The Summer Art Party Scene Reaches Its Zenith at Aspen ArtCrush
It has grown from a fundraiser into a seasonal phenomenon.
The summer shows may be winding down, but the art circuit continues to churn. As everyone seeks out relaxation before the September rush, vacation destinations like the Hamptons, Mykonos, and Aspen are still abuzz—catering to the elite that call these places their second home. Last week, the Aspen Art Museum‘s (AAM) ArtCrush attracted local and far-flung philanthropists to the mountain town.
ArtCrush, now in its 12th iteration, has grown from a fundraiser into a seasonal phenomenon attracting a strong contingent of guests from both Dallas and Chicago, the two places that perhaps not-so-coincidentally provide direct flights.
On Tuesday, August 2, invite-only events were held for early arrivals. Ladies like Mera Rubell, Paula Crown, and Lynda Resnick headed to collector Gaby Garzao’s alpine home for a power lunch sponsored by Cultured and Net-A-Porter. A talk by Ann Philbin, director of Los Angeles’s Hammer Museum, at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center served as a fitting aperitif.
In the morning, AAM director and CEO Heidi Zuckerman led a group up the Hunters Creek trail. Jack Pierson’s dog, Chico, became the mascot of the morning walk. High on altitude and short on breath, people retired to town for brunch and power napping.
That night, WineCrush, the annual, alcohol-fueled prelude to the semi-formal gala, kicked-off the official festivities. Hosted by collectors and board members Amy and John Phelan, the anticipated dinner brought a group that included esteemed out-of-towners like curator Justine Ludwig, Elisabeth Karpidas and Jeannie Greenberg Rohatyn.
All in all, it was a spectacle of boisterous art, designer outfits, and champagne—the maximalist event had equally flashy sponsors, Dom Perignon, JP Morgan, Sotheby’s, and the Four Seasons. Once everyone was seated beneath the weatherproof canopy, the Four Seasons gave everyone seated at table 10 a trip to their new outpost in Cabo. The lucky winners didn’t seem to mind the jealous looks they had to endure. Maybe they didn’t notice, or perhaps they were too busy fantasizing about their upcoming trips.
Dinner was served amid a sea of beverages, and the bacchanalian offerings sent a well-lubricated group to the dance floor. By the time dessert rolled around, most people had abandoned their port glasses for the full bar at the end of the tent. Artists Nir Hod, Gabriel Orozco, and Adam McEwen, who had posted up on couches, got front row seats to an impromptu karaoke performance to a Rihanna ballad led by the hostess. For dramatic flourish, Phelan dropped to the floor.
On Thursday, the invited artists were whisked away to a private lunch. They had to talk amongst themselves. The mountainous location made cellular service unavailable. Orozco, the headlining artist at the museum, managed a full schedule leading two talks about his work with Zuckerman. Celebrated as a conceptualist, Orozco’s painting focused show bucked expectations—striking a balance between familiarity and foreignness.
After the lecture finished, guests headed over to Casterline | Goodman Gallery and Baldwin Gallery, where ArtCrush’s auction items were hung alongside their regularly-scheduled programming. Leonor Antunes, Jim Hodges, and Huma Bhabha were among the artists who contributed.
There was plenty more going on, but rain made it difficult to travel between all the private parties. Sotheby’s hosted a big one for collectors, while a majority of the artists headed to Larry and Susan Marx’s for a BBQ among their treasures. A Willem de Kooning and a Mark Bradford stared guests down as they teethed on ribs.
The forecast predicted more of the same for Friday night, but miraculously, ArtCrush’s organizers got their wish for clear skies. The sun came out just in time for guests to have a sunset Ferris Wheel ride. The towering attraction marked the door to the circus-themed gala. Inside the rented Big Top, things got stranger and more lavish. The auction items competed with an actual burlesque, which some guests remarked was the AAM’s most provocative move yet. An unexpected appearance by Seal added to the absurdity.
Luckily, sommelier Jay Fletcher of “Somm” fame was on hand for a open tasting; with a little to drink, the flustered crowds mellowed out. When giving opening remarks, Phelan nailed it with her greeting: “Welcome everyone to the crazy Aspen ArtCrush circus!”
Between course one and two, the live auction started. Offerings by Rodney McMillian, Karen Kilimnik, and Liz Larner were paraded on to the stage as Sotheby’s auctioneer Oliver Barker fought to drive the prices up. Like pageant contestants, each piece received theme music as it was trotted out. An untitled Jacqueline Humphries piece from 2015 came out to Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow.”
One of the night’s surprises was a lot donated by the Haas Brothers; the trio of furry stools netted $170,0000. The other upset was Barker’s Donald Trump joke, which died on the floor. The after-party migrated to local music venue, Belly Up, where socialite DJ Mad Marj spun away the remainder of the night. By morning, the field full of private jets had all but taken off. Like every fleeting moment of summer, Aspen ArtCrush passed quickly, a vibrant blur of natural and unnatural excess.
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