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The Aspen Art Museum: Cultural Icon or Giant Waffle Fry?

In a year marked by epic ski town controversies, the newly-opened Aspen Art Museum has already made its share of headlines. Love it or hate it, the $45 million, 33,000-square-foot, latticed structure on Hyman Avenue is here to stay. Following last week's series of grand opening events (dubbed "Tortisegate" by irate, animal-loving locals and national protestors), public outcry- the dissenters included Aspen's former mayor/growth control advocate Stacy Standley- and weekend fêtes (silent disco, anyone?), Curbed Ski hit the streets to see how folks were feeling about ski country's most buzzed-about cultural attraction.

One of the biggest issues residents have with the Shigeru Ban-designed building is its distinctive latticed exterior and luminesecent, wrap-around letters. While local climbers have already found it a useful way to stay in shape, most residents aren't as willing to make lemonades out of wood-laminate basket-weave. Nor are they willing to give their names.

"It looks like a giant waffle fry." -Aspen resident

"I didn't think it could get any uglier until they put those letters up. I'm still planning to visit, but it looks like a picnic basket." -Aspen resident

"I think it's the most hideous thing in town." -Aspen resident

"I went to the opening, and I found the Humanitarian Architecture exhibit (by architect Shigeru Ban) inspired. I also think the kindest thing ever is that the museum has a cafe with public roof space."-Shawn Tonozzi, Guest Services, Hotel Jerome.

"I'm not a fan. It's big, it's ugly, I don't agree with what they're doing with those tortises, taking a sea creature and sticking it at 8,000 feet [Curbed Ski would like to note that while attaching iPad's to reptiles is indeed controversial, this commenter should really get their taxonomy facts straight]. I don't know if I'll go or do a boycott, instead." -Aspen resident

"I think the original proposal for the space- a mix of retails, affordable housing, and penthouse- was a great formula for Aspen- I'm pretty into the land use/development process, and I think the museum is a waste of space. We have a place for this type of structure at the Rio Grand Place Visitors Center and John Denver Sanctuary. I don't think the museum fits in its present location. It's beautiful, but it's another testament to choosing [new neighboring business] Lululemon over The Gap." -Cody Horn, 22, lifetime Aspen resident

Curbed Ski made repeated attempts to interview tourists, but none were aware of the new museum. In fact, a group of four were standing in front of the building when approached for comment:

(Looking up). "It's great, but are they going to have a sign? I don't even know how to get in." -Tourist from Pittsburgh

"My first reaction is that is doesn't fit with my experience in Aspen. I've been coming here since 1963; this building is what you visit an urban center for, not the mountains." -Tourist from Pittsburgh's husband

Most interesting was that the dismay over the museum's design was multi-generational, although some forward-thinking youngsters were able to embrace the idea of a new and urbanized Aspen:

"I think it's a great piece of architecture, but it's big and doesn't belong in Aspen. The screen (lattice) is a little odd." Sam Blakeslee, 14, Aspen resident

"I think it's very cool and modern; it's pretty awesome. Some of the art kind of confused me [You're not alone, Alex]." - Alex, 13, visiting from Berkeley, CA.

It should be noted that the teens quoted above were part of a group attending the museum's inaugural Architecture Workshop, a week-long series of summer camps devoted to different themes and age groups.

Local gallery employees and owners also weighed in:

"I moved into my space (across the street) in November. The construction process (for the museum) was horrible through June, but I'm very happy it's open. It's brought clients in, and we've sold two pieces since the opening. I also think it's very Aspen. We're a little edgy here- why does everything have to look a certain way? We're not Jackson Hole; why do we have to be cowboy?" -Ken Johnson, owner, E.S. Lawrence Gallery

"I love the architecture and the controversy. It's the most exciting thing to talk about until they find something else to talk about." -Anonymous

"People keep ragging on the fact that it's taking away from Aspen, but things change. Do I like the fact that a waffle fry is in the center of town? No. But do I think we need to make the most of it? Yes." -Mattias, Head Bartender, J-Bar, Hotel Jerome


· Animal Abuse or Art? Vote Now on Aspen's Tortisegate [Curbed Ski Archives]
· How Cardboard King Shigeru Ban Designs an Art Museum [Curbed National]
· The Aspen Art Museum Opens Doors with a Bang [The Aspen Times]