Powers Art Center: Contemporary Museum In A Cow Pasture

Aug 13, 2014

The Powers Art Center sits in the middle of a cow pasture near Carbondale. It features the work of contemporary artist Jasper Johns.
Credit Marci Krivonen

While everyone’s eyes have been on the opening of the Aspen Art Museum, another local art center opened this summer. The Powers Art Center near Carbondale features the work of just one artist, Jasper Johns, an influential and highly recognized pop artist. As Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports, the building that houses Johns’ works is artwork, itself.

The Powers Art Center is located in a large cow pasture off of Highway 82. It’s not visible from the road and the entrance is somewhat covert. On the way in, you pass cattleguards and old rusting farm implements and then the Center comes into view.

Reporter: "When I walked up here I was completely surprised by the structure itself. I wasn’t expecting such a grand, beautiful building. Is that the reaction you’re getting from a lot of people?"

Credit Marci Krivonen

Melissa: "I call it the ‘wow factor,’ I mean they really can’t believe it. It’s so well-received."

That’s Melissa English, director of the art center.

"You drive up into this cow pasture and there’s this incredible contemporary art museum that’s sitting in the middle of 35 acres and they just come in this morning and they can’t hardly speak," she adds.

The building’s architect is Hiroshi Nanamori of Japan. The exterior minimalist design includes a serene reflecting pool and a pergola that frames Mount Sopris.

Since it opened to the public on July 7th, word has gotten out. English is now hosting between 25 and 35 people every day.

"I’ve had lots of local visitors from Carbondale and then a lot of people who have their second home here. So, they’re from Houston, maybe but they have their second home here."

Credit Marci Krivonen

The center is free to visit and it was created in memory of John Powers, a long-time Roaring Fork Valley resident who died in 1999. It’s a family effort. Powers’ wife Kimiko sits on the board of the foundation that funds the Center.

Powers was the head of a major publishing company until his late 40’s when he decided to leave what he called a “mundane existence.” He went on to collect art and he befriended Jasper Johns.

"He was involved in collecting pop art when it was just emerging in the 1960s in New York," says English. "And, not only did he collect but he was friends with a lot of the pop artists. And, that’s one of the reasons the museum’s dedicated to Jasper Johns."

Johns is known for his pieces that feature maps, flags and targets. He helped usher in pop art and Minimalism in the 1960s and the meaning of his prints and paintings are the subject of much debate.

In the Powers Art Center five galleries exhibit Johns’ works on paper. Director Melissa English leads me to one upstairs and points out some of the pieces.

When people visit the museum near Carbondale, English says she doesn’t explain the paintings but instead allows people to react to the work on their own.

"That’s the way Jasper approached his art. He said it wasn’t his job to put his emotions or feelings into the painting. He’s the artist and you should study the art and take out of it what it means to you."

In the future, the center hopes to hold classes on pop art for community members and build relationships with teachers, to encourage local school children to visit as part of their curriculum.