Maybe you've heard locals or long-distance friends say it's tough to find great art in Phoenix. They're wrong.
Phoenix-area museums, galleries, and other art spaces have shown stellar works during the past year. After surveying hundreds of 2016 exhibitions, we've identified 10 that stand above the rest. Our 2016 favorites include a wide range of media including ceramics, glass, found objects, film, photography, and painting, to name a few. We found them in Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe, and Scottsdale. And take note: Half feature works by artists based in the Valley. Just saying.
“Rachel Bess/Charlotte Potter”
Lisa Sette Gallery
January 9 through February 27
Two young artists, Phoenix-based Rachel Bess and Virginia-based Charlotte Potter, addressed issues of personal identity and digital personae. The exhibition featured Bess’ bold oil-on-panel vanitas and still life paintings, as well as Potter’s meticulous glass-making exploring social media connections.
January 15 through February 13
By photographing target-practice objects riddled with bullet holes that were found in the desert, artist William LeGoullon explored symmetries between nature and the human experience. These objects, including a mannequin torso and heart-shaped cactus pad, convey both the destruction and reverence inherent in how people experience the wild.
"Betye Saar: Still Tickin’"
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
January 30 through May 1
Through more than 100 objects created with diverse media from found objects to neon, this Betye Saar exhibition channeled six decades of American history marked by the ongoing struggle for civil rights for people of color. But Saar’s work, comprising primarily mixed-media assemblage, is also rooted in her own autobiography and fascination with metaphysics and mysticism.
“Time Stands Still”
February 18 through March 19
Using ceramic columns, marked and stacked to reflect slices of time within the cycle of creation and destruction, artist Patricia Sannit explored both personal and cultural manifestations of history. By creating a band of clay, on which gallery-goers could walk to leave their own marks, Sannit paid homage to movement and migration as a requisite of human existence.
“Fortoul Brothers Phoenix”
40Owls Pop-up Gallery
March 18 through April 15
For a pop-up exhibition that included paintings, sculpture, and intriguing materials including sawdust, artists Isaac and Gabriel Fortoul explored balance in relationships, society, and the environment. Their exhibition, replete with simple human figures and natural elements from rain to fruit, beautifully conveyed the artists’ sense of gratitude for life and human connection.
“Archive of Rag and Bone”
Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum
April 29 through August 7
California artist Kristin Beeler’s series featuring portraits of scarred bodies and hand-embroidered Tyvek garments created space for gallery-goers to reflect on their own physical and emotional scars — and to consider the impact of collective scars within communities. Using objects created with mother-of-pearl, silver, and charcoal, Beeler explored the contrasting aesthetics of perfection and imperfection.
“Energy Charge: Connecting to Ana Mendieta”
ASU Art Museum
September 24 through December 31
Through her synthesis of personal and political explorations of race and gender with emerging art forms of the 1970s, including body art and land art, Cuban-born American artist Ana Mendieta has influenced generations of artists. This exhibition reveals her influence on contemporary artists including Ana Teresa Fernández, Kate Gilmore, Simone Leigh, Gina Osterloh, and Antonia Wright.
“Horacio Zabala: Mapping the Monochrome”
Phoenix Art Museum
October 19, 2016 through March 12, 2017
Trained as an architect, Argentine-born conceptual artist Horacio Zabala explores the way space is defined through narrative, architecture, and cartography. Through this cross-section of his historical and contemporary work, which includes pieces created in conversation with Phoenix, gallery-goers encounter his reflections on censorship, art history, and socio-political issues.
“Annie Lopez: True Blue”
Walter Art Gallery
November 3 through 28
Working with cyanotype photographs created on tamale paper reflecting her Latino heritage, Phoenix artist Annie Lopez poignantly addresses family history, personal memories, and social commentary. For this exhibition presented by R. Pela Contemporary Art, Lopez made smaller-scale works that signal an exciting evolution in her art practice.
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November 4 through 27
While creating oil paintings on found objects, Phoenix-based artist Laura Spalding Best explores her interests in both exploring mundane iconography and quantifying place. For this exhibition, she painted scenes of real and fictional landscapes in and around Phoenix, most forcing viewers to confront the risks posed by disregard for water and other resources at the heart of everyday life.