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Music to the eyes

Annie Leibovitz christens FAC Modern

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Willie Nelson by Annie Leibovitz.
  • Willie Nelson by Annie Leibovitz.

How long does it take to build a new art museum? Three years? Five years? Longer?

How about six weeks? That's how long Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center president Mike DeMarsche and real estate honcho Chris Jenkins gave themselves to put together the FAC's new downtown space, FAC Modern.

Ordinarily, in the leisurely, slow-paced world of art museums, six weeks wouldn't be enough time to schedule the meetings to discuss the possibility of creating a plan to determine the feasibility of ... well, you get the idea.

As the city's learned in the last couple years, that's not the way DeMarsche operates. Having transformed the FAC from a sleepy backwater into a dynamic institution, DeMarsche wasn't about to let it go dark while starting an expansion and renovation. Hence FAC Modern.

But the Modern, located on the ground floor of the Plaza of the Rockies, is to be a permanent satellite space. It's big, sleek and gorgeous, and includes galleries, a bar/restaurant, a gift shop and a glass-enclosed sculpture garden. And come summer, there'll be a sidewalk caf and jazz until midnight.

The Modern's first show, opening this weekend and running through May 15, is Annie Leibovitz's American Music, 70 images by the woman who may be America's most famous photographer.

For more than three decades, Leibovitz has photographed royal families and the artists and performers who create and define popular culture. The photographs on display, taken over the past few years, recall her early work for Rolling Stone. They're astounding, beautiful, even transcendent images.

His face lined and seamed, Willie Nelson's hair cascades down his back in a portrait as serene and powerful as Velsquez's "Pope Innocent X." The faces of June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash, near the end of their lives, are suffused with both sadness and contentment. Brian Wilson, in flowered shorts and a bathrobe, stands next to the pool at his Beverly Hills home, verdant gardens framed by a dark and lowering sky.

"Brian Wilson is a genius," Leibovitz says in an audio tour of the exhibit. "The early Beach Boys work was extraordinary, and it laid the groundwork for so many other artists. The sky the day we took that picture is sort of a metaphor for Brian Wilson's up-and-down life. It's more of a state of mind that there's a California dream, and it's not necessarily true."

The exhibit also shows a shirtless Iggy Pop, his body lean and stringy. Emmylou Harris, luminous and beautiful, stands on a dirt road after the rain. B.B. King makes music with his friends, smiling joyfully.

The week before the show's opening, DeMarsche strides purposefully through the chaos, as a dozen workers race to get ready for opening night.

"I met with Chris [Jenkins, of Norwood, owners of Plaza of the Rockies]," he says. "He and [his father] David have been very supportive of the visual arts. They loved the idea of FAC Modern ..."

And, I suggest, they made you an offer you couldn't refuse?

"Exactly!"

capsule

American Music

FAC Modern, 121 S. Tejon St., Suite 100

Opening reception: Saturday, April 15, 4-8 p.m. Gallery open Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Show runs through May 14.

Admission: $3-$5 for non-members; call 634-5581 for more information.

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