Oh, 2014, parting is such sweet sorrow. That's because it was a stellar year for art, dance, comedy, architecture, and all-around culture in metro Phoenix. In no particular order, these are the best things I saw.
Breaking Ground 2014
Contemporary dance can be arduous and, honestly, kind of boring, but CONDER/dance's annual festival of movement is ideal both for fans of the style and for those who aren't necessarily taken with the seemingly loosey-goosey art form. Among my favorites at Breaking Ground 2014 were an expressive, prop-smart piece with juggled oranges from Kristopher Pourzal, who went on to be a Big Brain Award finalist, and an underwater-inspired piece, which featured a sculpture by Pete Deise and vintage bathing suits, choreographed by event organizer Carley Conder. Conder immersed attendees in dance, presenting performances outside Tempe Center for the Arts and throughout the lobby -- in addition to nearly 20 onstage. It was engaging and exciting and put a much-deserved spotlight on emerging Phoenix-area dancers.
Thanks in no small part to Chelsea Peretti's role on Fox's Brooklyn Nine-Nine and her going "wolf mode" (a term Peretti uses for getting intense and typing in all caps on Twitter), the comedian's star is on the rise. That's partly why it was so cool to catch her set at Stand Up Live while she was on the road finalizing material for her Netflix special, One of the Greats. However, the finished special, shot in San Francisco, doesn't feature one of the most memorable moments of her Phoenix set: when she dissed a fellow New Times writer for wearing a straw boater hat to the show.
See also: Chelsea Peretti on Wolf Mode, Writing for Kroll Show, and Season Two of Brooklyn Nine-Nine
There's something exciting about a fresh coat of paint. In the case of Paint PHX, it was quite a few fresh coats. The event brought muralists from across the country to Phoenix's arts hubs Roosevelt Row, Grand Avenue, and Calle 16. Participating painters were a who's who list of creatives to watch, including Thomas "Breeze" Marcus, JB Snyder, Jeff Slim, Tato Caraveo, and La Muñeca. They banded together and engaged with local businesses to secure wall space for artwork and the result was a collaborative community event that brought creativity and expression to the fore. It was a banner weekend for street art in Phoenix and it left the city looking better than ever.
Phoenix Film Festival brought a lineup of stellar flicks to Harkins Scottsdale 101 in 2014, and Obvious Child was my favorite. Gillian Robespierre's directorial debut, which, yeah, is a romantic comedy that includes an abortion, echoed Woody Allen's style and Nora Ephron's sweetness, and featured a breakout performance from Jenny Slate. More than any movie I can think of, this one looked and felt and sounded like a genuine representation of Millennial women with true-to-life dialogue and a hilarious lady-child performance from Slate. She carries the film's drama and jokes, building a character that's frustrating, delightful, and believable -- human.
See also: Jenny Slate and Gillian Robespierre on Obvious Child
Phoenix Fashion Week
It bears repeating: Phoenix Fashion Week 2014 was the best incarnation of the event yet. The three-day runway event presented work from mega-talented designers from around the world and showcased Arizona's fashion scene like never before. Ditching the hobbyists so frequently featured in the past, Fashion Week organizers brought quality and discerning taste to the fore. From denim purveyor Diego Milano and Hues of Ego's high-fashion drama to Chandler native Carol Wong's futuristic armor and Kismet's sleek gowns, there was plenty of evidence that Phoenix's take on fashion isn't some passing fad. It's becoming a stylish city to watch.
A major and much-needed departure from Phoenix Art Museum's recent spate of slightly boring and often traveling exhibitions, "Vanitas: Contemporary Reflections on Love and Death from the Collection of Stéphane Janssen" pools the Arizona-via-Belgium art collector's works centering on visual representations of life's futility. Seventy-four works including sculpture, photography, and paintings contextualize contemporary use of such visual tropes as skulls (also popular in black plague-era works) in relation to both Latin American Day of the Dead culture and the AIDS epidemic. Sounds like a drag, sure, but it's one of the most visually compelling and emotionally moving exhibitions of recent memory.
In 2014, Halt Gallery came to a bit of a, well, halt. The mobile curating project, headed up by Becky Nahom and Julia Bruck didn't call it quits. Instead, Halt laid down roots, opening a pop-up shipping container gallery along Roosevelt Row, next to Greg Esser's Hot Box. The new space will bring in contemporary works from both locals and artists across the country. Its inaugural exhibition was a bird-watching safari installation, complete with binoculars and a guide to avian life, from Sarah Hurwitz. "The Jungle Box" set the tone for Halt's new space, one that's sure to be a must-see First and Third Friday stop for the foreseeable future.
Night of Neutra
Phoenix Financial Center's tower and two rotundas are among Phoenix's most interesting architectural gems. Those lucky enough to score very limited tickets to Modern Phoenix's Night of Neutra got an inside look at the recently gorgeously restored and gently updated south rotunda, now home to design firm Shepley Bulfinch. The event centered on the designation of Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander's Painted Desert Community Complex as a national treasure. Goes to show that Modern Phoenix is more than just a home tour -- it's making an impact on architecture and preservation in Arizona.
A location for Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix proper was long rumored -- and wanted and dreamed of. In May, the store became a reality at The Newton. The shopping complex is an adaptive reuse project built on the former site of Beef Eater's, a storied restaurant whose history is visible in The Newton's reuse of its booths, massive fireplaces, and chandeliers, among other ephemera. It's also home to Southern Rail, Southwest Gardener, which has more space than ever to host hands-on workshops, and First Draft, a bar where bookishness and booze collide inside Changing Hands. Dreamy, indeed.
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Take visual and performing artists, a range of media, and a boutique hotel and what do you get? ARTELPHX. Hosted by The Clarendon in the spring and fall, ARTEL has presented exciting new works from artists including Daniel Funkhouser, Denise Yaghmourian, and Matthew Mosher. Creatives take over rooms throughout the hotel, using them as singular exhibition and performance spaces for everything from dance and photography showings to interactive neon wonderlands, singing screens, and art selfies. It has brought together artists who might've never interacted otherwise, and attendees eager to become their fans.