Exclusive ArtCrush Is Fun in the Mountains for Those Who Have Everything

It's a cut above your standard tony destination gala.

Shari Applebaum, Richard Phillips, Art-mosphere
Shari Applebaum, Will Cotton

Shari Applebaum, Will Cotton.
Photo: BFA

Disembarking a flight to Aspen, a sign on the tarmac asks, “Have Everything?” It’s a call not to forget your laptop, neck pillow, or anything else on the airplane. In this case, though, it reminded me that there is virtually nothing that most people arriving to this American alpine village par excellence lack.

This is especially true since about a year ago when the Shigeru Ban-designed Aspen Art Museum opened its doors at the foot of Ajax Mountain.

For nearly a decade, the museum’s capital campaign has been the driving force behind ArtCrush, the institution’s three-day midsummer bacchanal honoring artists and wine. Now, with one of the more impressive American museum buildings of the new millennium having welcomed 90,000 visitors in its first year (in a town with a population of 5,000 that at most quintuples during peak seasons), there is a sustained cause for celebration in paradise.

Mickalene Thomas, Jeanne Greenberg-Rohatyn, Lorna Simpson, Adam Weinberg, Amy Cappellazzo

Mickalene Thomas, Jeanne Greenberg-Rohatyn, Lorna Simpson, Adam Weinberg, Amy Cappellazzo.
Photo: BFA

The museum’s director Heidi Zuckerman revealed this statistic during her welcoming remarks at Wednesday’s prelude gala WineCrush, held at the home of John and Amy Phelan. Range Rovers, G-Classes, and Bentleys rolled up crammed with collectors; museum directors like Adam Weinberg and Ann Philbin waltzed into the space that was filled with strains of soft rock and hair metal. These regulars on the art world circuit were upstaged only by reality television star Kris Jenner who came with Joyce Bonelli—the Jenner family’s long-standing make-up artist—who, as the creator of the Kardashian facade, has made a profound mark on visual culture.

Also in attendance was a smattering of artists who have made their impact on visual culture in the more traditional manner, like Jessica Stockholder, Rodney McMillian, Simon Denny, and this years recipient of the Aspen Award for Art, Lorna Simpson.


Heidi Zuckerman and Lorna Simpson.
Photo: Kevin McGarry.

The morning following WineCrush, Zuckerman and Simpson led an 8am hike looping high up the mountain and around town. The path back to base, still a mile and a half in elevation, was dotted with locals and collectors alike (the Rubells were there) wearing Lululemon and enjoying their morning cardio or walking their dogs.

At the hottest point of the day, parties criss-crossed the valley to visit private collections and, of course, the museum, whose lead exhibition this summer is a reconfigured hang of the popular “Chris Ofili: Night and Day” retrospective that debuted at the New Museum.

With five discrete galleries devoted to his work (there are four additional works in this show), each fosters a kind of meditative space for taking in their phenomenological and spiritual largesse. The Ofili show is complemented by a group show in the museum’s basement gallery, “Spirit Photography,” which offers a suite of miniature prints taken mostly in the 1930s (but some as recently as 1977) depicting ethereal streaks, shades, and smokes that evoke the presence of ghostly subjects.

Lorna Simpson, Mickalene Thomas, Will Cotton

Lorna Simpson, Mickalene Thomas, Will Cotton.
Photo: BFA

On Friday, the week’s main event, ArtCrush, drew everyone to the grounds of the former museum beside the John Denver Sanctuary, where four tents were erected for each phase of the fundraiser. Things began with the mutually beneficial combination of rare wines and silent bidding, but works donated by Mary Weatherford, Ian Wallace, Betty Woodman and the like looked good even without liquid courage.

Amy Phelan, Lance Armstrong, Anna Hansen, Heidi Zuckerman, John Phelan

Amy Phelan, Lance Armstrong, Anna Hansen, Heidi Zuckerman, John Phelan.
Photo: BFA

For dinner, six hundred guests were corralled into the largest tent of all. There, Simpson received her award and a ten-lot live auction commenced as DJ Amy Phelan played Nicki Minaj’s “Bottoms Up.” Some of the remarkable outcomes of the auction included an outsize Carol Bove canvas covered in peacock feathers—introduced with the music of Katy Perry’s fight song, “Peacock”—which sold for $300,000. And, as the coup de grace, a Lorna Simpson work sold, near its estimate, for $200,000.

Shari Applebaum, Richard Phillips, Art-mosphere

Shari Applebaum, Richard Phillips, Art-mosphere.
Photo: BFA

Like an art fair, a destination gala can feel a bit like Groundhog Day—another year, another table setting concept, another volley of questions about arrivals and departures that feel uncannily monotonous. What works about Art Crush, apart from having raised enough money over the years to build such a beautiful building (and continues to—this year, it raised $2.5 million), is that it’s amusing and bizarre, occupying a parallel reality equally American and international, uber quaint and uber exclusive, and just about the most fun you’ll have with the art world in the mountains.

For related coverage, see:

Aspen House of Gonzo Legend Hunter S. Thompson to Become Museum

Aspen Art Museum Charged with Construction Violations as Opening Looms

Protests Surround Cai Guo-Qiang’s Tortoise Abuse at Aspen Art Museum

Aspen Art Museum Removes iPad-Toting Tortoises

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