Aspen Institute appoints first director of Bayer Center
The Aspen Institute has appointed art historian and curator James Merle Thomas as the first executive director of the new Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies.
The Institute announced the news Thursday.
Thomas, currently a professor at Temple University, will move to Aspen full-time this fall to start working.
“Coming here to realize the vision of the center is a truly exciting opportunity, not just for me personally, but at this time of inflection in the Institute and its history and for this community,” Thomas, 44, said at the week last at a press conference. campus tour.
Institute supporters Lynda and Stewart Resnick, co-owners of The Wonderful Company, donated $ 10 million in the summer of 2019 to establish and build a center dedicated to the life and work of Bayer. A second donation of an undisclosed amount this year filled the post of Managing Director.
Construction is underway on the east side of the campus, next to the Boettcher Seminary Building, which was the last Bayer-designed structure added to the campus. Most residents of the Aspen area got a glimpse of the Bayer Center’s progress this spring as public COVID-19 vaccinations were administered at the site’s parking lot, shared with the Aspen Music Festival.
The building is slated for completion this winter, including the installation of a newly fabricated interpretation of Bayer’s “Chromatic Doors” serving as the entrance to the property. The first exhibitions and public programming should begin in the summer of 2022.
Bayer – a Bauhaus master who designed the Institute’s campus, buildings, sculptures, parks and earthworks – lived and worked in Aspen from 1946 to 1975. A multidisciplinary artist, he hand-shaped the landscape physical and cultural life of the city reborn after WWII, transforming Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke’s utopian ‘idea of Aspen’ into a physical reality.
Thomas’ academic expertise is in post-war art and media, but his work has been interdisciplinary in the Bayer tradition, extending beyond academia into the public domain of museums and social spaces. . He worked with influential Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor to organize biennials in Seville and Gwangju and collaborated with artist Walead Beshty to publish the anthology “Picture Industry”, spanning art, photography and imagery. technical since 1844. In Philadelphia, he is also curator for the nonprofit Slought for Social Justice and was US State Department Art Envoy in Iceland.
“Bayer was so multidisciplinary that we knew we wanted someone who could think that way,” said Bernard Jazzar, curator of the Resnicks private art collection, who was part of the research committee that selected Thomas and who will organize the opening exhibition at the center. “We didn’t want to limit ourselves to someone who could look at the paintings and the architecture, which is very narrow. You hear Jim talk about his ideas and it’s so exciting.
Thomas hopes to use his interdisciplinary experiences to make the center more than an exhibition space for Bayer’s works.
“One of the things that really excited me from my first conversations with everyone across the Institute is that it’s not just a museum, it’s not a mausoleum or a shrine for a person, ”he said.
Institute President and CEO Dan Porterfield said in the announcement that the center will be “deeply connected to the Aspen community with free access and programming for all.” Thomas, he added, “will become an active partner of the Institute’s programs and the vibrant arts and education communities of the Roaring Fork Valley region, and translate Bayer’s interdisciplinary vision into an inclusive contemporary program that is extends beyond our campus and into the world at large ”.
Emerging from the pandemic and launched in the wake of the seismic social movements of our time, a new institution like the Bayer Center, Thomas argued, can help redefine how a museum works and its role in society locally and globally. .
“We are at a time when we wonder what a museum can do, what a university can do, what an institute can do,” he said. “It’s really exciting to think about what role do art, design and architecture play right now if they exist in some sort of silo and out of public conversation? “
As a new entity, it can be imagined in a new way without the baggage of the old ways, he argued.
“I think the center is uniquely placed to reflect on these issues, so that if it was strictly a museum it might be more difficult – museums are really struggling with this, they have historically been really closed, ”he said. “Thinking about opening up this model is a really exciting way to do it. “
As the centre’s first director, Thomas’ vision will shape his as yet undefined mission. It is supposed to preserve and promote the work of Bayer, but the content of its collection is still undetermined. In addition to the exhibits, Thomas wants the center to actively pursue Bayer’s ideas and build on the enthusiasm of the 2019 Bauhaus 100 celebrations here and around the world.
“We can start to think about not only the story of Herbert Bayer, but how it’s also a story about Aspen, it’s a story about design, about art issues, about design, architecture – the very interdisciplinary way these things came together here. via Bayer, ”Thomas said. “The center is well positioned to extend this story to a wider conversation, be it the festival of ideas, other activities on campus, in dialogue with other types of initiatives taking place in the valley. It ends up being a much more compelling, inclusive, and expansive story than just talking about beautiful works of art. “
The playful creativity of Bayer and the Bauhaus – and the sometimes crazy spirit of the Bauhaus and Aspen events like the Bauhaus Ball – are key elements in the success of the new center.
“It’s an open, fun and exhilarating project,” said Thomas. “The sense of joy, creativity and play that is absolutely evident in Bayer’s work, we have to push forward as we envision what the center is. If it is too sober and too cloistered, it is not a guarantee of success.
As he begins fieldwork here this fall, Thomas wants to meet with the residents, staff and administrators of the Institute and anyone interested in the new center. He plans to build on his work in organizing biennial exhibitions as he begins to shape the programs at the Bayer Center. Doing a biennial, he noted, meant going beyond the exhibition to host lectures and produce a lecture, organizing educational and children’s programs, film screenings, an outdoor cafe, publishing books and a catalog. He hopes for similar productions here but unlike these globetrottering events, once that is done, his team won’t be packing their bags and heading home.
“We are all collectively engaged in a long-term construction process,” he said. “Of course, we’ll have this exciting energy for the first 12-18 months at the center. But that doesn’t have to go away, we’re actually building something that we can continue to expand.