Aspen gets a whole new vibe, thanks to artist and curator Max Kauffman


With an abundance of fine-art galleries dotting its cobblestone streets and a recent $45 million rebuild of the Aspen Art Museum, the art scene in the toniest of mountain towns is notoriously highbrow.

This month, the Max Kauffman-curated exhibition in the famed and historic former dinner theater space is a welcome change of pace, bringing a much-needed urban energy to the mountains.

Presented in partnership with Gravity Productions — an Aspen-based events company headed up by Reuben Sadowsky and Joey Stokes — “All the Feels” is just one element of the family affair in residence at the Crystal Palace.

Kauffman and Sadowsky are first cousins and have gone back and forth for years trying to collaborate on an art show. So when Gravity Productions secured the space late last year, which has remained vacant since its closure in 2008, it all finally came together.

Along with the art, within the Palace space there’s a full schedule of events and late-night concerts at Elevated Café by Elevated Elixirs and Blk Mkt — a pop-up shop that’s the brainchild of Bali-based clothing designers Mike Delaney and Sammy Steen (whose girlfriend is another cousin of Kauffman’s). The Blk Mkt shop is stocked with rare apparel and accessories exclusive to Colorado including their own label, ROAM.

“All the Feels” officially opened to a packed Palace on Jan. 7 featuring the work of Los Angeles-based Hannah Stouffer, who was born and raised in Aspen. The show continues through Jan. 31, with rotating works and featured artist openings every Thursday.

There’s a deep roster of Denver artists featured in the show, which includes works by Kauffman and individual pieces from the duo behind Like Minded Productions — Michael Ortiz and Jonathan Lamb — as well as Rob Mack, Axel Geittman, Sandra Fettingis, Jaime Molina and John Fellows.

Gravity Productions has exclusively shared with The Cannabist that they’ve just extended their residence at Crystal Palace through February, where Kauffman will curate a new exhibition titled “Female Gaze.”

I stopped by this creative collective to chat with the cannabis-fueled curator and artist — secret Sunday sesh in the side alley included (no, there’s still pretty much nowhere to legally smoke in public in Colorado).

Cannabist: Where did you get ‘All the Feels’ from?

MK: It was just so cheesy and so perfect for the idea of emotional content I was trying to convey in the show.

Cannabist: How’s it going so far up here?

MK: I love doing an ephemeral pop-up shows, where it’s maybe creating a little more urgency. I love bringing these types of artists to places that would never have us otherwise. And the art is accessible — it’s a cool thing when you get people who don’t usually buy art to buy art.

The “All the Feels” show is at Aspen’s Crystal Palace through January. (Provided by Max Kauffman)

Cannabist: What’s your preferred medium to work in?

MK: Usually watercolor and ink on paper, but I’ve been segueing into this weird new medium that is a watercolor ground. It’s a porous surface that I can put on wood — you know, collectors have a weird connotation of paper sometimes — so it allows me to make larger work.

Cannabist: And you do street art too?

MK: I grew up skateboarding, but didn’t know a lot about graffiti, really. I played with it as a kid, but could never officially claim I did it. Skateboarding is where this urban outlet came from, but it’s a huge influence: wandering areas and seeing beauty in stuff that no one would ever even acknowledge. I did an entire house at the last Colorado Crush festival in RiNo.

Cannabist: How does cannabis influence your creative process?

MK: It’s a big part of it. It’s like my Adderall. It’s how I can focus to paint for six to eight hours at a time and keeps me sane. It’s a ritual that lets me kick away my ADD for a while and it’s not a constant, but it’s always there.

Cannabist: When did you get high for the first time?

MK: There’s two experiences that I remember clearly. I was 14 and the weird nerdy little kid in high school. Somehow, the homecoming float got built at my house so a bunch of the cool kids came over. We were in my garage and someone told me, “You should start having parties here.” So I did. All the time. A few of us went behind my house to a field and smoked and it was like, “Oh, this is interesting.” I was in the marching band too, and we had to do this 2-mile march. I was walking with my fucking saxophone and smoking pot at the same time and thought, “It’s one of these or the other.” I quit band shortly after that.

Cannabist: Have you ever quit smoking since then?

MK: No. It’s been 20 years of smoking pot, basically. I actually also worked in this world for a while in Denver in 2009. I helped start a company called Wellness Drops with this old hippie lady who made these epic tinctures and candies. She closed the business in 2011, but I learned a ton and wandered in and out of a lot of dispensaries early on all over the state.

Cannabist: What was it like to see legalization unfold while you were in it?

MK: It’s fascinating. I got to Colorado right at the beginning of the medical movement. The first place I went into was a shit place in Ned (Nederland, Colo.), The Cat’s Corner. It was this garbage consignment store and you walked into the back to buy from a few jars — one step up from buying weed on someone’s couch. Seeing that and then seeing people step up slowly — I still think people didn’t start taking it seriously on the business side until we went recreational here, though. Now what’s happening on that front is just crazy.

Cannabist: How does music affect your work?

MK: It’s so huge. Where I’m from in Indiana, I didn’t know any artists. I mean, I went to college for art, but I barely knew artists there either. I just saw music. Moving to Denver was the first time I really interacted with a lot of other artists and got to know them. But I grew up with musicians everywhere. South Bend was this weird place — close to Chicago, Detroit, Columbus and Indianapolis — so all these bands would come through and there were big punk and funk scenes. It’s honestly how I learned how to make art — seeing how my friends made music and going to so many shows. My work is basically 15 years of listening to psychedelic music and my process is jazz-esque. I have an initial idea where I know what the end goal is, but what happens in the middle I am not so sure. Improv is super important in my process.

Cannabist: What’s up with the Denver connection in the show?

MK: I moved to Colorado in 2006 and was here until 2012, most of it in Denver. I got my start in the art world there basically — doing something with IndyInk right when I moved into town and reaching out to people on MySpace because that’s what we did then. I met so many people over the course of five years and realized quick it was different. I never lived anywhere where there was a community of artists looking out for each other and helping each other find work.

Honestly, from going to other places since, it’s still one of the strongest art scenes I’ve ever seen, where everyone’s on the same team. So yeah, knowing all of these people for so long — this curation thing is just a fun mitzvah. It’s like, “Oh, how cool is this to be able to provide the exposure beyond Denver for someone else?”

Cannabist: And you have an Aspen connection too?

MK: My grandmother would take my mom and all of her siblings out here in the ’60s — one of those first Chicago-Aspen connections. Every single one of them ended up living out here for a period of time, and one of my aunts (Reuben’s mom) was the first woman ski patroller. I learned to ski here when I was 6 and grew up coming here to visit our family.

Cannabist: Why’d you leave us?

MK: Growing up skateboarding and loving music the way that I do — it had always been a dream to move to San Francisco. I love the idea of it and living in Oakland the past few years has gotten me out into the world on a much larger scale. I’ll be back in Colorado for good, though, at some point: This is where I want to end up.

Cannabist: How does the cannabis culture in Oakland compare?

MK: It’s definitely part of it, but totally different. In Colorado, it’s like a bunch of nerds with labs and shit making super specific things. In California, everyone just grows outdoors and it’s straightforward, old-school business. And it’s everywhere there, people walking around, at every bus stop, train station — they’re smoking joints. But it’s more nickel bags and schwag [laughs].

Cannabist: What are you smoking these days?

MK: Mostly sativas. I like to keep a lot of different strains around me and rotate them, so I can always still get high. I do have a pretty low tolerance, so I enjoy the idea of dabs, but I don’t need to be destroyed and laid out. I just smoke a little bit at a time and I’m good. Right now though it’s Gorilla Glue — it makes me think of ’90s Phish lot weed and has the perfect OG taste.

Cannabist: And are you growing your own back home?

MK: I’ve never grown, but want to try someday. I definitely don’t have the time right now. I was really fucking nerdy about it when I lived in Colorado and was deep in that world where I was always trying to find strains that would do hyper-specific things to me.

Cannabist: What’s next?

MK: I’m taking a bit of an off year actually making art and just planning big things for 2017. Art is so solitary — there’s been a lot of years where I didn’t get to have a social life. I have a little solo show in Portland in April and am curating something there too for November. I’ll be back in Miami in December for (Art) Basel. It will be nice to have sort of a normal life this year.

About “All the Feels”

The show is open through Jan. 31 and presented by Gravity Productions and Blk Mkt

Opening Thursday, Jan. 14th, 9 p.m.: Max Kauffman

Opening Thursday, Jan. 21st, 9 p.m.: John Fellows

Opening Thursday, Jan. 27th, 9 p.m.: Andrew Hoffman

Opening Thursday, Feb. 4, 9 p.m.: “The Female Gaze”
Featuring: Lauren YS, Ian Ferguson, John Casey, Dan Hampe, Brett Flanigan, Hollis and Lana, Kate Klingbeil and more.

Full lineup:

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