An unassuming museum has its fifth anniversary and celebrates it on brand: quietly and without fanfare.
The Powers Art Center reflecting pool and pergola frame Mount Sopris.
Five years after opening, the Powers Art Center and surrounding land—a 460-acre ranch outside of Carbondale—look mostly unchanged. From Highway 82, the museum’s private road still winds through sage, pinyon, juniper and a rusted gate to a cube-shaped sandstone building rising from a field of tall grass, ornamented only by a minimalist pergola over a granite terrace with a shallow reflecting pool.
Though a few visitors have complained that without a large sign on the highway, the museum is hard to find, about 2,000 people a year do make the pilgrimage. That means just 30 to 50 people a day in the summer, and fewer in the winter. “It’s still an intimate experience,” says Melissa English, the founding museum director. Visitors, including artists, serious collectors, museum lovers and the simply curious, are pleasantly surprised to find “a world-class art museum in a cow pasture” and no crowds, she says. During last year’s exhibition of Warhol flowers, every student at the Ross Montessori School in Carbondale visited.
The museum was conceived to show John and Kimiko Powers’ collection of work on paper by contemporary art star Jasper Johns. When it opened, it was one of the largest exclusively Johns collections in the country, and it remains so. In the first-floor gallery, there is an annual rotation of pieces by other artists the Powerses collected: Rauschenberg, Oldenburg and Warhol, and this year, Roy Lichtenstein. Lichtenstein’s cartoon-inspired Ben-Day dot blondes with ironic thought balloons and his Peace Through Chemistry series currently share the room with five paintings of the Rouen cathedral in France, which are Lichtenstein’s homage to Monet’s paintings of the cathedral 80 years earlier.
The second-floor gallery exclusively features Jasper Johns works.
Upstairs are the Jasper Johns works: stunning prints and limited-edition works on paper from a lifetime of art-making. The collection includes the now-iconic flags and targets, the paintbrushes in a Savarin coffee can, the hands and face print (Johns’ hands and face) paired with a John O’Hara poem, and paintings created in recent years yet never shown publicly.
And that’s what Kimiko intended. She and John began spending time in the Roaring Fork Valley in the 1960s, first at the invitation of the Aspen Institute. John, a successful attorney, publisher and then serious art collector, also sat on the Institute board and moderated seminars. They bought a house in Aspen, and then the ranch in Carbondale.
They became friends with the artists whose work they collected, and other pop art stars visited the valley. Warhol and Johns even bought property here, says English. Though that era ended with John’s death in 1999, Kimiko chose to honor his spirit by building a 15,000-square-foot museum on their ranch to make works from their private art collection public.
Johns, at 89, is still making work, and the RYOBI Foundation continues to acquire new limited-edition works on paper by him. The Johns collection has grown to more than 330 pieces, which rotate through the upper galleries, changing every year in June. 10am-3pm, Monday through Thursday, 13110 Highway 82, Carbondale
Photography by: photos by joel samuelson courtesy of powers art center