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Spotlight on David Graeve

Balloon Exhibit Reaches Out to Aspen Ideas Festival

David Graeve's exhibit of balloons as large as nine feet connects attendees within a community of ideas.
June 30, 2012

As attendees to the Aspen Ideas Festival walk through the campus of the Aspen Institute this week, they are treated to an unusual sight: Over two dozen balloons hanging from trees and floating in ponds, some as large as nine feet in diameter and others as small as three. 

Each balloon has a collage of photographic images printed on its surface, of children, adults and iconic leaders from around the world.  "Everyone will find something in this," said Houston-based artist David Graeve, who was commissioned by U.S. Trust to create the art installation to bring to life the theme of 'legacy' throughout the festival campus, and in the U.S. Trust Legacy Pavilion where they also showcased the legacy of both U.S. Trust and Bank of America.

"There's Caroline Farb. There's Nelson Mandela on the other side. That's my child, though no one knows who Iris is. The use of the imagery is about accessibility and making art work that is not exclusionary," he said.

Collectively, the balloons on display at the Aspen Institute show people representing six cultures including Latinos, African-Americans and Asians. "To me, it was about pluralism and the humanitarian aspect of looking at people as a whole, as a legacy for democratic culture," he said. "We're working towards this notion of democracy. That's the celebratory part."

Graeve said he hopes that viewers of the balloons will find a connection to the images on display. "People here will find themselves eventually, because they will see someone who looks like them," he said. "The power of the piece comes from response and dialogue with the community."

Graeve's work has included this unusual medium for nearly eight years, appropriating the levity and buoyancy of balloons to create installations that have a natural positivity and can adapt to what he calls the "architecture of a landscape." It takes several months for Graeve to conceptualize and execute the production of the balloons, and involves working with multiple contractors and reinforcing the objects to sustain against exposure to the elements. 

Graeve showed the installations in Minneapolis, Chicago and Dallas among others and will be returning to Aspen in August for the Aspen Art Festival.

For this particular installation, Graeve said his inspiration also came from the festival itself, which is a staging ground for discussion and debate around new ideas.  "The excitement of having dialogue and conversation with leading intellects and decision-makers who are experts in their field -- that to me seemed so inspirational," said Graeve.

"That kind of exposure to having conversation with these people. It's as sublime as art can be." 

© Carolyn Farb. All rights reserved