Why SMoCA's Paolo Soleri Retrospective Is a Big Deal

Stuart A. Weiner, [Soleri sketching at his desk, Cosanti], ca. 1960. Gelatin-silver print, 10 x 8 inches. Collection of the Cosanti Foundation. © The Weiner Estate
Stuart A. Weiner, [Soleri sketching at his desk, Cosanti], ca. 1960. Gelatin-silver print, 10 x 8 inches. Collection of the Cosanti Foundation. © The Weiner Estate Courtesy of Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is gearing up for a retrospective exhibition of works by artist and architect Paolo Soleri. “The City is Nature” will run from October 14, 2017, to January 28, 2018.

Born in Italy in 1919, Soleri came to the United States in 1946 to apprentice with architect Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1956, Soleri and his wife moved to Scottsdale.

Soleri is best-known for creating Arcosanti, which serves as a prototype for a hybrid of architecture and ecology he called arcology. Located about an hour north of Phoenix, it still exists as a laboratory for urban design.

“The City is Nature” will be the first retrospective exhibition of Soleri’s works since his death in 2013. The last major U.S. exhibition of his work was organized by the Corcoran Museum of Art in 1969 and 1970.

So, the exhibition is a big deal.

“The City is Nature” will include the largest collection of original drawings, fragile sketchbooks, architectural models, sculptures, prints, and photographs by Soleri presented in North America since 1971.

"I really wanted to re-contextualize Soleri as an artist rather than an architect," says Claire Carter, curator of contemporary art for Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Carter organized the exhibition, and she's working on a comprehensive catalog for the show.

Exhibited works are being been drawn from Soleri’s archives, the Museum of Modern Art, and private collections. Several large scroll drawings are being shown for the first time since their 2005 preservation.

The exhibition will fill two galleries at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, and take up about 4,500 square feet of space.

“The City is Nature” will focus on drawings, sculptures, and models that Soleri created from 1947 to the mid-1970s. Basically, they represent Soleri’s most creative period, when he was making artwork and constructing his home-studio. "It's extremely rare to be able to see these drawings in person," Carter says.

The exhibition will also include elements from Soleri’s built and unbuilt residences, bridges, dams, cities, and transportation systems. Additionally, it will survey his earliest ceramics and bronze artisan crafts, as well as fabric designs and silkscreen. And, of course, it will include plenty of the artist's bell assemblies.

But it’s not just about showing Soleri’s work.

It’s also about revealing why it matters, in part through exploring Soleri’s engagement with the art and architecture of his time – including his relationship with Wright and his influence on the American counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s.

Of course, the Valley is already home to significant work by Soleri.

In 1990, Scottsdale Public Art commissioned Soleri to design the Soleri Bridge and Plaza, which was completed in 2011 at the southwest corner of Scottsdale and Camelback roads. Some know it best as the site for Canal Convergence, an annual multiday art event presented by Scottsdale Arts.

Sara Cochran, director and chief curator for Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, hopes the exhibition inspires more people to thoughtfully consider the full measure of Soleri’s work and its significance.

“We look forward to seeing ever more interest and study of this compelling figure who pioneered so many ideas," Cochran says, "including the idea of high-density living, and who built some of the icons in the Arizona landscape.”

"The City is Nature" will run from October 14, 2017, to January 28, 2018, at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. More information is available on the museum website.

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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