Mountaintop Art

By Alexandra Peers

Few cities have the combination of manageable size and cultural ambition necessary to turn the whole town into a sculpture garden. This summer, that’s just what Aspen is attempting, as works from some notable contemporary artists are sprinkled throughout downtown as part of the Aspen Art Museum’s “Restless Empathy” show. It opens Thursday, May 20, and runs through the summer.

While Aspen is normally thought of as a ski-season destination, the exhibition will cross over, June 18 through June 20, with the huge Aspen Food & Wine Classic, an event that every spring draws about two dozen of New York’s top chefs (and many of its top eaters).

The nine artists on display include Mark Wallinger, who has won Britain’s Turner Prize, and L.A. painter Frances Stark, who was in the last Whitney Biennial.

The works aren’t just sculptures plunked down in midtown; they’re intended to integrate with Aspen. So memorial benches by Lars Ramberg salute local Woody Creek legend Hunter S. Thompson. Quotes from the writer will add up to a larger text that “upends the sentimentality associated with memorializing,” according to the artist.

The exhibition aims to create “a space for the unexpected experience,” said museum director and chief curator Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson. Viewers “can choose to sit on a bench, walk among the objects installed around the city, think about philosophy and life, read the paper and whistle about injustice, or merely observe others doing so.” She’s referring to artists Allora & Calzadilla’s HOPE HIPPO, 2005 sculpture, which was a huge hit at the Venice Biennale. Someone sits on the hippo at all times reading a newspaper—and whistling.