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PHX Sky Train Public Art Project Is Ambitious but Underwhelming

Tailplane Patterns by Fausto Fernandez
Tailplane Patterns by Fausto Fernandez
Katrina Montgomery

The city of Phoenix threw down some serious cash for the PHX Sky Train. But that money wasn't spent on train tech and architecture alone. You might not know it at first glance, but there was a fat budget for the public art projects scattered across the different stations and walkways.

Generally speaking, we're on board with any program that provides funding to local artists to do their thang. But we wanted to get the full scoop and see whether it's worth taking a special trip to check out this truly massive public art project at Sky Harbor.

See also Calle 16 Mural Project Heads to Barrio Cafe at Sky Harbor International Airport Group Photography Exhibition "What Are We Doing Here?" Opens at Modified Arts July 19

Journey Through Nature by Daniel Martin Diaz
Journey Through Nature by Daniel Martin Diaz
Katrina Montgomery

Four of the six projects are terrazzo floor designs by artists Anne Coe, Daniel Martin Diaz, Fausto Fernandez, and Daniel Mayer. The vibrant use of color looks pretty cool, and the organic designs provide nice contrast to the architecture of the stations.

But let's be real. It's a floor.

"I sort of joke about bringing in cleaning rags to get rid of the scuff marks, but frankly the floor is what it is. And there are lots of people rushing across it dragging suitcases on their way to some adventure," artist Anne Coe says. "It is a pleasure to see my work used and enjoyed."

Topo Magic by Anne Coe
Topo Magic by Anne Coe
Katrina Montgomery

The artists' intentions do add some level of interest to the work. Coe, for instance, was inspired by hiking and topographical maps. Her project focused on "the view of Phoenix and the canal systems when the water was used for crops and not subdivisions." She says point of view was especially important working in such a huge scale.

We can tell the artists all put genuine thought into their projects. And the work that was done by both artists and engineers to install the pieces is incredibly impressive. (Advance Terrazzo, the Phoenix firm in charge of the install, even won a national award).

But when we saw the work in person, we just felt pretty meh.

 

Blue Stratus by Mario Madayag, Michael Parekowhai, and Paul Deeb
Blue Stratus by Mario Madayag, Michael Parekowhai, and Paul Deeb
Katrina Montgomery

The two remaining (non-floor) installs by Daniel Mayer and a three-person team of Mario Madayag, Micheal Parekowhai, and Paul Deeb are slightly more compelling. The ceiling installation, Blue Stratus, was our favorite and looks especially striking at night.

But the public art project as a whole still feels engineered primarily to blend into the background.

The project 100 percent reaches its goal of creating a nice environment for travelers. But that also means that it doesn't stand out too much. It's the kind of art that is meant to be pretty yet unobtrusive.

The PHX Sky Train has been open since April 8, but frankly, we aren't convinced travelers have actually been using it (despite recent reports to the contrary). So it seems highly unlikely anyone has been taking a ride just to look at the art.

Our advice? If you're traveling through, take a moment to enjoy it. If not, don't go out of your way.

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