Zombies invade new Aspen Art Museum exhibition | PostIndependent.com

Zombies invade new Aspen Art Museum exhibition

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times

The undead have taken over the basement of the Aspen Art Museum this winter.

A group exhibition of 27 works by 24 artists, “Zombies: Pay Attention!” will open at the museum today.

Inspired by Max Brooks’ best-selling book “The Zombie Survival Guide,” museum director Zuckerman wanted the show to be a playful, accessible offering for the zombie-loving masses, but also aimed to give visitors some serious ideas.

“The primary or most available reading for this zombie show is obviously a kind of popular culture iconographic phenomenon,” she said in an interview. “There is also this larger dread of how our world is in a pre-apocalyptic — and I’m saying pre-apocalyptic because I’m an optimist — stage.”

In an age of cataclysmic climate change reports and what appears to be a daily unraveling of civil society playing out in news headlines and on the president’s Twitter feed, it’s no wonder that people are attracted to stories of brain-eating zombies running rampant.

The show uses zombie-themed and zombie-suggestive works as a jumping-off point to address the fear — fittingly, a fire alarm led to a brief evacuation of the packed museum during its opening reception Thursday night — and the complacency of our cultural moment.

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“It’s about asking these larger questions about who we are and how we are living,” Zuckerman told the crowd Thursday, later adding: “It’s an opportunity to ask, ‘If the zombie apocalypse did come at 11:59 would you be happy with what you’ve done?'”

It includes pieces by contemporary art giants like Cindy Sherman, Tom Sachs and Ed Ruscha, along with gory works like Piotr Uklanski’s massive blood-red abstract sculpture “Untitled (Rigor Mortis),” which suggests the grisly remains left behind after a zombie attack and a Will Boone painting of a mangled face and Sue de Beer’s photo print “In Sides” of a woman sliced in half from head to waist.

But the most arresting portions of the show may be its text-based works. Zuckerman selected panicked text art by some of the leading names in contemporary art.

Rashid Johnson, the artist and filmmaker whose work will be the subject of a solo exhibition at the museum in 2019, contributed a neon “Run.” Christopher Wool’s stenciled painting reads ominously “Sell the House Sell the Car Sell the Kids.” Bruce Nauman’s “Pay Attention” prints the phrase backward in jarring slanted text and punctuates it with an expletive.

“People always look at it and go, ‘What does that say?'” Zuckerman said of the Nauman. “But then you read it and you say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s the key to life.'”

The museum also has converted one of its basement galleries into a movie theater for the next three months. There, it is pairing the exhibition with free weekly screenings of zombie movies. The 23-film “Zombie Survival Movie Club” series will open Wednesday with the 1936 Boris Karloff classic “The Walking Dead” and will proceed chronologically through the decades of undead cinema with entries like 1968’s genre-spawning “Night of the Living Dead” and 2004’s spoof “Shaun of the Dead.” It culminates with the 2013 satire “Warm Bodies” on March 20. (Anyone who comes for all 13 movies will win a copy of “The Zombie Survival Guide.”)

The series of zombie flicks continues a recent run of interactive and experiential audience engagement events at the museum over the past year, including a fashion show directed by artist Cheryl Donegan, the edible performance art work of Alison Knowles’ “Make a Salad” and the diverse slate of quirky events linked to the recently closed “Ritual” group show.

“I’ve always tried to proselytize about this a little bit: that contemporary art can be fun and that a museum can have a sense of humor,” Zuckerman said.

atravers@aspentimes.com