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Best of Phoenix 2018: Best Art Galleries and Murals

Detail of Rose Johnson's mural on 16th Street.EXPAND
Detail of Rose Johnson's mural on 16th Street.
Rose Johnson/Photo by Lynn Trimble

Gagosian, Guggenheim, Banksy – these are high-profile art world names that will probably never be seen in Phoenix. But we don't need 'em! As evidenced by this list of the best galleries, murals, and other art spaces in the Valley, our homegrown art scene is thriving on its own, especially thanks to artists, gallerists, and creators of Chicano, indigenous, and other minority backgrounds. 

Part of Rose Johnson's mural on 16th Street.EXPAND
Part of Rose Johnson's mural on 16th Street.
Rose Johnson/Photo by Lynn Trimble

Best Illustrated Street: 16th Street Between Washington and Indian School Road
Roosevelt Row's murals are nice. But just like the high-rise apartments next door, they lack the gritty feel of the rest of downtown Phoenix. So instead, we recommend you travel a few blocks to the east to "Calle 16" in order to view some of the best street art in Phoenix. Many of the tire shops, pet stores, and restaurants that face 16th Street feature brilliant murals. Some of the works of art adorn active businesses, while others are on decrepit abandoned storefronts. The art styles range from run-of-the-mill graffiti tags to astonishingly detailed works that could hang in a gallery.

Patricia Sannit (left) and dancer Nicole Olson with Sannit's The Dance (La danza) and other works.EXPAND
Patricia Sannit (left) and dancer Nicole Olson with Sannit's The Dance (La danza) and other works.
Patricia Sannit/Photo by Lynn Trimble

Best Art Collaboration: Patricia Sannit and Nicole Olson
1625 North Central Avenue
Some of the most intriguing works pair artists working in different fields. That's just what happened when visual artist Patricia Sannit and dance artist Nicole Olson started working together at Phoenix Art Museum. While Sannit's "Rise Fall Rise" exhibition was on view at the museum, she invited Olson to choreograph a site-specific performance inspired by one particular installation called The Dance (La danza). Olson created a piece called Eternal Home, then performed it amid the installation while museumgoers gathered around. It's easy for artists to get so busy making their own work that they forget to experience time with other creatives. But when they do, magic happens, for artist and audience alike.

Migrants Journey La Bestia (The Beast)by Nick Oza was exhibited at Modified Arts.EXPAND
Migrants Journey La Bestia (The Beast)by Nick Oza was exhibited at Modified Arts.
Lynn Trimble

Best Art Gallery: Modified Arts
407 East Roosevelt Street

Making a meaningful gallery experience requires more than hanging pictures on the wall. Modified Arts, a creative space founded by Kimber Lanning in 1999, gets it. Art is about ideas, and galleries help diverse community members explore them together. Modified Arts is a welcoming space that's open six days a week, conveying the sense that art should be an everyday encounter accessible to all, rather than a mere cultural exercise for elites. Its monthly exhibitions feature thought-provoking works by diverse artists, which prompt curiosity and conversations among gallerygoers.

Paintings by Laura Lee at Megaphone PHX.EXPAND
Paintings by Laura Lee at Megaphone PHX.
Lynn Trimble

Best Up-And-Coming Art Gallery: Megaphone PHX
4700 North Central Avenue

Being independent, together. That's the premise behind Megaphone PHX, an art gallery that's also the studio space for artist Andy Brown, whose work often features concentric lines and cycling imagery. He has shown work by metro Phoenix favorites such as JJ Horner, Lauren Lee, and Beth Tom, and welcomed group shows curated by other creatives. But the gallery is also a popular gathering space for poets and collage creatives, and it has featured music and dance performance, too.

Checking out "10 Artists/2000 Speculums" at ASU Step Gallery.EXPAND
Checking out "10 Artists/2000 Speculums" at ASU Step Gallery.
Lynn Trimble

Best Student Gallery: Step Gallery at Grant Street Studios
605 East Grant Street

Time with compelling works and the artists who make them — that's what you get at the best student galleries, including the Step Gallery where Arizona State University presents Master of Fine Arts thesis exhibitions. It's located in a former warehouse, and its concrete floors and exposed ceiling beams provide a stunning backdrop for works in all media. This year, it's contained a neon landscape of icons created by Lily Reeves, wooden objects crafted by Alex Foster to spur adult play, a miniature production plant by Andrew Noble exploring relationships between humans and machines, and myriad other works that push past people's misconceptions of art as an isolated entity existing on the periphery of enterprises deemed more useful or exciting.

Best Permanent Public Art: Windows to the West
3939 North Drinkwater Boulevard, Scottsdale

Weathered over time until its Cor-Ten steel took on a patina that looks like wood pulled from an Old West homestead, Louise Nevelson's monumental sculpture for Scottsdale Public Art is still the best piece of public art in metro Phoenix. Dedicated in 1973, it's officially titled Atmosphere and Environments XVIII. The sculpture reflects Nevelson's fondness for creating monochromatic assemblages using found wooden objects, arranged to form boxes within boxes. For a metropolis wrestling with its own growth, identity, and preservation of natural resources, the piece stands as a monument to free-flowing ideas, collaboration, and imaginative reuse of existing objects.

"Reflection Rising" by Patrick Shearn of Poetic Kinetics looks beautiful along the waterfront.EXPAND
"Reflection Rising" by Patrick Shearn of Poetic Kinetics looks beautiful along the waterfront.
Melissa Fossum

Best Temporary Public Art: Reflection Rising
7135 East Via Soleri Drive, Scottsdale

When the canals aren't rushing with water, it's easy to overlook the power of water, its essential presence in our lives, and the indigenous peoples who forged its pathways. Enter Reflection Rising, a work of temporary public art by Los Angeles-based creative Patrick Shearn of Poetic Kinetics, which was part of Canal Convergence in February and March. Comprising brightly colored strips formed into a panel suspended over Scottsdale Waterfront Canal, Shearn's piece affirmed the life-giving properties of the water that lay beneath it, even as it beckoned people who saw it rising in the sky to come explore the banks of the canal.

Best Mural: Garfield Garden Mural
811 North 13th Street

Metro Phoenix got some impressive new murals this year, including large-scale works by brothers Gabriel and Isaac Fortoul, a pair of creatives who call themselves the Fortoul Brothers. They're still finessing the year's best mural on two long, adjoining walls at Garfield Elementary School. The mural, which spans more than 200 feet, was commissioned by the Mollen Foundation, which works to promote healthy eating habits in children. It's a bold backdrop for garden beds where students and other community members grow and harvest food. The mural features the artists' characteristic imagery,formed with simple shapes and lines. Its themes include nature, sustainability, and growth — reflected in images such as the sun, trees, and assorted plant life.

Part of Jake Early's Meet Me at Daley Park in Tempe.EXPAND
Part of Jake Early's Meet Me at Daley Park in Tempe.
Lynn Trimble

Best Neighborhood Mural: Meet Me at Daley Park
1625 South College Avenue, Tempe
Meet Me at Daley Park by Tempe artist Jake Early is a mural masterwork. Its size alone is worth the drive over to Daley Park, near 15th Street and College Avenue. After a design competition, Tempe Public Art awarded Early the job of painting a wall 400 feet long and 8 feet high. The wall borders a city facilities yard next to a railroad easement. Early managed to turn the stark, industrial area of the railroad tracks and easement into something visually appealing. The colors are vibrant, dominated by light green that symbolizes the area's agricultural past, and an 8-foot rooster near the wall's corner. It's like an outdoor history museum, displaying scenes that encompass Tempe's past and present as well as college students on bicycles.

Valeska Soares' Push/Pull at Phoenix Art Museum.EXPAND
Valeska Soares' Push/Pull at Phoenix Art Museum.
Lynn Trimble

Best Edible Art: Push Pull by Valeska Soares
1625 North Central Avenue

The word "interactive" had become a buzzword in contemporary art, used far too frequently for art that doesn't deliver on that promise. But that's not the case with works by Valeska Soares, whose "Any Moment Now" exhibition at Phoenix Art Museum included the periodic temporary installation of sculptural pieces made with taffy. On Saturday, March 24, for example, a trio of large taffy pieces hung from three metal poles placed near the entrance to the exhibition, constantly formed into new shapes by gloved museum professionals who offered small pieces to onlookers. Each sculpture, created in collaboration with New York-based Kreëmart, had a different color, aroma, and taste — created by pairing flavors such as blood orange, bergamot, and lavender.

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Ann Morton's second piece in the Proof-Reading series inspired by Trump comments.EXPAND
Ann Morton's second piece in the Proof-Reading series inspired by Trump comments.
Lynn Trimble

Best Political Art: Proofreading #2 by Ann Morton
Ann Morton launched her "Proof Reading" series in 2017 with a hand-made handkerchief embroidered with the phrase "are we fucked?" — modified through editing marks to say "we are fucked." Now her second work in the series, inspired this year by Donald Trump's "shithole" remark, is the year's best political art. Once again, Morton has used tasteful red, white, and blue materials to address the brutality that's rife in the age of Trump. With a single word, transformed from "shithole" to "asshole" through editing marks, she gives voice to those resisting Trump and his ilk. Morton's work is distinguished by its elegant simplicity, which profoundly whispers to viewers even as they live within a perpetual primal scream for truth and justice.

Prints created by Xico artists using a steamroller.EXPAND
Prints created by Xico artists using a steamroller.
Lynn Trimble

Best Parking Lot Art: Xico’s Steamroller Sunday
1008 East Buckeye Road
Artists and community members gathered around a steamroller in the Bentley Projects parking lot on March 18, for an informal celebration of community and culture. Led by master printer Damian Charette, more than a dozen Native, Latino, and Chicano artists demonstrated the art of printmaking, creating designs that were transferred to cloth using the steamroller moving across them on the pavement. Artists worked with the themes of solidarity and unity, making prints with images from hearts to the Statue of Liberty, then hung them on a nearby chain-link fence in the style of a collective mural. The gathering drew a diverse crowd, whose time spent rallying around art together signaled their collective power to shape their shared community.

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