Provincial Scatology

ASU museum showcases "another" Arizona

Gene Cooper's installation offers very little to viewers when he isn't around to perform (it was suffering from technical difficulties the day I saw it).

Sherrie Medina's "abandoned familiarity" is no more than a germ of an idea.
And in the area of new media, the show's artists appear to be reembracing the early-20th-century view that new technology is a tide that will lift all art. Timothy Kelly's video "Chrome," for instance, is filled with layers of garbled information and what appear to be monkey-cam tricks. So, you get a clear lesson in how easily electronic technique can supplant visual cogency.

Works that could be characterized as new formats have a similar weakness. Only, instead of falling for technology, they appear to have fallen for the idea that an art museum provides a smarter setting for works better suited to such old formats as books, documentary movies or magazines.

This is particularly true of Annie Lopez's "Pastora," an autobiographical installation about her search through family history, and Rhonda Zwillinger's photographs and writing from her series "The Dispossessed: Living with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities." Lopez's installation includes several walls of framed family photographs, scraps of anecdotes about Pastora and a small memento shrine containing empty baby-food bottles with Christmas lights in their lids and notes attached to the sides. Zwillinger, a victim of MCS, has taken photographs of fellow victims and written accounts of the disease's impact on their lives. Unfortunately, the pictures are on a wall and the writing in a notebook on a pedestal several feet away. So diligent viewers who want to associate images and text are forced to bounce back and forth between wall and pedestal. This sort of nuisance could be remedied fairly simply by a decent magazine or book layout.

All in all, the trends in "Another Arizona" are hardly Arizonan. They inhabit contemporary university programs, where most of the artists in the show were trained or still work. And they reflect the at-large art world's continuing efforts to overhaul the identity of art.

The point is that the real value of this show has less to do with the works themselves--which are generally mediocre--than what they suggest about the changing idea of regional artistic identities. If complex global markets and communications haven't killed regionalism outright, they at least have weakened it to the point where coyotes, sunsets and cowboys are just about the only simple images that people can think of as Arizona art.

"Another Arizona: A State-Wide Juried Exhibition" continues through Sunday, May 10, at the Arizona State University Art Museum at Nelson Fine Arts Center, and in the Matthews Gallery. 10th Street and Mill in Tempe. For more information, see the Art listing.

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