An Aspen off-season road trip tends to go in one of two directions: into the desert for outdoor adventure, or into the city for shopping and culture.
After the ski lifts stop running on Sunday — following a final bonus weekend on Aspen Mountain — cultural opportunities abound within a day’s drive, from modern art exhibitions to western treasures, outdoor concerts and the creative works of military veterans to prehistoric discoveries.
If you’re looking for an off-season arts fix, here are some highlights of what’s happening on the road during Aspen’s mud season.
Since its 2011 opening, the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver has quickly become a must-stop for any trip to the Front Range. It offers the rare chance to dig into an artist’s life’s work under one roof, with the added bonus that — unless you’ve been there already — you probably don’t know much about Still.
A pioneer of the abstract expressionist movement, alongside Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, he dropped out of the art world in 1951 and rarely showed his work in the decades that followed. His entire collection was kept out of public view from his death in 1980 until Denver won the right to exhibit his 2,400 works. Curated by former Aspen Art Museum director Dean Sobel, the museum rotates the Still pieces on display, offering a wealth of new discoveries on each visit.
Among Still’s largest shows during his life was a 1959 retrospective at the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y. (now the Albright-Knox Art Gallery). This spring, the Still Museum is recreating that show. The exhibition includes the paintings shown at the Albright, along with archival material and an audio recording of Still himself reading his introduction to the exhibition catalogue for the original show. An interactive feature also allows visitors to virtually walk through the original installation in Buffalo. It runs through June 15.
The Still has partnered with the adjacent Denver Art Museum (DAM) for a supplementary show titled “Modern Masters: 20th Century Icons from the Albright-Knox Gallery,” which runs through June 8.
It includes 70 works by legends ranging from Vincent van Gogh to Pablo Picasso and Georgia O’Keeffe to Andy Warhol, all from the Albright-Knox, showing the evolution of modern movements from the late 1800s through the pop art and minimalism of the 20th century.
A single ticket gains entry to both the Still Museum and the “Modern Masters” show at the DAM.
Western vs. Westerns
Also at the DAM, through June 1, is a unique take on American Western movies titled “Rebranded: Polish Film Posters for the American Western.”
It exhibits posters from Poland’s communist era for iconic westerns like “Shane” and “The Misfits.” While the American films glorified the gun-slinging heroics of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, Poland’s graphic artists gave the westerns’ violent ideals a negative spin. Movie posters weren’t controlled by government censors during the communist era, making them a rare look at free expression in Cold War Eastern Europe.
A showcase of sculptures by Frederic Remington and other greats who worked western scenes out of bronze opens at the museum May 11. Titled “The American West in Bronze, 1850-1925,” it includes iconic western scenes of pioneers, American Indians, buffalo herds and more.
Western art is also getting a focus up the road at the University of Colorado at Boulder Art Museum. A show there, titled “American West,” runs through May 10. It features highlights form the university’s permanent collection of 19th and 20th century western art, including masters like Charles Partridge Adams, Thomas Hart Benton and Eve Drewelowe.
And one plus for the campus gallery: admission is free.
At the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, a recently opened show includes a sprawling vinyl print stretching across the entire gallery space by Jorge Méndez Blake titled “Project for a Park Library.”
Blake, of Guadalajara, Mexico, is also curating and hosting an innovative weekly lecture series titled “Huevos Rancheros” at the MCA. On Thursday, May 8, Blake puts architect Sergio Ortiz on stage with cartoonist JIS for a “comic jam.” Ortiz is slated to discuss the varieties of architecture from city to city and how they reflect the style of life in different regions, while JIS illustrates his talk with improvised cartoons.
As the Colorado weather warms up, the concert calendar at Red Rocks Amphitheater fills up.
The iconic 9,525-seat venue in Morrison lands a lot of acts who don’t make it to Aspen (and some who do, like Bassnectar, who plays a two-night run at Belly Up May 28 and 29 before hitting Red Rocks).
The summer lineup at Red Rocks kicks off Friday, May 2 with hitmaker Ellie Goulding of “Lights” and “I Need Your Love” fame, and continues with stars like Lana Del Rey (May 19) and Jazz Aspen Labor Day Fest headliner OneRepublic (May 28-29).
On the DJ front, the upcoming highlights include the psychedelic Shpongle (May 10) and the mayhem of Global Dub Festival (May 16).
Folk legend John Prine, who wowed Belly Up three years back, plays Red Rocks with Emmylou Harris on June 1.
Indoors, music highlights along the Front Range include indie favorites like the Dodos at Larimer Lounge May 2, the Dandy Warhols at the Fox Theater in Boulder May 10, Morrissey at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House on May 17 and rapper Pharoahe Monch at Cervantes May 23.
Fruita's Sea Monsters
Fruita is among the most popular off-season getaways for mountain-biking Aspenites. Rides like Kokopelli Trail and the desert campgrounds along 18 Road on Bureau of Land Management property and at the Colorado National Monument are tough to beat.
There’s more to Fruita than single-track trails, however.
The Dinosaur Journey Museum offers an in-depth, interactive, family-friendly look at the dinosaurs that roamed western Colorado and eastern Utah, including skeletal mounts of velociraptors and more.
A new exhibit, titled “Sea Monsters of the Grand Valley,” opened in April and includes a moving restoration of the titular sea creature: a 38-foot-long marine reptile called Elasmosaurus.
The exhibit runs through the summer.
Also worth a stop, if you’re heading into the desert, is the Veterans Art Center in Grand Junction. The gallery and studio opened just last year, exclusively exhibiting work by military veterans. A new exhibition, titled “Beneath the Camo,” opens there Friday, May 2.