Seven years since its conception, the new Aspen Art Museum opens this weekend with a 24-hour gala celebration featuring performance art, music, dream analysis and a group of tortoises with iPads strapped to their backs wandering about replaying digital footage of Colorado ghost towns.
 
Designed by renowned, Pritzker Prize-winning architect Shigeru Ban, the lattice-surrounded cube cost $45 million to build.  
 
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper cut the ribbon on the museum last weekend.   
 
“The very building itself sings out art,” Hickenlooper says.
 
And, while the museum’s director and patrons are elated at how the building looks, the reaction in town has ranged from ridicule to open hostility.
 
For months leading up to the museum’s opening, Aspen’s two daily newspapers have run angry missives from locals who dislike the new edifice.  
Andy Stone, a former editor of the biggest daily, the Aspen Times, is leading the charge.  
 
Stone says that the building is the result of a “kind of madness that comes around here from time to time and results in some terrible, terrible decisions and terrible buildings.”
 
Going one step further, Aspen artist and legislative candidate Lee Mulcahy has offered a reward of $100 to anyone who climbs the exterior of the museum.
 
“It’s a wild west bounty for the first citizen outlaw that scales the skyscraper,” Mulcahy says.
 
For years, the Aspen Art Museum, which is devoted to contemporary art, was located in a much smaller building outside of Aspen’s central core.  
The new museum is three times as large as its predecessor and sits right in the historic downtown area.
 
Ban’s design demands attention. Its contemporary, wood-latticed facade stands out against Aspen’s brick-faced, late 19th century buildings.  
 
Ban has won major awards for his work designing low-cost housing and public buildings in developing countries. The Aspen Art Museum is Ban’s first museum project to date.  
 
The building illustrates the designer’s interest in everyday materials.  Cardboard tubing runs throughout the museum’s ceilings and walls.  The outer lattice envelope is made of plywood.  
 
Natural light fills most of the common spaces inside the building including the exhibition galleries.  
 
The six galleries are divested of any obvious design features.  The walls are white and bare. There are no outlets, switches or sensors.
 
“They are preserved as a sacred space for the presentation of art,” museum director Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson says. “Because of that, you as a viewer feel very safe and comfortable in the spaces and are therefore open to the possibilities of transcendence that happens when art really works.”
 
All the fuss over the new building is expected according to Jacobson.  
 
“No one liked the Guggenheim in New York when that opened and no one liked the Pompidou in Paris when that opened,” Zuckerman says. “If everyone agreed on everything, life would be boring.”
 

Roger Adams is the news director for Aspen Public Radio and has been a public radio reporter since 1981.