The Best Art Shows in Metro Phoenix in 2015

It was a banner year in metro Phoenix for exhibitions featuring works created or collected by some of the world's most famous artists. Phoenix Art Museum presented exhibitions featuring works by Leonardo da Vinci, Andy Warhol, and Ai Weiwei. And the Heard Museum presented photographs from Frida Kahlo's personal collection. But for the most part, this year's best exhibitions featured works by local artists, including some who delivered intriguing variations on their usual themes. These are the 10 best exhibits we saw in metro Phoenix this year.

“Arrangement for a Silent Orchestra”
Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum
December 19, 2014 through March 22, 2015

Prescott artist Julie Comnick spent nine months asking musical instrument shops across the country for violins deemed beyond repair. After gathering almost 100 violins, she took them to a mountaintop clearing and then set them alight at dusk. For 12 hours, she watched them burn — and recorded what transpired. Comnick's video became the source material for a series of large-scale paintings featured in "Arrangement for a Silent Orchestra" at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum, which is located on the Mesa Arts Center campus. The exhibition, in which Comnick used the violin as a metaphor to explore the relationship between “increasing technology and diminishing cultural heritage,” also included her video. Her work also prompted reflection on historical episodes of book burning and censorship, devastation wrought during the Holocaust, and the present-day destruction of cultural artifacts amid Middle East conflicts.

Phoenix Art Museum
April 11 through October 18

This exhibition, which was subtitled “Unique Creative Objects from the Center for Creative Photography,” featured works culled from “the entire history of the photographic medium, from the 1840s to the present day.” Meant to challenge the digital age misconception that photographs can be infinitely reproduced, the exhibition reminded viewers that photographic processes such a daguerreotypes, tintypes, and Polaroid prints produce only a sole, entirely unique object. For some, the exhibition was a thoughtful introduction to the rich history of photography before the advent of selfies and Instagram. It included works by iconic international artists such as Andy Warhol as well as works by local artists including Carol Panaro-Smith and James Hajicek plus David Emitt Adams – whose photographs on objects found in the Sonoran desert were also part of the 2015 Arizona Biennial exhibition at Tucson Museum of Art.

“Maybe Tomorrow, Darling”
Modified Arts
July 17 through August 15

Community artists joined ASU alumni and graduate students for a group exhibition that used “the visual, conceptual, and material language of the office place” to explore the relationships between being and doing, art and life, and more. Curated by interdisciplinary artist Kara Roschi, the chief curator for an enterprise called Curator Engine that works to connect artists with art buyers, it featured works by Veronica Aponte, Shiloh Ashley, Peter Bugg, Travis Ivey, Willow Paule, Courtney Richter, Shabab Sagheb, Kade Twist, Denise Yaghmourian, Steve Weiss, and Leslie Barton – as well as Practical Art artisans and Roschi. Those exploring the exhibition encountered text on the perils of excessive sitting placed next to a giant red ball, a “Happy Birthday” banner hung above un-inflated balloons seemingly frozen in time and space, a wall covered in overlapping yellow Post-It notes reading “Don’t Cry,” and a swarm of copper-colored computer mice huddled on the floor.

“Miguel Angel Rios: Landlocked”
ASU Art Museum
September 12 through December 26

Works by Miguel Angel Rios explore “issues of power, apathy, and violence” through innovative social and political narratives. The exhibition presents viewers with a comprehensive look at the artist’s unique practice through his research materials, photographs, works on paper, storyboards, production ephemera, and videos documenting the creation of his works. It includes works in several media, including four new video works commissioned by the ASU Art Museum, and is part of the “Contact Zones” exhibition series addressing “contemporary migration and its intricate uncertainties within border culture, destiny and contested histories.” ASU Art Museum curator Julio Cesar Morales describes its Rios-commissioned works as “very much site-specific and grounded in a new approach to land art.” ASU also participated this year in a Postcommodity art collective installation called Repellent Fence, and in Ana Teresa Fernandez painting a portion of the U.S./Mexico border fence blue.

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Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble