Photo by Harry Shunk, courtesy of The Juan Downey Foundation
ASU Art Museum's season kickoff in September. While you might be tempted to touch the textured and intricate work of featured artist Juan Downey, you probably won't want to put your hands anywhere near his piece that's accompanied by a live, moody, six-foot-long anaconda.
The exhibition, titled "Juan Downey: The Invisible Architect," features several works by the late Chilean artist. Along for the ride will be Diablo, the snake who plays a role in Downey's "Anaconda Map of Chile," atop a map of Chile and enclosed in plexiglass. Diablo will be living at the museum for the duration of the exhibit.
"Having a live snake that engages -- kids are excited about it, naturalists are excited about it -- is not just art, but it adds the exoticness of a zoo," says Gordon Knox, Director of the ASU Art Museum.
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Knox explains that Downey was an artist who "took very seriously the social systems as an aesthetic form. It was almost anthropological."
Anaconda Copper Company, Knox adds, was the name of a business in Chile that reportedly helped support the rise of military dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Downey was one of the first artists to use video as a major component of his work and lugged a video camera to the tip of South America and back to document and observe life in different places.
"At one point in the exhibit, you walk through a series of videos, and there's a map on the floor. The videos reflect different aspects and places on the map," Knox says. "And because some of these videos were shot decades ago, some of the footage looks dated. There's a certain historical patina."
The exhibit will also include Downey's drawings, sketches, photographs, and mapping work augmented with color pencils and pastels. Knox says the show is the first comprehensive presentation of Downey's artwork and includes a variety of multi-media that's complex intellectually challenging.
And yes, having a big anaconda at an art show is a first, too.
Though Diablo's rumored to have a temper, Russ Johnson, president of the Phoenix Herpetological Society, will be handling the snake and giving some presentations about anacondas over the course of the exhibit, including a presentation and snake feeding from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, October 1, for First Saturdays for Families in October.
"It's also, in a funny and interesting way, a nice way to expand the audience," Knox says.
"Juan Downey: The Invisible Architect" opens September 30 at ASU Art Museum, 15 E. 10th Street in Tempe. Call 480-965-2787 or visit asuartmuseum.asu.edu for more information.
[This post has been updated for accuracy since its original publication.]
Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and PHOENIX magazine, and is now a full-time freelancer.