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Galerie Maximillian celebrates 25 years in Aspen

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Anna Stonehouse
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Courtesy of Galerie Maximillian
Galerie Maximillian founder and owner Albert Sanford stands among artworks in the gallery located in downtown Aspen. Sanford opened the gallery in June of 1997 and celebrated the silver anniversary with a festive bash in late December of 2022.

As canine greeter Lucy let out a bark in Aspen’s Galerie Maximillian, gallery owner and founder Albert Sanford was focused on the now and on what’s next more than he was thinking about history.

“I don't think too much about the past,” Sanford said in an interview in the gallery in early December, surrounded by artworks by artists like Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro, Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse. “I try to stay very present and focused on the future.”

But he has plenty of reason to be reflecting on the past, too. Galerie Maximillan celebrated its silver anniversary with a festive bash last week in a buzzing room filled with community members connected to Aspen’s fine art scene.

“It's just a little surreal to me to be in business that long anywhere, let alone Aspen, which can be a tough place to conduct business,” Sanford said. “So I'm really proud of what we've accomplished in the last 25 years, I'm proud to be a part of this community. I moved here to be part of the community.”

The space has been home to works by 20th century European masters for as long as it’s been home base to canine ambassadors. Lucy and fellow pup Hank are the latest dogs-in-residence; Sanford named the gallery “Maximillian” after his Yorkshire terrier two and a half decades ago because he thought the name sounded prestigious enough to appeal to European fine art collectors.

The Picassos and Matisses in the gallery now aren’t such a stretch from Galerie Maximillian’s early days. Sanford moved to Aspen in 1997 with his wife Dorothy Wildman and opened the gallery that June with the help of longtime local (and, later, gallery director) Anne Chapman. (By way of disclosure, Chapman is married to Aspen Public Radio’s news director, Brent Gardner-Smith.)

Around 2004, the focus shifted to the “YBAs,” young British artists like Damien Hirst and Paul Morrisson. Now, modern American artists like Andy Warhol are in the collection too.

Sanford, who asserts that he is “first and foremost a collector, and secondly, a dealer,” said the gallery is a reflection of his own tastes and how they’ve changed. But he has also seen shifts in the clientele, and in the art world at large.

“We've gotten into some of the new voices in contemporary art, the diverse voices or new voices, which are artists of color, female artists,” he said. “Those two areas have exploded in the last five to 10 years.”

Those new voices include artists like Nina Chanel Abney, Charles Gaines and Rashid Johnson, who designed the art that appears on this season’s Aspen Snowmass lift tickets and passes.

“Galleries are now seeking more and more diverse voices in their program,” Sanford said. “I've always grown up in this environment of, ‘Well, you can't sell it if you don't show it.’ So if you show it, it must be worth acquiring, because why would this gallery in the middle of Aspen, Colorado, one of the most desirable locations in the world, why would they show that if it wasn't important or relevant, or something that people wanted to buy?”

Galerie Maximillian isn’t the only show in town for contemporary art. Galleries appear on nearly every block of Aspen’s downtown core, and in recent years, Aspen has seen an influx of dealers with international cachet like Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Almine Rech.

“I think that Aspen has always been, as we know, this sort of curious melting pot of nature, outdoor activities, culture, of intellectual pursuit, the Institute, and I think that the commercial art scene has sort of existed within that, but also kind of on the periphery of that,” Sanford said.

Sanford sees the commercial art scene as part of Aspen’s retail and shopping fabric more than it is woven into the creative community so often mentioned in the same breath with the “mind, body and spirit” of the Aspen Idea.

“It doesn't really operate in harmony with those institutions,” Sanford said. “For the most part, I think it just does its own thing.”

Sanford recognizes, too, that dealing in Picasso and Matisse is a different ball game than selling work by names that might be more familiar on the local scene.

But Sanford maintains there are opportunities to engage with the gallery even if you don’t have the budget for, say, a collection of eight original Warhol silkscreens.

“We have always believed that our main role as an art gallery is to educate people,” he said, and the light and bright space is meant to welcome people in, not intimidate them.

“We have amazing works, historical works,” Sanford said. At Galerie Maximillian, he gets to show them off.

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Kaya Williams is the Edlis Neeson Arts and Culture Reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering the vibrant creative and cultural scene in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley. She studied journalism and history at Boston University, where she also worked for WBUR, WGBH, The Boston Globe and her beloved college newspaper, The Daily Free Press. Williams joins the team after a stint at The Aspen Times, where she reported on Snowmass Village, education, mental health, food, the ski industry, arts and culture and other general assignment stories.