Ready to launch

by Curtis Wackerle, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
Art museum construction nears 
completion, opening party planned

If the new art museum set to open in Aspen was any place else, it might not make much difference if construction got behind schedule, and the grand opening had to be pushed back from August to September.

But given the seasonal nature of Aspen, and the drastic difference in the level of people in town between summer and post-Labor Day, delay is not an option for the new Aspen Art Museum and its CEO and director, Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson.

So when it looked this winter as if the long-stated grand opening for the museum of early August was slipping out of reach, Zuckerman Jacobson put more workers on the job, and began holding weekly phone conferences with the bosses of Turner Construction, in order to keep things on track.

“It became clear we needed more people,” she said. “ ... It was clear the schedule was slipping. ... We had to hit our dates — it was never negotiable.”

With about 125 workers on site each day this week, the “members opening” and ribbon cutting at the museum remains a go for Aug. 2, with a 24-hour grand opening community party set for Aug. 9. The $45 million building is on schedule to receive its conditional certificate of occupancy on July 3, Zuckerman Jacobson said, giving the museum and its six interior galleries time to climatize before staff begins hanging the first showings on July 19.

The climatization time is intended to let the museum demonstrate that it can keep its humidity and temperature readings constant, always around 50 percent and 70 degrees, respectively. Since the Aspen Art Museum doesn’t maintain its own collection, it has to show the owners of the art it borrows that the climate inside the building is safe and stable.

According to Zuckerman Jacobson and newly hired building systems engineer Kevin Haupt, the new museum will be the most highly regulated in Aspen, in terms of its internal temperature and climate.

The weave

A construction project rarely looks close to being finished. But the final look of the museum is beginning to take shape as crews install the woven-screen facade.

Museum architect Shigeru Ban, who in March was awarded the Pritzker Prize for architecture, the profession’s highest honor, designed the translucent facade to help bring the outside into the building, a theme that is repeated throughout the 33,000-square-foot facility.

The screen is woven together using a material known as Prodema. A shipping container parked on Spring Street contains more than enough to cover the entire building, and then some. The material, imported from Spain, uses a wood veneer surface, with resin and paper creating the bulk of the centimeter-thick slats.

As the screen takes shape, Zuckerman Jacobson notes that it creates a three-dimensional plane as it covers the building. It’s not a straight line.

From the inside of the building looking out, the woven screen at times comes right up to the glass walls, framing the mountain view, and at others is as much as 10 feet away.

 Jordan Curet/Aspen Daily News
Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, CEO and director of the Aspen Art Museum, points out the material making up the exterior facade, which is called Prodema and was imported from Spain. The Prodema uses a wood veneer surface, with resin and paper creating the bulk of the centimeter-thick slats, allowing it enough flexibility to be woven together.

When asked how long the material will last, Zuckerman put its estimated lifespan around 50 years. She added that the museum purchased plenty extra to rework areas when need be.

The galleries will be the first finished spaces in the building and will be sealed off on June 18, according to the schedule. The museum has tried to take advantage of natural light whenever possible, using skylights built into the floors of the ground level to illuminate spaces in the basement. Lighting has been picked to mimic sunlight in other areas.

Planning the party

The museum’s debut begins on Aug. 2, when Gov. John Hickenlooper will attend a ribbon cutting. A “members’ week” follows, where museum members, as well as supporters of local nonprofits affiliated with the museum, will get the first look inside the new facility.

The museum hopes to get everyone involved after that. The 24-hour opening party kicks off at 5 p.m. on Aug. 9. It will include a piano piece that lasts for 24 hours, a street performance by the swing revival band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and a “silent disco” on the roof, where a DJ will spin tunes only audible to people wearing special headphones.

The public will be invited to sleep in one of the gallery spaces, and then write down their dreams when they wake up. A shrink will be on hand to help people analyze their dreams, Zuckerman Jacobson said.

There will be theater performances — one of the galleries doubles as a black box theater — and panel discussions, as well as a performance art exhibition featuring gelatin.

The opening party, and admission to the museum in perpetuity, is free of charge. The building has a $20 million endowment.

The debut shows in each of the six galleries, outdoor plaza and the rooftop sculpture garden have been set for nearly a year. Known for embracing the modern and abstract, the museum will stay true to form in its new digs.

For example, the debut show on the rooftop sculpture garden, put together by Cai Guo-Qiang, features desert tortoises wandering around the space with iPads attached to their shells with specially designed mounts. Those iPads will be showing footage that is being recorded over the coming weeks around the valley, at abandoned ghost-town looking cabins. The tortoises will be dispatched to those sites, with the iPads attached to their shells in record mode.

In the main ground level galleries, a show close to Zuckerman Jacobson’s heart will present a comparative exhibition of the works of Yves Klein and David Hammons. Although they are from different generations, Zuckerman Jacobson said both artists have demonstrated an understanding of the “shamanistic properties” of being an artist, she said.

“Both have the ability to take something ordinary and make it extraordinary,” she said. 

The biggest gallery, on the second level, will feature full-size models of disaster relief shelters designed by Ban, the museum architect, who has become known for going to areas devastated by natural disasters and building low-cost, practical shelters with reusable materials.