explains. “They're there.”
Photographer Don Stuber's photograph of an aspen grove in the Open is one of those jewels. It captures aspens in winter, piled with snow, trees cutting across the frame at chaotic angles.
Local scenery makes for fine art in a handful of the Roaring Fork Open pieces. Brian Colley's “Deja Vu All Over Again” is a watercolor in a gold frame, displaying four more gold frames within frames and a miniature landscape of the Maroon Bells at its center. Carrie Trippe offers a discombobulating mixed-media take on Twin Lakes — a view of the mountainscape from the wavy water, a slanted shoreline placing the viewer in the unsteady tide of the lake.
The show opened Thursday and will be on display through Oct. 27.
The museum is partnering with local restaurants for weekly public programs, in which chefs will make dishes inspired by artwork in the show. The “Local Taste of Art” events start Saturday, Oct. 5, with Julia and Allen Domingos of Epicure. They continue on Saturdays through October with Pyramid Bistro's Martin Oswald (Oct. 12); Rustique's Tico Starr (Oct. 19); and Caribou Club's Miles Angelo (Oct. 26).
With a new downtown museum set to open next summer, this will be the last open hosted at the Aspen Art Museum's original riverside building.
Roaring Fork Open
Through Oct. 27
Aspen Art Museum
A Local Taste of Art
Saturdays through Oct. 26
Aspen Art Museum