Arts of the West

It guards the door, like something out of whimsical sci-fi: a ferocious-looking dog pieced together out of rusted-out automobile parts. Shock absorbers form the legs, the body and head are some crazy amalgam of engine guts, and screws provide the bared fangs in the perpetually snarling mouth. The only variation in the rusty brownish color is the eyes, which blaze a bright painted red.

This canine robot monster is the first work that the eye falls upon as one enters the Tucson Museum of Art to check out Arizona Biennial '99. Its creator, sculptor John Franzone, gave the oxidized beast the witty moniker "Junkyard Dog."

The presence in the show of a work by Fanzone, a resident of the tiny Aravaipa Canyon town of Klondyke, southeast of Globe, may be due to a new jurying process designed to encourage submissions by more artists from outside the Tucson area. The exhibit, observed in one form or another every other year for the past 75, is intended to showcase Arizona artists, but in the past this has proved an economic hardship for non-Tucson artists, particularly those working in large media--the preliminary jurying was done by slides, but the final jurying required physically shipping the actual piece to the museum.

With this year's show, the jurying was done via slides only. While more than half of the artists represented are still from Tucson, a generous portion are from the Valley or from other Arizona towns. The juror this year--the first time that the show represents a single juror's taste, rather than that of a team of jurors--was Louis Grachos, the director and curator of SITE Santa Fe in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The show, which winds its way down the museum's descending ramp, includes works in media ranging from handblown glass, like Tom Philabaum's "Venerable Vessel II," to wooden furniture, like Warren S. Fenzi's "Shapleigh Rocker" and "LDE Chair"; from brass, wood and paper, like Jeff Schmuki's "Plot and Place," to brass and wood, like John Poole's sexually charged sculpture "20/20 Oui, Oui, Oui," to good old-fashioned oil on canvas, as in the delightful painting "The Three Falling Angels of Love" by Tempe's Tom Stephenson. "Allegory of Balance, Numeral With Marker" and "Numerals With Waves at Plane" by Flagstaff's Jim O'Hara are all delicately crafted miniatures of frosted acrylic lighted from below. These more traditional forms, however, are far from the whole story at the Biennial.

Also included are such wacky, esoteric objets as Ellen McMahon's "Baby Talk Flash Cards" and "Preverbal Flash Cards" and Chris Carls' "Big Hard Wood E," both of which are just what they sound like--Carls' elaborate pun is a large, cheerfully painted wooden cabinet in the shape of the letter "E" inside of which rests a stack of white tee shirts. On each of these tee shirts is the image of a vintage '50s-era station wagon with wood paneling, over the legend "Little Woodie." These shirts are on sale in the gift shop, as are McMahon's flash cards.

Maggie Leininger's beguiling "Women Marching" consists of several ranks and files of wax castings of dish-washing-liquid bottles. "Token City," by Scottsdale's Muriel Magenta, is a four-minute computer-animated video about a subject not widely treated in the art of the Grand Canyon State: the subway.

The large oil-on-oak-panel painting "'Ask Not . . .'" by Alfred Quiroz depicts a grotesque--but certainly unsentimental--chronicle of the life of JFK, while Gregory Porcaro's "Tommy Tumor Game" is a working parody of Operation, the Boomer-era's "goofy game for dopey doctors." My own favorite work from the show may have been the hilarious cyanotype triptych by Annie Lopez, "Foolish Enough," "Bad Thoughts" and "She Enjoys Those Bad Thoughts."

All in all, the exhibition nicely demonstrates the breadth and variety of Arizona's artistic visions, and when you're done, there's still the museum's fine permanent collection to explore. It's worth the road trip.

--M. V. Moorhead

"Arizona Biennial '99" continues through Sunday, July 11, at Tucson Museum of Art, located at 140 North Main. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; noon to 4 p.m. Sundays; closed major holidays. Admission is $2, $1 for students and seniors, free for kids under 12 and members, free to all on Tuesdays. Call 1-520-624-2333 for more information.

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M.V. Moorhead
Contact: M.V. Moorhead