Three years ago, when Aspen celebrated the centennial of the founding of the Bauhaus, the spotlight was on Austrian-born Herbert Bayer, who attended and taught at the influential German modernist art school. That’s because after Bayer moved here in 1946, at the invitation of Aspen booster Walter Paepcke, he developed a long-lasting aesthetic and practical vision for the town’s revival as a ski resort and cultural center.
Among his many local projects, Bayer designed buildings and outdoor art installations for the Aspen Institute’s 40-acre campus, renovated the Wheeler Opera House and the Hotel Jerome, helped found the Aspen Historical Society and the Historic Preservation Commission, and created original artworks in his Red Mountain studio. Now, the testimony to this artist’s ongoing legacy culminates with the June opening of the Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies at the Aspen Institute and its inaugural exhibition, Herbert Bayer: An Introduction.
“It’s more than a gallery and more than a museum,” says executive director James Merle Thomas, who explains that the center will facilitate research on Bayer as well as provide an ongoing context for his work. That includes showcasing other artists who, like Bayer, were influenced by the Bauhaus’s functional, egalitarian design philosophy.
The current exhibition, organized chronologically by decade from the 1920s to the 1980s, provides an excellent overview of Bayer’s prolific output, which includes paintings, works on paper, photography, sculpture, graphic design, and tapestries. Many pieces reflect Bayer’s exploration of geometry and proportion and his strong affinity for the natural world. Bernard Jazzar assembled the show; he also curates the extensive private art collection of part-time Aspenites Lynda and Stewart Resnick, the Bayer Center’s benefactors.
Exploring Bayer’s art is hardly novel for the Aspen Institute, which has long exhibited his work elsewhere on the campus. But this new, museum-grade display environment can accommodate pieces borrowed from other institutions, too, resulting in “a once-in-several-decades opportunity to see all of this art together,” notes Thomas.
The building itself echoes its namesake’s artistic style. In his architecture, Bayer aimed for functional, minimalist exteriors that incorporate—and defer to—the surrounding landscape. Architect Jeffrey Berkus took a similar tack with the Bayer Center, though he says he was influenced more by Bayer’s artwork than his architecture.
Inspired by an original piece, Geometric Scheme 1, that he purchased from Bayer himself many years ago, Berkus based his design on squares, circles, and the “golden section,” or ratio, which he says permeated the artist’s work. The goal? A building that’s “a physical representation of the energy in his art,” says Berkus, who has worked on several other Aspen Institute buildings.
He designed the exhibition space around a light-driven progression that leads viewers from gallery to gallery indoors while allowing them to remain connected to nature. “Every time you turn a corner in this building, there’s a piece of natural light,” explains Berkus, who used chimney-like skylights to funnel the sun into below-grade galleries. The floor plan also incorporates linked geometries so that viewers move from square to golden section and back again—a flow Berkus likens to the way one’s eye is directed while viewing a Bayer painting.
Linked to the Bayer Center—both conceptually and literally—is the adjacent Boettcher Seminar Building, built in 1973 as Bayer’s final architecture project for the Aspen Institute. In need of an upgrade to replace aging infrastructure, the building was overhauled concurrently with the new construction next door. Aspen firm Rowland+Broughton, which also served as the local architect of record for the Bayer Center, led the renovation, financed by the Bezos Family Foundation (founded by the parents of Amazon’s executive chairman). The aim was “to bring some life into it,” says architect Sarah Broughton, as well as maintain the spirit of the design with more weather-resistant materials and improved energy efficiency.
The formerly open central courtyard has been enclosed, with a translucent ceiling that lets light pour in. The rest of the building received a refresh, including the signature octagonal conference rooms around the courtyard; in one of them, a mesmerizing collection of Henri Cartier-Bresson photographs lines the walls, curated by Bayer Center associate director Lissa Ballinger.
Outside, a walkway connects the two buildings, part of another golden section. A pattern of lines etched into the concrete mirrors part of the painting Amphora Blue, which hangs in the Bayer Center’s lobby—“just enough lines so the observer would understand what it was,” says Berkus. It’s meant to evoke a Bayer painting in progress.
Set between the Aspen Center for Physics and the Benedict Music Tent (neither is part of the Aspen Institute), the Bayer Center and the refurbished Boettcher Seminar Building are poised to rejuvenate this previously overlooked corner of the institute’s 40-acre Aspen Meadows campus. A set of steel gates, created from a Bayer design and powder-coated in the primary colors favored by the Bauhaus, marks the entrance. Their size and scale were carefully considered to fit within the neighborhood and the landscape, says Broughton (who also happens to live across the street).
“Now there’s more of a presence from this side,” she adds, referring to the campus’s two entrances, “but in a really quiet way.” Just as Bayer would have liked it.
Herbert Bayer: An Introduction
June 26–Dec 3
Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies
610 Gillespie Ave, Aspen