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Image: Aben

Art can be scary. There are few situations in which you can make a clod of yourself quicker than standing in front of a piece of art you don’t understand and saying the wrong thing about it. You may find yourself surrounded by people saying “ohh” and “ahh” and “juxtaposition” while you just want to scratch your head.

When the Aspen Art Museum was tucked away on the outskirts of town, it was easier to avoid getting yourself into such awkward positions. But now that the new museum sits right smack in the middle of Aspen, well, you’re much more likely to find yourself in a potentially sweat-inducing scenario.

But fear not. Use this handy guide to help you navigate the high-risk world of casual art commentary, and you’ll be declaring things “evocative” like a seasoned pro.


 


What you’re looking at:
A large canvas adorned with three stripes of muted colors.

What you want to say:
Seriously? That’s it? Some paint on a board! Looks like something my buddy Roscoe would do.

What you should say:
The Rothko influence is obviously very strong. The fact that the stripes are vertical rather than horizontal is particularly evocative.


 


What you’re looking at:
Five vintage wind-up alarm clocks cordoned off by yellow police “caution” tape. Four of the clocks are not running, are set to different times, and are facing different directions. The fifth clock is not only ticking, but the alarm is going off.

What you want to say:
I’ll be on the roof. They have a café there, right?

What you should say:
I’m getting both urgency and complacency from this work, which is a highly evocative juxtaposition. Are we out of time, or is there all the time in the world? I could both look at and listen to this piece all day. 


 


What you’re looking at:
A canvas hanging on the wall, but hanging with the (ostensibly) painted side against the wall, so you only see the back of the blank canvas. The artist’s signature is in the lower right corner. Next to it is a title card that reads, “Untitled.”

What you want to say:
If I installed your dishwasher backwards I’d be fired, but if I hang your painting backwards suddenly I’m a freakin’ genius millionaire?

What you should say:
Amazing! It really challenges our concept of what we are able to see. Have I mentioned yet how evocative it is? Because it is. It’s truly evocative. 


 


What you’re looking at:
Three metal garbage cans full of miscellaneous trash (empty hummus tubs, boxes labeled “cheese cubes”), a pile of two-by-four scraps, and a stack of three well-worn studded snow tires.

Wht you want to say:
Are you kidding me? This is art? It looks like I’m in the loading dock.

What you should say:
(Don’t say anything. You are actually in the loading dock. You’ve obviously become separated from your tour group.) 


 


What you’re looking at:
A frog, frozen mid-jump, encased in a red-hued crystal cube, which sits atop a pedestal. It’s titled, Amphibian There, Done That.

What you want to say:
I’m sorry, but a frog in a Jell-O mold isn’t art. It’s a ruined potluck dish.

What you should say:
This begins a conversation while also ending it. The pedestal represents progress, yet the frog facing to the left reminds us that times were once simpler. The red crystal is the rose-colored glass through which we tend to view the world. It’s evocative to the point of being provocative. 


 


What you’re looking at:
A piece of plywood covered with spatters of bright primary colors.

What you want to say:
It looks like a pinball machine ate a bunch of Hawaiian shirts and then threw up.

What you should say:
I’d love to have a piece this evocative in my guesthouse. That way my guests would be, you know, evoked. 


 


What you’re looking at:
A gigantic bowl of fruit hyper-realistically rendered from the taxidermied remains of various roadkill animals.

What you want to say:
What the eff?

What you should say:
Much as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle opened our eyes to the horrors of the slaughterhouse industry, this piece surely shines a revealing light on our incestuous relationship with Big Oil. Two words: E. Vocative. 


 


What you’re looking at:
A collection of magazine covers with a series of geometric shapes painted over them. Something about it actually intrigues you, and you find yourself wondering what the artist was attempting to convey. As you study it more, you begin to ponder why these particular magazine covers were chosen, as well as how they relate to the shapes that obscure them. You find yourself temporarily lost in this new language that the artist has created.

What you want to say:
Wow. This is kinda cool. I mean, it’s like it’s really simple, but it makes me feel like I’m reading a book that I don’t fully understand yet am still getting something from it. Does that sound weird?

What you should say:
Meh. Derivative.

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