Visual Arts

10 Best Things We've Seen in Metro Phoenix in 2016 — So Far

When Spencer Tunick poses 100 nude women in front of the Republican National Convention this summer, some Phoenicians will get to say they saw him first – during the opening reception for an exhibition of his works at ASU Art Museum. Halfway through 2016, it’s one of the best things we’ve seen on the local arts and culture landscape. But our favorites also include a collaboration featuring dance, sound, and visual arts, and a public art installation addressing urban incursions into wildlife habitats. Here’s a look back at our 10 favorites.

Rachel Bess and Charlotte Potter
Lisa Sette Gallery

Both artists explored issues of personal identity and digital personae in this exhibition, which ran from January 9 to February 27 at Lisa Sette Gallery. Bess set contemporary subjects in stylized vignettes referencing the vanitas paintings of old masters. Potter created delicate glass and metal works infused with images and texts culled from social-media posts – using cameos and lockets to explore the impact of digital media on various types of relationships. Each conveys the dark complexities of contemporary life and death using beautiful images rooted in earlier times.

Spencer Tunick and Stéphane Janssen
ASU Art Museum

Spencer Tunick, the New York-based artist who’ll be photographing 100 nude women outside the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 17, was in the Valley earlier this year, visiting Scottsdale art collector Stéphane Janssen and showing museum-goers around an ASU Art Museum gallery during the January 14 opening reception for “Participant: Photographs by Spencer Tunick from the Stéphane Janssen Collection.” Those who attended got Tunick’s backstory on several works featured in the exhibition, and saw several photographs for which Janssen posed alone or with others. The exhibition closed in late May, and Tunick is now looking for women to pose in Cleveland (here are the details in case you want to go for it).

Breaking Ground

This year’s Breaking Ground dance and film festival, presented by CONDER/dance at Tempe Center for the Arts on January 29 and 30, reflected the prevalence of cross-sector collaborations in contemporary dance. And one piece, called Amalgamations, was particularly striking. The piece featured choreographer and dancer Fumihiro Kikuchi performing with Phoenix sound artist Tony Orb and visual artist Heather Couch. Through the manipulation of clay, formed ceramics, sound, and movement, the trio seamlessly drew the audience into a wholly unique environment that felt completely organic rather than contrived – something it’s hard to achieve when merging multiple artists and diverse disciplines.

Perry Allen's river's passing, 1
Canal Convergence

Phoenix artist Perry Allen, who spent more than five years capturing his explorations of natural and urban landscapes on video, ended up selecting just eight minutes from more than 200 hours of footage for a film called a river’s passing, 1. The work was featured at Scottsdale Public Art’s Canal Convergence 2016, held February 25 to 28 at the Scottsdale Waterfront. Allen hoped his footage, which was shown on three side-by-side screens, would draw people in and prompt them to think about their own relationship with local landscapes. But in reality it did something more, prompting viewers to actually interact with the piece, going behind the screens to create silhouettes that added a new dimension to the work.

Desert Rose (Nuevas Generaciones) by El Mac
Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum 

After dabbling in small-scale murals, Mesa finally took the leap into larger works when Mesa Arts Center commissioned international mural artist El Mac to paint a two-story mural to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Mesa Arts Center. The artist was born Miles MacGregor in Los Angeles and grew up in Phoenix – where he’s been making mural art for many years. His Mesa mural, titled Desert Rose (Nuevas Generaciones), depicts a pregnant woman holding a long-stem rose and features line work by Mesa graffiti and tattoo artist Mando Rascon. His exhibition titled “El Mac: Aerosol Exalted” continues through August 7 at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum.

Amalgamation by Danielle Wood
Spark! Festival of Creativity

Every year brings a steady crop of art festivals – including Mesa Arts Center’s Spark! Festival of Creativity, which features diverse installation and performance art by local, national, and international artists. This year’s festival, held March 18 and 19, included live art-making and hands-on activities with several local artists. Danielle Wood spent both days helping festival-goers hand-form their own clay pieces resembling her coral-shaped works. Many added their pieces to her winding path of finger-size forms, which were interwoven with strands of with multi-color lights to create an illuminated ceramics-scape during evening hours.

“Time Stands Still”
Gebert Contemporary

For “Time Stands Still,” which ran from mid-February to mid-March at Gebert Contemporary in Scottsdale, Phoenix artist Patricia Sannit set her ceramic works against the backdrop of visual projections rife with archaeological themes. Viewers who entered a sunken exhibition space encountered a ton of red clay pounded into a roughly circular design, where Sannit installed numerous unique ceramic columns. Some chose to walk around the circle’s edge, allowing their bare feet to imprint the malleable material. More ceramic columns – collectively capturing environmental, technological, and other developments over time – lined a portion of the circle-like sentinels charged with guarding the ever-shifting human landscape at the heart of Sannit’s work. Earlier this year, Sannit received the prestigious Phoenix Art Museum Contemporary Forum Artist Award — which means she'll have a solo exhibition there next spring. 

Radio Healer
ASU Crossfade LAB

Inside a grassy courtyard on ASU’s Tempe campus called the Secret Garden, a Native American and Xicano artist collective called Radio Healer performed a reimagined indigenous ceremony using electronic media – using sound to heighten awareness of both the immediate surroundings and the long trajectory of indigenous culture. The April 18 performance capped the official launch for Crossfade LAB, a series featuring conversations and art experiences with internationally known Latino artists and creative leaders. Radio Healer includes four artists – Edgar Cardenas, Randy Kemp, Raven Kemp, and Cristóbal Martinez of the Postcommodity Collective.

Decoys by Jeffrey DaCosta
IN FLUX Cycle 6

People who walk past a vacant retail space in the southern section of the Pavilions at Talking Stick encounter Jeffrey DaCosta’s Decoys installation featuring 14 manufactured images of wood deer. They’re part of IN FLUX Cycle 6, this year’s iteration of a multi-city public art program that places diverse works of art in community settings, which dozens of people explored during a May 14 bus tour presented by Scottsdale Public Art. DaCosta’s life-size deer silhouettes created with balsa wood and fluorescent ultraviolet paint reference the thermal imaging technology that allows people to see things previously hidden, while prompting viewers to reflect on what might have occupied the space before urban encroachments on desert habitats.

"SouthwestNET: Sama Alshaibi: Silsila"
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

Amid a campaign season infused with grandiose rhetoric, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art presents the quiet but powerful works of Sama Alshaibi, an artist born in Iraq who calls both Tucson and the West Bank home. Alshaibi traced the journeys of a 14th-century explorer through the Middle East, then created images reflecting both her Islamic heritage and her transition from political refugee to American citizen. Her large-scale color photographs and videos for Silsila (the Arabic word for “link”) integrate desert landscapes, the female form, and geometric motifs prevalent in Islamic art traditions – prompting reflection on connections between self, others, the natural world, and the divine. The exhibition opened June 4 and continues through September 18.

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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