10 Best Art Exhibits We Saw in Metro Phoenix in 2014

Detail of an ASU sculpture student artwork exhibited at Icehouse during "Art-O-Sphere."
Detail of an ASU sculpture student artwork exhibited at Icehouse during "Art-O-Sphere."
Lynn Trimble

The year's best exhibitions included a fabulous diversity of artwork, from ceramics to mail art, shown in a nifty assorted of places. Think museums, library, galleries, shipping containers, pop-up spaces, and re-purposed spaces that once housed ice blocks and forensic evidence. Several of the exhibits we loved best featured works created by local artists. Here's our ode to the top ten.

See also: Western Spirit: Scottsdale's Museum of the West to Open in January 2015

"Art-O-Sphere" Icehouse December 4 through December 5

We've seen plenty of intriguing art out of ASU art students this year, exhibited from Alwun House to Night Gallery. But our favorite by far was this exhibition of works by ASU School of Art sculpture students, who blew what's left of the roof off the Icehouse with a perfect blend of visual and performance art that makes us wonder why the two art forms don't play nicely together more often. The gritty Icehouse habitat was a perfect setting for these works of metal, stone, neon, and more -- plus drumming, fire dancers and other entertainment. Art installations inside upper level rooms that once stored giant blocks of ice rewarded those whose curiosity lured them up the stairs. Seating areas, and tabletops sporting piles of classic junk foods, gave art lovers places to gather, converse, and load up on goodies they rarely indulge in at home. We love the fact that exploring art can be a supremely social enterprise, and figure nearly everything goes better with Twinkies.

Entrance to the eclectic "Cultural Savant" exhibition featuring all things Joe Willie Smith.
Entrance to the eclectic "Cultural Savant" exhibition featuring all things Joe Willie Smith.
Lynn Trimble

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"Cultural Savage: The Art & Collections of Joe Willie Smith" The Gallery @ Scottsdale Civic Center Library September 2 through November 20

We've picked two shows with a collecting theme, reflecting contemporary interest in what people hunt and gather, and why. Maybe someday the reality TV show executives who profile all manner of pickers and hoarders will figure out that following artists in hot pursuit of found objects is more interesting by far. The curator nailed it with this presentation of eclectic fare collected or created by Smith, which included a fun assortment of hips chairs (some suspended from the ceiling) and large-scale sculpture made with discarded doors from the steel cab of a giant crane. We love poking around exhibits that feel like a box of Forrest Gump's chocolates: You never know what you're gonna get.

Portion of the "Focus Latin America" mail art exhibit that's moved (with some modifications) to MonOrchid.
Portion of the "Focus Latin America" mail art exhibit that's moved (with some modifications) to MonOrchid.
Lynn Trimble

"Focus Latin America: Art is Our Last Hope" Phoenix Art Museum October 1 through November 23 Shade Gallery at MonOrchid December 5 through January 12, 2015

A couple of Phoenix Art Museum exhibits were contenders for this year's favorites list -- including "Lifelike" and "Vanitas." But "Focus Latin America," which features mail art submitted by local and international citizens, gets the shout-out for several reasons. It reminded us that both digital culture and snail mail have made important contributions to the art world, engaged a diverse assortment of artists and others in the act of making art, and bridged the museum/gallery gap by moving to MonOrchid's Shade Gallery after its initial Phoenix Art Museum run. We love exhibits that democratize art-making so more folks get the chance to create work and show it.



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