Visual Arts

Mind Play

The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art dug into its permanent collection for the sculpture show "Not Really So Simple." At first glance, the pieces really are simple. But as I shared space with each one, I found myself wanting to fondle some of them to explore their properties. It was frustrating, because the work is so delicate and this is hardly an interactive exhibit. Other pieces caused the opposite reaction — my inclination was to avoid them, and I had to force myself to take a closer look. It was an exercise in self-control, in both directions.

The works were visually simple, yes. But psychologically? Not so much. By the end, these sculptures were clearly playing with my head.

Ash Bench by Howard Werner is basically a huge hunk of wood cut to a curve — like that of a melon slice. Most of the wood was left relatively untouched and the raw, unfinished bark boasted age and weather damage. Werner left a large knot resembling a woman's head at one tip of the bow. I couldn't help but imagine myself as part of the piece, forever relaxed in a reclined position. The cut curvature was buffed smooth, and it glistens under the gallery lights. The slick surface is so inviting that I wanted to hop on and curl right into it. Of course, that would be against the rules, but I realized that this bench beckons me more than the benches in Old Town Scottsdale that I'm allowed to sit on. This artist captured my desire to rest and simultaneously denied me the possibility of easing my fatigue. A cruel tease.

The looming sculpture by Thomas Skomski titled Not One Not Two, on the other hand, made me antsy. This is another wood piece, but it's made of poplar and its cream-colored finish is completely smooth. The work probably measures a healthy yet intimidating 6-feet-6. Its truncated cone shape (like that of a drinking cup) was cut vertically in half and put back together with one side shifted about six inches above the other. Despite its leaning lopsidedly, it still manages to stand on its circular base. I wondered if it would come tumbling down with just a bit of a shove. And that was precisely the reason I kept my distance — I didn't want to get squished. Death by sculpture sounds romantic but really isn't for me. Still, I was impressed that the artist could evoke such a strong reaction.

Martina Shenal's Buoy enticed me mentally rather than physically. Buoy is made of woven wire, creating the shape of its namesake. The spindly wires are bent, crooked, and uneven. The giant buoy is set at a diagonal pitch — as if it were in choppy water. But since it is made of wire and holds a bowling ball in its base, it would surely sink straight to the bottom. From the base, wires shoot upward, creating a tube that ends at a metal ring. This buoy strips the original object of all its function. In fact, Shenal's buoy is pretty much the opposite of what a real buoy is supposed to be. The piece is reminiscent of the same mindplay in Magritte's famous painting The Treachery of Images, in which he paired the representation of a pipe with the sentence, "This is not a pipe."

SMoCA also includes a work by the well-known and highly regarded glass artist Dale Chihuly. Buttercup Yellow Persian Edition with Red Lip Wrap could be called a classic Chihuly piece. It's a delicate flower shape, ribbed with sunshine-yellow striations of opaque and translucent glass. A thin, fire engine-red line follows the undulating edge of the flower that explodes from a bulb. The glass, so light and fragile, looks as though it could fly away if it wasn't for the heavy bulb weighing it down. It is no wonder Chihuly enjoys rampant popularity. The gorgeous glass is begging to be touched, but its breakability tries my nerves. The combination is pretty irresistible.

Even though my mind was a little scrambled by the end of my visit, SMoCA definitely had the right idea with this one.

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Lilia Menconi
Contact: Lilia Menconi