Peter Halley, The Acid Test, 1991–92.

Aspen Art Report

When I walked in to David Floria Gallery the morning I left Aspen I had the sense I knew everything about Herbert Bayer, even though I actually knew very little. The creator of an all-lower-case typeface he used in Bauhaus publications called universal, Bayers life followed a trajectory from Bauhaus graphic designer to New York emigre to Aspen artist who worked in lithography, painting and sculpture – much of the first two categories of which owe palpable devotion to Wassily Kandinsky.

Bayer had been art director of Vogue magazines Berlin office. In 1937 works by him were included in the Nazi exhibition, “Degenerate Art.” He left Germany in 1938 for New York, where he married Joella Syrara Haweis, the daughter of Mina Loy (who died in Aspen, at 84, in 1966). Loy, possibly best known for her volume The Lost Lunar Baedecker, was a Dada poet and friend of Marcel Duchamp whose strange and sad life story involved the sudden and permanent disappearance of her love Arthur Cravan, himself a Dadaist and boxer who had taken on heavyweight Jack Johnson.

Herbert Bayer, seasonal reflections III, 1980 Gift of the Estate of Joella Bayer

Herbert Bayer, "Seasonal Reflections III", 1980 Gift of the Estate of Joella Bayer

Cravan vanished off the face of earth never to be seen again, in 1918, though the story goes that Loy spent decades searching and reimagining his reappearance.

Yet by way of backstory to Bayer, and a life from Germany through New York to Aspen, what else deserves to be said is that the work has that fresh hit of modernism that never really  ages. He got to Aspen in 1946, hired by Walter Paepcke whose gifts, among the public park named after him, was to promote the skiing destination. Bayer meanwhile continued his graphic design life by producing promotional posters, and the scale of his design tasks edged up too with his work co-designing Aspen Institute and Wheeler Opera House. Aspen Institiute this summer, according to Floria, is also showing works by Bayer, another image of whose appears on Aspen Music Festivals program cover this year. Peyton Wright Gallery in Santa Fe has also showed his works. Lineups like these serve to embed someone in the imagination at the same time that they lead me to query why it is we need three shows at a time to remember something. I was probably most taken with the lithographs that allowed the artist to try out his universal lexicon in a field that was notable for its edges. And I couldnt help but think about how the transcendentalists from New Mexico to California, most if not all of whom are now gone – Florence Pierce, Agnes Pelton, Raymond Jonson – discerned in the light and space of the West expansive fields that later on, in the new provinces of minimalism, eventually grew very fade. Im thinking ahead to writing next week on an Iranian heir to Agnes Martin, shown recently in Marfa, at Inde/Jacobs Gallery. Next week at this time.

Baldwin Gallery is banking on the new and even as it does so I am forced, dealing today with images of Peter Halleys that I saw in person to be the tiresome contemporary art teacher I once was urging on my students a critical mind that saw beyond the flatness of the slide and its tendency to correct all color for balance.

Halley does the opposite. He takes a cool tone and hottens it up. The pink of magenta prison is not as shown but rather pebbly as if he rake-combed it with a very small implement imagining a Japanese garden for the punk set. Is it bright! Yet amid so much color that is not shy of anything Halleys rigorousness is to contain the frame very strictly so that even on-looking you are meant to say to yourself can this escape that? He does title them “prisons” after all. Martha Stewart on acid dreaming  up cookbooks?

Next to Halley, Isca Greenfield-Sanderss work appears, well, a bit like an homage to early Eric Fischl that went slightly sweeter but lost a bit of the irony, and so risks being only so-so.

In Denver, what was perhaps most notable, apart from the heat and the rigors of giving a party, was that now the roof of Denver Art Museum is not only partially off–it is fully off! What a mess. I was there for the opening of DAM in 2006 with Conrad,  an architect of course, who liked the building a lot. He observed recently that as Libeskind was busy envisioning the building as a unified skin he failed to take into account that a roof doesnt function quite so impermeably as human skin. Indeed, not. Unusual for me, but inside DAM I have not suffered the vertigo that I have known others to experience inside the walls that bend in, cavelike, curve and bulge, and into which steeped staircases that obviously induce discomfort in many angle starkly upwards. This is a shame really as in the end what seemed like an experiment for Libeskind is a building Denver has to live with, roof on, roof off, and all. I understand the icy angular lofts that were built to go with the DAM are still for sale and have come down from a high price of around $400/sf to $250/sf.
Below, permit me: Purple mountains majesty. You betcha. (What I spent most of my time in Aspen, doing. Thanks, Herbert Bayer, and to all my excellent pals who know exactly who they are, most of the time.)

Top Photo: Peter Halley, “The Acid Test, 1991″“92”. Synthetic polymer on canvas, 90 1/8 × 182 5/16 in. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
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