The Local newsletter is your free, daily guide to life in Colorado. For locals, by locals. Sign up today!
Between 1940 to 1950, Aspen evolved from a sleepy mountain town into an international destination for recreation, sport, and culture. The Austrian artist Herbert Bayer, first came to Aspen in 1945, and was commissioned by industrialist Walter Paepcke, who later founded the Aspen Institute and Aspen Skiing Company, to transform the town into “a total work of art.”
On June 26, the new Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies, more often known simply as the Bayer Center, opened its doors in honor of the man who spent more than 30 years creating Aspen’s aesthetic. Located on the campus of the Aspen Institute, whose buildings Bayer designed, the center’s inaugural exhibition, Herbert Bayer: An Introduction, showcases his works from the 1910s through the mid-1980s.
Curated by Bernard Jazzar, a Bayer scholar and the center’s resident curator, Herbert Bayer: An Introduction takes visitors on a visual journey of Bayer’s artistic career, highlighting sketches he made as a teenager, his time mastering the principles of the Bauhaus, his tenure in Aspen, and his final paintings created in California, where he died in 1985. The exhibition will be on display until December.
Trained at the influential Bauhaus art school in Germany, Bayer nearly single-handedly constructed Aspen’s physical and cultural landscape, which became a favorite destination for seminal midcentury artists such as Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns.
“For an artist like Herbert Bayer, art wasn’t simply a pretty painting that hung in a corporate boardroom,” says James Merle Thomas, the executive director of the Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies. “But rather [it was] an intellectual sensibility that enabled total collaboration.”
The artist’s impact on the town’s built environment, which includes his design of the Aspen Institute among many homes and buildings, as well as the restoration of the town’s historic Victorian buildings, has solidified Bayer’s practical influence on the Aspen we see today. He painted “Ski Aspen” letterpress posters and the iconic aspen leaf used by Aspen Snowmass ski resort in its branding. (Fun fact: The giant yellow fry stack sculpture on South Broadway in Denver, officially titled “Articulated Wall,” was created by Bayer.)
Jeffrey Berkus Architects and Rowland + Broughton, a Denver-based architecture firm, designed the center, which was completed last year. Operating as a permanent home for Bayer’s works, the Bayer Center will provide the community with an educational space to learn, collaborate, and conduct research. “We are thinking about ways that the center can be a platform for questions around art, accessibility, and equity in the 21st century,” Thomas says.
Painter, illustrator, and co-founder of the Aspen Art Museum, Dick Carter, who worked under Bayer as an assistant throughout the 1970s, says some artists in Aspen remain unaware of Bayer’s far-reaching impact, and he anticipates the center will change that. “Working for him was a lucky break,” Carter says. “He was an incredibly prolific, powerful artist of all kinds of mediums, and this center will be great for setting the record straight and exposing Bayer’s wide talents.”
“One of the joys of launching the center is providing, for some people, a complete introduction to the story of Herbert Bayer,” Thomas says. “At the same time, it’s offering others a reintroduction to the modern story of Aspen.”
Herbert Bayer: An Introduction opened at the Bayer Center on June 26 on the Aspen Institute Campus. Free.