Is Aspen’s Gallery Scene Here to Stay?
Exterior view of Lehmann Maupin and Carpenters Workshop Gallery’s pop-up space in Aspen. Photo by Michael Brands/Mountain Home Photo. Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin and Carpenters Workshop Gallery.
After the Hamptons last summer and Palm Beach this past winter, Aspen is the new art gallery destination that’s moderate in size, yet abundant in opulence. As the art market slowly heals from pandemic trauma, the summer of 2021 is on a path to enter the history books as the industry’s busiest for a typically sleepy season—and the tiny Colorado ski hub is a hotbed for QR-coded checklists.
Aspen has long been synonymous with America’s one-percenters. The crème de la crème of collectors have so far decorated their luxe châlets mainly with art from galleries in Los Angeles, Dallas, and New York. But this summer, powerhouses Almine Rech, Lehmann Maupin, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, and White Cube, as well as auctioneering giant Christie’s, have popped into town to encourage the collectors to shop local. Intersect Aspen, which has been revamped from the decade-old local art fair Art Aspen, made its debut on August 1st with 30 exhibitors spread across Aspen Ice Garden. The Aspen Art Museum’s annual fundraising bash ArtCrush launched a four-day event on August 3rd with a lineup of the art world’s who’s who, including Hans Ulrich Obrist, Doris Salcedo, and Precious Okoyomon, while Mary Weatherford will claim the Aspen Award for Art at the climactic gala. The season is as compact as the 3.85-square-mile town itself, but the programming, like the champagne, is ample and top-notch.
Simphiwe Mbunyuza, installation view of “ISIBAYA” at Marianne Boesky Gallery, Aspen, 2021. Photo by Tony Prikryl. Courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery.
The wave of spaces and events is quite new for a community that has long remained tightly knit with local establishments such as Baldwin Gallery, Casterline Goodman Gallery, and Christopher Martin Gallery, as well as the Aspen Art Museum and Anderson Ranch serving as anchor institutions. One of the first to expand to the city was Marianne Boesky Gallery, which opened its outpost on South Spring Street in 2017; a few others, like Opera Gallery, have also had local branches for several years. Boesky’s relationship with Aspen started after purchasing a house there in 2010 and eventually witnessing “incredible cultural investments the community had been making all along.” Boesky then decided to expand her program out west. “Selfishly, I knew it would mean ‘having’ to spend more time here,” she recalled. The dealer is excited about the newcomers, who are all familiar faces, and believes they prove her initial vision was spot-on. “Their choice of Aspen smartly reflects the community’s deep interest in and commitment to the arts,” she said.
A familiarity with Aspen as a vacation spot was also the initial step for Christie’s deputy chairman Capera Ryan. “I have been coming here my whole life, but about 20 years ago, I saw there were such enthusiastic art collectors in the community as well as great cultural opportunities for us,” she said. Since then, Christie’s has been organizing luncheons and lectures to engage the local collector set. This summer, the auction house opened an exhibition space at its real estate branch on East Durant Avenue with thematic shows about street art and, fittingly, blue-chip artists’ portrayals of the American West. Its program includes educational offerings, with a “Luncheon Lecture Series” covering topics such as NFTs, handbags, and street art.
Installation view of “Out West” at Christie’s, Aspen, 2021. Courtesy of Christie’s.
For Intersect Aspen’s managing director Becca Hoffman, the past year has made fairs serving small but highly attuned collector communities all the more important. “Besides prompting us to elevate our business, COVID has proven that smaller fairs in cultural destinations are appreciated and needed,” she said, citing her fair and Texas’s Marfa Invitational, which held its second edition in April. Intimate settings and deeper connections are traits the director considers critical for art fairs today.
After a successful online iteration in February, Intersect Aspen began brainstorming for an in-person edition for summer, but only received the green light from the city to use the 50-year-old, 184-by-82-foot ice skating rink in May. “We had to create the fair in less than three months,” Hoffman explained. She and curatorial advisor Paul Laster started what she calls “a chain reaction” of inviting galleries, eventually amassing 30 exhibitors. They include both established and emerging names, like international key players Perrotin and Galerie Gmurzynska; Jackson Fine Art, Nancy Littlejohn Fine Art, and Mindy Solomon Gallery from the American South; New York’s Half Gallery, HESSE FLATOW, and TOTAH; and West Coast peers Nino Mier Gallery, OCHI, and Greg Kucera Gallery.
Installation view of Perrotin’s booth at Intersect Aspen 2021. Courtesy of Perrotin and Intersect Aspen.
This year’s edition has also attracted spaces that typically shy away from the fair system. Susan Barrett, who runs St. Louis–based Barrett Barrera Projects, decided to show what she called “a side we don’t normally divulge,” which is the gallery’s secondary-market works. Besides a Rob Pruitt that has not been seen in several years and a selection of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye paintings, the gallery’s booth displays pieces from French photographer Ann Ray’s 32,000-work archive. Ray was a friend and collaborator of Alexander McQueen until the designer’s passing and Barrett’s holdings include prints, contact sheets, and vintage works, some of which will be offered publicly in the U.S. for the first time.
Lehmann Maupin tasted the Aspen waters last summer with a group show at a second-floor space on East Hyman Avenue. To repeat its success, the gallery partnered with design powerhouse Carpenters Workshop Gallery. This summer, they’re presenting two curated group shows, which gallery co-founder David Maupin said “marry art and design.” Pop-ups are not a foreign concept for the Chelsea-headquartered outfit, which unveiled a Taipei outpost this week and will continue its Palm Beach presence over the winter. The clientele profile, according to Maupin, varies between first-time buyers from the West Coast and long-term clients who own second homes in Aspen. The ease of a pop-up space allows the gallery to pair works by artists on its roster with pieces by other artists. The exhibition “Material Space,” which opens August 5th, will see McArthur Binion’s determined abstraction in an unexpected conversation with Carpenter’s Workshop Gallery designers Rick Owens and Wendell Castle. “A core lesson has been the power of collaboration and partnership,” said gallery partner Carla Camacho. In addition to its two-gallery shows, the gallery has teamed up with its neighbors for a series of gallery nights, including an installment on August 5th.
Installation view of “Second Nature” at Lehmann Maupin and Carpenters Workshop Gallery’s pop-up space in Aspen, 2021. Photo by Tony Prikryl. Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin and Carpenters Workshop Gallery.
Eschewing a New York location over the decades did not preclude London powerhouse White Cube from popping up in American destinations. After taking over a warehouse in West Palm Beach in winter, the gallery has hopped on the Aspen bandwagon with a three-part space in a 19th-century building on South Mill Street. “Although temporary in their nature, we felt from the start that our off-site projects should have the strength and rigor of the exhibitions in our international galleries,” said Alexander Flint, the gallery’s associate director.
White Cube’s program kicked off in June and will present a total of nine small exhibitions through early fall. The last leg opened on August 3rd, with three separate two-artist shows dedicated to Antony Gormley and Isamu Noguchi; Anselm Kiefer and Ibrahim Mahama; and Theaster Gates and Haim Steinbach. A deciding factor for the gallery to explore the town was its artist Cerith Wyn Evans’s solo exhibition at the Aspen Art Museum, which sits steps away from its space. The team, however, did not leave the gallery’s American West debut to chance. “It was important to create a series of original, considered, and thoughtful presentations that allowed those in Aspen for the summer months to discover the breadth of White Cube’s international program and artists,” Flint added.
Almine Rech forgoes the term “pop-up” for her eponymous gallery’s East Hyman Avenue space. “This is a project space for which we’ve worked closely with each of the artists to create presentations that showcase their artistic perspectives and latest output,” Rech said. After unveiling the 9,000-square-foot gallery with a Nathaniel Mary Quinn solo show in June, the painting-loving gallery will open a group show on August 6th with the likes of Tom Wesselmann, Marcus Jahmal, Gerasimos Floratos, and Lily Stockman.
When one of the gallery directors first suggested an Aspen space, Rech didn’t need much convincing. “I love the Aspen context, especially its history as a hub for many creatives since the 1950s, and the fact that we have a great collector base here made the decision even more natural,” she said. “Intimate and informal,” the gallery founder added by way of describing the local clientele profile, which she noted overlaps with New York. “The town has great interactions, as well as a natural openness to discovering new works and artists,” she said.
Installation view of “Correspondence” at White Cube, Aspen, 2021. Photo by Tony Prikryl. Courtesy of White Cube.
“We will be here next year,” Hoffman confirmed of Intersect Aspen, and she believes the pop-up gallery concept will likely be back as well. She thinks the model is geared toward allowing galleries to return every summer, adding: “A little competition did not hurt anybody!”
While permanent galleries such as Marianne Boesky are also here to stay, others are keen to observe what the market waves bring. Locality is a key factor rendered pivotal by the pandemic. As collectors continue to lean toward smaller crowds, limited travel, and intimate arrangements, galleries are likely to keep bringing them curated experiences. The impermanence of pop-ups creates the excitement and anticipation on which the art market thrives. No-strings-attached energy lets the galleries experiment while bypassing many of the typical risks of expansion. In a strictly buyer-dependent system, galleries will righteously follow the collector. Whether they choose to summer by the beach or in the mountains will determine the flux.