Art meets nature in four Colorado gardens and outdoor installations—creating space for meditative contemplation and divine catharsis at Aspen Art Museum, Chatfield Farms, Greenbox Arts, and the San Luis Valley.
Across Colorado, outdoor art installations channel the beauty and mystery of nature, inspired by the state’s extraordinary landscape. As sites of artistic and spiritual contemplation, these spaces reflect the abundance and fragility embodied by the natural world. They invite meditation on temporal existence, the changing seasons, and the interdependence of mankind and the environment. Before summer ends, hit the road for a day trip to any of these installations spread across the state from north to south.
Precious Okoyomon, rooftop garden installation
Aspen Art Museum
June 21, 2021–September 21, 2022
free and open to the public
Precious Okoyomon’s installation on the Aspen Art Museum’s rooftop continues the artist and poet’s use of organic spaces as artistic interventions. Recipient of the 2021 Frieze Artist Award, Okoyomon cultivates natural materials as historical and metaphorical vessels, creating symbolic ecosystems that conjure both beauty and grief.
The plant kudzu, for example, is a rapidly spreading and “invasive” vine that Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, once used as a metaphor for racism. Originally imported from Asia, kudzu was widely planted in Southern states to stave off soil erosion that had resulted from years of cotton farming with slave labor. The plant appears throughout Okoyomon’s works, symbolizing the potential for resilience despite having been uprooted from one’s native habitat.
The artist’s rooftop garden installation in Aspen, titled Every Earthly Morning the Sky’s Light touches Ur Life is Unprecedented in its Beauty, was originally unveiled in 2021 and will remain on view until September 21, 2022. Over the course of the installation’s life cycle, it has evolved to reflect the seasons, incorporating different soundtracks that the artist created with a range of collaborators. Okoyomon has regularly returned to the installation, hosting solstice events and nurturing the garden’s growth throughout the exhibition.
Ceramic figures composed of soil, clay, and scagliola—referred to by the artist as “Angel-Protectors”—are interspersed throughout the garden. Okoyomon created them while in residence at nearby Anderson Ranch, a storied institution with a long history in the region, especially in regard to the ceramic arts. Okoyomon also worked together with local growers to juxtapose native and non-native species and reflects the artist’s interpretation of “the racialization of the natural world.”
The venue for Okoyomon’s work is spectacular, with extraordinary views of Aspen Mountain to one side and Pritzker Architecture Prize–winning architect Shigeru Ban’s elegant terrace to the other. Access to the museum—and its airy, gorgeous rooftop and cafe—is completely free during normal opening hours.
Patrick Dougherty, One Fell Swoop
Chatfield Farms, Littleton
on view until the piece succumbs to the elements
buy tickets to reserve a time
Chatfield Farms, part of the Denver Botanic Gardens, is a sprawling 700-acre bucolic landscape of flower gardens, manicured lavender fields, and a working farm. In 2019, Chatfield Farms unveiled One Fell Swoop by Patrick Dougherty, a site-specific installation of abstracted dwellings that twist and turn skywards, constructed entirely of sustainably foraged tree branches and saplings.
Over the course of three weeks, Dougherty worked with staff members and volunteers to assemble the materials and construct the installation. Dougherty, known for his ephemeral outdoor installations, creates his works based on primitive building techniques and allows his sculptures to slowly degrade over time until they naturally “fall apart,” a process that could take years.
His forms feel rooted in folklore and fables, whimsical tree houses for woodland creatures and forest nymphs. Architecturally, however, these are complex structures that ebb and flow into each other with graceful precision, creating a maze of undulating shapes and paths that viewers are invited to explore.
Located at the base of the Rockies, Chatfield Farms also features a historical homestead site, a refuge for native plants, and an enclosed butterfly habitat. Dougherty’s installation is a fitting homage to the function—and forms—embedded in the natural world.
James Turrell, Green Mountain Falls Skyspace
Green Box Arts
buy tickets to reserve a time
Legendary light and space artist James Turrell, who turns eighty next year, inaugurated his latest Skyspace installation this summer on a mountain butte just outside of Colorado Springs. Turrell’s minimalist structure, a “naked-eye observatory,” overlooks the impossibly quaint town of Green Mountain Falls, a community of about 700 that sits at the base of Pikes Peak.
Managed by Green Box Arts, a local organization that runs an artist residency and annual arts festival, Turrell’s Green Mountain Falls Skyspace has been years in the making. Two new trailheads lead to the observatory, and visitors have the option of either hiking or driving up in an ATV. The hike is short but steep and lined by wildflowers, snaking along the mountainside with views of Gazebo Lake below.
During Skyspace showtimes, which run twice daily at sunrise and sunset and last about an hour, visitors are encouraged to experience the work by lying down and looking up. During the course of each show, Turrell’s gradient light patterns are projected around the observatory’s center oculus, which reveals the sky above. The sensory effects of Turrell’s shifting color fields become hypnotic over time, collapsing one’s depth perception and reverberating as their hues deepen and transform—becoming a fully immersive experience.
According to Liz Sealey, Green Box Arts’s assistant operations manager, people have come from as far as the United Kingdom and Europe since the Skyspace’s unveiling earlier this summer. Unsurprisingly, sunset viewings are the most popular and sell out quickly, so it’s recommended to reserve a ticket well in advance. Visitors are also advised to bring water and a flashlight (needed to descend the mountain path post-sunset, which is also lit by lanterns).
Green Mountain Falls Skyspace is intended to be witnessed in silence, which amplifies the work’s visual potency. The installation is a tribute to the transformative effects of color and light, invoking a profoundly collective—and yet uniquely individual—cathartic experience.
Mother Mary’s Garden
San Luis Valley
free and open to the public
The San Luis Valley in southern Colorado has long been a destination for those seeking spiritual—or extraterrestrial—connection. Artist Susan Sanderford is one of those people. She relocated to the valley sixteen years ago with her husband Milt, following what she describes as a spiritual awakening.
Sanderford was thus inspired to create Mother Mary’s Garden on her own property, situated within a wild horse range about fifteen minutes outside of San Luis, the oldest town in Colorado.
Mother Mary’s Garden features labyrinth paths, stone obelisks, blooming flower beds, a ceremonial chapel, and a towering wood carving of a nondenominational, otherworldly deity posed in peaceful prayer. Sanderford asserts that her meditation garden is for all people, regardless of their religious beliefs, creating a tranquil space for mankind to commune with the eternal divine.
The garden’s high-altitude location, set along the basin floor of a vast alpine desert valley, allows for mile-long views, breathtaking sunsets, and unparalleled stargazing. These elements all contribute to the garden’s overall sense of cosmic revelation, an earthly manifestation of the universe—and one individual’s remarkable labor of love. View the location on Google Maps and a preview video.