Minimal Effort

Less is much more at the Phoenix Art Museum's 2001 Triennial exhibition

But before you can get to Havel's panel, your attention is intercepted by a side room of enormous "canvases" by San Antonio-based Todd Brandt that turn out to be hundreds of translucent Fuji film canisters slavishly affixed in a grid pattern to panels primed with electric pink, yellow, orange and green industrial paint. When viewed through the canisters, the teeth-jarring colors diffuse into soft pastels, while the panels' surfaces create optical illusions of depth and movement.

Photography and video work also make their marks in this year's Triennial. Three images from Rubén Ortiz-Torres' series Adoration of the Magi take off on the uniquely Mexican version of the Biblical theme in large-scale color photographs of overdecorated booths hawking the photographic services of multicolored Magi that are set up annually in Mexico City's Alameda Park. Like European court painters in centuries past, Ortiz-Torres appears with his camera in several of the images. Also not to be missed are Daniela Rossell's environmental portraits of members of Mexico's richest and most powerful family dynasties -- including the niece of ex-Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari and the daughter of a well-known PRI politician besotted with the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. They're shot in flashy, over-the-top home settings that make the sets of Dallas look like rank hovels and are weirdly suggestive of natural history museum dioramas. Another must-see is Peter Sarkisian's video installation, Hands of a Similar Man, a piece worth spending time on.

Not all of the work in PAM's show is as engaging as these, however. Salomón Huerta's pared-down, robotically anonymous figurative work strikes me as uncomfortably out of place. Deborah Hede's pastels on paper are too evocative of the clinical vacuity so identified with minimalism, while the poured resin paintings of Jason Eoff and the diamond-dusted graphic paintings of Philip Argent reek unmistakably of the simply decorative.

Aster by Thomas Glassford, 2001; acrylic, 
fluorescent tubes.
Aster by Thomas Glassford, 2001; acrylic, fluorescent tubes.

In spite of its weaker links, "Phoenix Triennial 2001" is a fairly accurate and noteworthy screenshot of what is being created by artists in the Southwest and Mexico at this point in time. The universality of the exhibition's work is potent evidence of the inexorable movement toward cultural homogenization being wrought by corporate globalization. This is art that can't be easily pigeonholed by geography or specific culture, unlike the contemporary art of Mexico in the late '80s and early '90s, or the politically correct, often sermonizing output of U.S. artists 10 years ago. Like it or not, Fuji film canisters, aluminum siding, theme parks and TV soap operas, not to mention the commercializing of Christian holidays, are now worldwide and, from the looks of this show, probably here to stay. "Phoenix Triennial 2001"

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