The city of Aspen is investigating whether the Aspen Art Museum’s freight elevator is capable of providing legally required equal access for persons with disabilities, since an art installation was placed outside the building’s second-floor gallery, blocking access to the main elevator.
“Where the Lights in My Heart Go” is a 10-foot-by-10-foot metal box with a reflective surface on the exterior and darkened interior where mirrors and small light openings create a cosmic, spatially disorienting experience. It is part of the Infinity Mirror Room series by 90-year-old Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.
The curious box where staff let patrons in for 90 seconds at a time is placed outside the gallery on the second floor, blocking the doors to the building’s public elevator. The exhibit runs through May 10 and opened in December.
Anyone requiring a lift to get up to the second floor has been able to get there with the assistance of art museum staff using the freight elevator, which is in a part of the building that is normally not open to the public.
The city of Aspen’s building department recently became aware of the situation and is in the process of evaluating the alternative access plan to determine if it complies with accessibility standards required by federal law and local building codes.
“It’s kind of been a process here in the last week,” Aspen’s chief building official Mike Metheny said on Friday. “We have been working with them to sort through how we are going to resolve this.”
Metheny could not yet say whether the museum will be allowed to continue offering the freight elevator as disabled access, or if staff will be required to move the box away from the main elevator. He said the city is awaiting further information from experts with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments’ elevator inspection program.
“We are waiting for word back from them about whether that is an acceptable alternative,” Metheny said. “Once we have that we will know our path forward.”
He added that “communications with the art museum have been excellent. They have been nothing but helpful in trying to resolve this.”
“I think they put it there not realizing that that was as big an issue,” Metheny said. “They were thinking the [freight] elevator was more of a viable option than maybe it is.”
Questions to museum officials about the situation were referred to Chief Operating Officer Luis Yllanes.
“As the dialogue between the city is ongoing, it would be inappropriate to offer any details on its course or speculation on an outcome,” Yllanes wrote in an email. “As always, the [Aspen Art Museum] continues to provide all our visitors with equitable access to our exhibitions and programming.”
According to a Dec. 27 article in the Aspen Daily News about the exhibit, the piece on display is one of fewer than two dozen of the Infinity Mirror Rooms created by the artist. “Where the Lights in My Heart Go” is in Aspen after visiting the Westport Arts Center in Connecticut. The piece was created in 2016 and belongs to the private collection of Lauren and Derek Goodman.
“We’ve had a number of people coming in already — a good percentage — specifically asking for the Kusama [Infinity Mirror Room]. They have a built-in audience,” Aspen Art Museum senior curator Max Weintraub told the Daily News last month. “It’s such a unique and site-specific experience that’s hard to convey even through our iPhones, that I think people realize you have to experience [the room] in-person. And there’s so few in the world and they’re so rarely on view because of the labor-intensive [installation] process and the limited number, that when they happen, they become something of an event, no matter where they are.”