Heart to Art

Left: Artist Ernesto Neto with Aspen Art Museum director Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson. (Photo: Ryan Gander) Right: Collector Amy Phelan with artist Ryan Gander and collector John Phelan. (Photo: Annie Godfrey Larmon)

WHILE SQUEEZING into a diminutive plane in Denver the Wednesday before last, the group of art-worlders en route to the Aspen Art Museum’s tenth annual three-day ArtCrush benefit auction and bacchanal were barraged with a squawk: “But I ran that gallery! That really pisses me off!” A dealer, oblivious to the range of his broadcast, lambasted an unnamed colleague on the phone. “Ohhh my gahhhhdd, she’s unmerciful!” he proceeded. “You’ve got to do something like this ultra, ultra quietly!” As giggles matured into cautionary laughter, a journalist sitting across the aisle finally alerted the yapper to his self-sabotage—the first shushing of the weekend.

From the moment I arrived in Aspen, the topic of conversation was paper—that is, the Prodema (a wood veneer–encased composite of paper and resin) latticework facade of the new Shigeru Ban–designed museum. “What will happens when it rains?” clucked locals, though presumably the Pritzker Prize–winning architect had already accounted for inclement weather. Sited with an unparalleled view of the Continental Divide, Ban’s first museum in the US achieves an effect both modest and transcendent, with an exposed truss ceiling, walkable skylights, and a glass curtain wall meant to emphasize the transparency and hospitality of the institution. The museum is funded entirely by private donors whose endowment will guarantee free entry—a lark in a city where coffee shops advertise specifically to the Prada-clad.

Left: Sarah Hoover, Nancy Magoon, and artist Tom Sachs. Right: Dealer Jeanne Greenberg-Rohatyn. (Photos: Billy Farrell/BFAnyc.com)

Expensive duds were on parade later that evening at Amy and John Phelan’s palatial mountain lodge for WineCrush, the benefit’s kickoff event. Aspen-based collectors Nancy and Robert Magoon and Soledad and Bob Hurst rubbed shoulders with museum kin (Adam Weinberg, Peter Eleey) and artists (Fred Tomaselli, Marilyn Minter, Lorna Simpson, Tomma Abts) on immaculate white carpets. As the room flooded with blondes in beige, Frieze’s Dan Fox pointed to an Ed Ruscha text painting—its familiar alpine view improbably trumped by the Phelan’s vista to Independence Pass—noting the increasing appositeness of its slogan: IT’S RIDICULOUS.

Dealer Tanya Bonakdar flitted to our perch near a baroque pool table and we gabbed about Ernesto Neto, the recipient of this year’s Aspen Art Award, whose immersive exhibition “Gratitude” is the swan song of the “old” AAM. His installations, evoking candy-colored versions of Alain Renais’s time machine in Je t’aime Je t’aime, require viewers to lie in Savasana on a Marimekko-like platform. As we extolled the democratic persuasions of the piece (imagine the Magoons doing yoga alongside Aspen’s rucksackers), Bonakdar countered that it was in fact the gummy bears that had become Aspen’s common denominator. Indeed, the herbaceous sweets, a local favorite since Colorado’s first legal marijuana stores opened in January, surfaced several times over the weekend. Gabriel Kuri quipped that fellow attendee Lance Armstrong could host next year’s benefit, “PotCrush,” and even Governor John W. Hickenlooper felt the buzz when he later exclaimed, “I’m going to get you all some legal marijuana!” quickly recanting, “Don’t tweet that!”

Conversation turned to sport over dinner. Richard Phillips flipped through images of his race car on his iPhone and the dapper Simon Beriro recalled hiking the Camino de Santiago. As the outfit of ten sommeliers served a 1998 Chateau D’Yquem dessert wine, the crowd took to the dance floor; Queen Phelan was unstoppable. We passed a poolside Koons Gazing Ball on the way out to the fleet of waiting Escalades.

Left: Artist Mickalene Thomas. Right: Artists Dzine and Jim Hodges. (Photos: Billy Farrell/BFAnyc.com)

Back at the Sky Hotel, Kuri ordered a Calvinistic Hedonistic—an almond shake cut with Dutch gin—his contribution to Ryan Gander’s 2013 compilation of cocktail recipes. The waitress wasn’t familiar, so we settled on negronis. Gander commented on the devastating effects of smoking in the thin air, though as we soon found, alcohol tolerance also adjusts for altitude.

By Thursday’s PreviewCrush, hosted at Baldwin Gallery and Casterline Goodman Gallery, it was clear that the rest of the art world had descended on Aspen. I spotted Hammer chief curator Connie Butler and Dallas Museum of Art senior curator Gavin Delahunty among the swarms that gathered to peek at what the live auction would offer—including works by Anne Collier, Sanford Biggers, Margaret Lee, Rob Pruitt, and Michelle Grabner.

Partygoers skirted a downpour on Friday evening as they ventured to tents for the weekend’s main event. To get to ArtCrush, one had to pass over a nuclear-magenta bridge lined with Queen of Hearts roses, and through an orange hallway where gloved hands reached through glory holes to offer sips of limoncello. Once the audience found their seats, Amy Phelan quoted the Dalai Lama before galvanizing the crowd: “I look forward to an evening of just the right amount of wrong behavior!”

Left: Neubauer Collegium curator Jacob Proctor with Frieze's Dan Fox. Right: Dealers Cristopher Canizares and Alex Logsdail. (Photos: Ryan Gander)

Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson (HZJ) looks fierce in her many hats—she is the AAM’s Nancy and Bob Magoon CEO, director, and curator of five of the six inimitable inaugural shows, including a boldly unorthodox exhibition of David Hammons and Yves Klein. She took to the stage to offer a magnanimous thanks and a refrain of the crowd-quelling shushes for which she is notorious. HZJ has a keen measure of patience and persuasiveness, as evidenced by the unprecedented collection of Kleins she managed to borrow for her show, and the Phillip Vergne–penned essay on Hammons—originally intended for posthumous publication—she usurped for the show’s catalogue. She likes to think that the AAM, a noncollecting kunsthalle, collects artists instead, a claim that was corroborated by the number in attendance. In the face of conversations that often drifted to the malignant ethics of art flippers, HZJ seemed a beacon for good faith.

The lulling effects of Neto’s acceptance chant—“thank you, thank you, gratitude”—were in stark contrast to Sotheby’s Oliver Barker, who burst into the spotlight in full force. As is ArtCrush tradition, the sale of each artwork was followed by a heartbeat of dance music—after Sarah Lucas’s Tit Teddy Make Love, Modern English’s “I Melt With You” exalted, and a Rosemarie Trockel was ushered from the stage to Pharrell’s banal earworm of the moment. At $190,000, Ryan Gander’s Tell My Mother Not to Worry (viii) barely beat out Mickalene Thomas’s Clarivel #2 for the evening’s big ticket.

At AfterPartyCrush, DJ and violinist duo the Dolls stomped around, but the crowd raged for ABBA. A group of us absconded from the party’s belly to find Neto shaking a maraca in the otherwise quiet night. As we passed a row of window displays boasting gaudy furs, Neto called us back. “Hey!” He pointed to an understated white wallet as he continued to shake his instrument. “How much do you think this is?” Feeling hyperbolic (or not), Kuri guessed $12,000—Neto laughed and said he thought it would be $50; he had asked for a friend earlier that day. “It’s $4,000,” he said, “but the salesperson told us they’d give it to us for half off.”

Left: Artist Tony Feher with curator Dan Cameron. (Photo: Annie Godfrey Larmon) Right: AfterPartyCrush. (Photo: Ryan Gander)

Left: Artist Cai Guo-Qiang (center). (Photo: Annie Godfrey Larmon) Right: Artist Gabriel Kuri. (Photo: Ryan Gander)