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Aspen Art Museum Invites Eights Artists for Group Exhibition
Allora & Calzadilla, Hope Hippo, 2005. Mud, whistle, daily newspaper, live person. Courtesy of the artists and Lisson Gallery, London. Photo: Giorgio Boata.

ASPEN, CO.- The Aspen Art Museum debuted a group exhibition, Restless Empathy, which will remain on view through Sunday, July 18, 2010.

For Restless Empathy, the Aspen Art Museum has invited eight artists—Allora & Calzadilla, Pawel Althamer, Marc Bijl, Lara Favaretto, Geof Oppenheimer, Lars Ø. Ramberg, Frances Stark, and Mark Wallinger—to create new projects or rethink existing bodies of work throughout the museum and the town of Aspen itself. While representing a wide range of practices and frames of reference, these artists share a capacity for creating and exploring empathy in unexpected ways. Bringing together artists who approach the idea of the poetic, either through material, language, or gesture, Restless Empathy examines the complex process of entering the interior world of another—whether artist, viewer, or object—and seeking to make a connection.

The notion of the viewer “completing” a work of art usually involves a demand placed upon the audience. Recently, with artworks often grouped under the term Relational Aesthetics, the viewer becomes instrumentalized within the work itself. Rather than use people as a medium, however, the artists in Restless Empathy make markedly generous gestures toward the public, creating a space for unexpected experience through work characterized by a deep sincerity and moments of intimate surprise.

Restlessness is having an uneasy, unsettled heart, mind, or physical body. Empathy is understanding the emotions of another. To be restlessly empathetic is to wander amongst the feelings of others and alternately reflect upon one’s own emotions. Restless empathy allows commonalities and differences among people to be highlighted through an interaction with situations or objects. Much like restlessness is difficult to control, empathy cannot be dictated. These open-ended interactions are the goal of the Restless Empathy exhibition. They are non-biased, non-prescribed, non-mandatory—yet filled with opportunity.

Furthering the Aspen Art Museum’s commitment to presenting art in unexpected places and removing barriers to contemporary art—cemented by its decision to admit all visitors free of charge—this exhibition challenges expectations of permanence and monumentality in art that addresses the public. In no way intended to be an exhibition of “public art” in any thematic sense, Restless Empathy broadly explores relationships between aesthetics, space, locality, and modes of address.

Allora & Calzadilla have created a new version of their Hope Hippo (only exhibited once previously at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005) made from local materials. A volunteert will be seated atop the hippo at all times reading a newspaper and supplied with a whistle, which they will blow each time they come across a story that they feel exposes or illuminates an injustice.

Pawel Althamer’s sculpture Guma (2008) comes out of his experience teaching “Einstein Seminars,” physics classes the artist taught for underprivileged youth in his hometown in Poland. The figure depicted in the sculpture is the so-called “town drunk,” who was often a fixture outside the classroom and occasionally participated—becoming an unofficial mascot for class attendees. When the man died, Althamer created the sculpture as a non-traditional memorial—highlighting the processes by which we remember or eulogize the departed.

Marc Bijl’s project involves two identical sculptural interventions, one placed on the grounds of the Aspen Art Museum and, one placed on the campus of the Aspen Institute. For both works, Bijl has constructed a six-foot-square corrugated aluminum fence on which the following Albert Schweitzer quote is spray-painted: "Everything deep is also simple and can be reproduced simply as long as its reference to the whole truth is maintained."

Schweitzer’s only visit to the United States took place in July 1949 when he was featured as a guest speaker at the “Goethe Bicentennial Celebration” in Aspen. This event began the tradition of gathering great thinkers (as well as great musicians) together in Aspen, and directly resulted in both the founding of the Aspen Music Festival and the Aspen Institute. Bijl’s choice relates to Schweitzer’s empathetic understanding of philosophy. Rather than viewing philosophy as elitist and removed, Bijl proposes that the practice is accessible and immediate. For him, the quote refers to the idea that very big ideas begin with very small and basic ones, and are then expanded. It is this search for truth that unites us as humans.

Lara Favaretto is exhibiting a canvas-covered merry-go-round in the AAM Lower Gallery. The merry-go-round is accepted as a symbol of youthful fun. Entitled Cominció ch’era Finite (It Began When It Was Over), [2006], Favaretto’s version spins so rapidly that it appears out of control, causing the canvas flaps installed around its sides to repeatedly and disquietingly strike a column erected within the exhibition space. Favaretto’s piece plays on the excitement one feels in seeing an active object in the gallery, the dismay one feels in not being able to participate with it as originally hoped, and the subsequent, yet altered, interest one experiences as a result of the interaction with the piece.

Geof Oppenheimer presents two newly commissioned works. The first, Public Address (2010), is a series of nine slip-cast ceramic microphones on stands, recalling those typically found in press conferences and on speaker podiums. By casting the microphones in ceramic they become formally elegant, but ultimately un-functional, underscoring the finely crafted, but ultimately hollow, conditions that now surround public discourse. The second work, The Morally Ambiguous Precedent of Abstraction, Police press conference Chicago Illinois 2008 (2009), is a large photographic abstraction created from an image of a stage curtain from a Chicago Police press conference.

Lars Ø. Ramberg’s project uses the late journalist Hunter S. Thompson as a platform for addressing the concept of empathy. Thompson was a longtime Aspen resident who ran for Sheriff in 1970. He committed suicide at his home in nearby Woody Creek in 2005. Ramberg proposes to create memorial benches for Hunter S. Thompson based on the standardized memorial benches that are commonplace throughout town. The benches will be installed throughout Aspen, each including quotes from Thompson that will add up to a larger text that, characteristic of what Ramberg terms Thompson’s “warm anarchism,” upends the sentimentality associated with memorializing.

Frances Stark’s project for Restless Empathy I've Had It! and I’ve Also Had It! revolves around an Aspen-based musical comedy of 1951, I've Had It!, originally performed at the Wheeler Opera House. The musical is about people who work in the service industry in Aspen and pokes fun at the cultured audience of the music festival. In I've Had It!, a bellhop's potential bride gets a job working for a composer who has received a Guggenheim fellowship to compose a divertimento to be performed at the festival. She falls for the composer, annoying the bellhop, and with the help of his bartender friend, exposes the pretentious composer/girl-stealer as a fraud when the bartender, bellhop, and some bar musicians demonstrate that the divertimento is really a hit-parade song played backwards in front of a room full of important critics.

Stark’s I've Had It!, and I’ve Also Had It! project will not be a simple re-staging of the play, but a performance that engages I've Had It! as a regional historical reference while, at the same time, formally playing with some of the symmetrical tropes and tensions built into the premise of the musical. For the performance, Stark would design a new olio curtain that is also a scrim, thus allowing, through lighting, two performances—a Haydn divertimento written for two trios—to happen simultaneously.

Mark Wallinger presents a new site-specific photo-mural work at Aspen’s Gondola Plaza featuring the ubiquitous Aspen Mountain landscape, over which the text “AMERIKA” is superimposed. The work recalls the famous “HOLLYWOOD” sign in Los Angeles’s Hollywood Hills, as well as referencing Walter Paepcke’s “body, mind, spirit” inspiration Goethe, and his 1827 poem, AMERIKA—penned in the shadow of the U.S.’s adoption of the Monroe Doctrine (1823). In AMERIKA, Goethe envisions a young nation possessing the potential of existing unfettered in relation to a Europe consumed with historical, political and cultural determinism, and mired in notions of autocratic power. Goethe’s AMERIKA, translated into English, reads:

America, you've got it better
Than our old continent. Exult!
You have no decaying castles
And no basalt.
Your heart is not troubled,
In lively pursuits,
By useless old remembrance
And empty disputes

So use the present day with luck!
And when your child a poem writes,
Protect him, with his skill and pluck,
From tales of bandits, ghosts and knights.

AMERIKA was also the title given to Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel by friend, editor, and literary executor Max Brod, who assembled the author’s incomplete manuscript and published it the year after Kafka’s death in 1926. The book’s genesis was the short story (and the book’s first chapter) entitled The Stoker, which tells the story of a young European man’s forced emigration to the U.S. following a paternity scandal.

The Aspen Art Museum | "Restless Empathy" | Allora & Calzadilla | Pawel Althamer | Marc Bijl |

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