The 10 Best Art Exhibitions and Installations I Saw in Phoenix in 2012

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As 2012 comes to a close, it's time to look back on some of the most interesting, exciting, and breathtaking art I had the pleasure of seeing throughout Arizona. From paintings and murals to exhibitions and installations, here are my top picks of 2012.

See also: - Jason Woodbury's "10 Best Things I Heard in 2012" - Laura Hahnefeld's "10 Best Things I Ate in 2012" - Commercial Art Is Keeping Phoenix Artists Afloat -- But At a High Cost - Art That Makes Phoenix Irresistible

10. Boneyard Project at Pima Air and Space Museum In January, Eric Firestone and Carlo McCormick (with the help of a few heavy-machine-driving professionals) dragged three DC Super 3 planes, a C45, a Lockheed VC140, a C97 cockpit, and dozens of nosecones were dragged out of the boneyard, a collection of dusty, non-functioning planes near Pima Air and Space Museum, and gave them a new life.

The two are big-name curators in New York (though Firestone once operated a gallery in Arizona) and after seeing the pieces, they brought SMoCA's Lesley Oliver on board, called up a dream lineup of contemporary artists and gave them the opportunity to paint on a very different kind of canvas.

It was an incredibly massive and inspiring show that required a big budget, a tight timeline, a huge opening party, and an understanding that the large-scale pieces would ultimately be ephemeral works of art. After The Boneyard Project had its run at the museum, the nosecones traveled back to Firestone's gallery, but the planes stayed in Tucson, perhaps left back in the boneyard to be rediscovered.

9. Jetsonorama's "Postcard" on Seventh Street Jetsonorama is a longtime documentary photographer who creates black-and-white photographs in 3-foot strips before pasting them onto roadside stands, water tanks, and billboards in Shonto, Arizona.

In late 2011, the artist collaborated with Thomas "Breeze" Marcus on a billboard installation on 16th Street and in January 2012, he printed out an image Brazilian photographer Raul Zito captured in Sao Paulo and pasted it on Seventh Street (with details painted by Thomas Marcus) with just a ladder, a few buckets of wheat paste, and a small crowd of spectators.

Jetsonorama called it a postcard, a tribute to Zito who had pasted one of his pieces in Brazil. And despite the ephemeral nature of the piece, you can still spot its remnants on the red brick building on Seventh Street, north of Roosevelt, with a few of Jetsonorama's signature sheep.

8. "Drawing with Thread," a Mapping Workshop and Installation by Saskia Jorda at Scottsdale Civic Center Library Artist Saskia Jorda spent much of the summer of 2012 at the Scottsdale Civic Center Library. Jorda was Scottsdale Public Art's artist in residence, and over the course of a month, she transformed the library's gallery into an intertwining maze of stretched, white pantyhose and abstract yarn-wrapped bulbs that hung from the ceiling. Jorda described her installation as a "dialog between body and space."

And more than large-scale eye candy, Jorda's installation served as a frame in which Scottsdale Public Art held a number of workshops in conjunction with its 100+Journals project. In May, Jorda broke out her supply of thread and collection of maps and welcomed the public to explore line drawing, mapping, pattern and texture with string on paper.

The workshop was a rare opportunity to peek behind Jorda's process and obsession with cartography (though she'll admit she has a terrible sense of direction) in a very cool space.

7. Anthony Velasquez's "An Odd Kind of Sympathy" at Lisa Sette Gallery In the spring, Scottsdale gallery owner and art community staple Lisa Sette spotted work by Anthony Velasquez in a framing shop. Within months, she was hosting a series of his work and added him to her successful stable of artists. Velasquez might be new to the local fine arts scene, but he's been embedded in the urban arts scene since he was a kid growing up in Avondale.

His mom owned an antique shop, and because he was constantly surrounded by well-worn trinkets and decor, he says he grew an appreciation for age and craftsmanship, which is clear in his work. At Lisa Sette Gallery, the artist hung a collection of still life paintings that had a warmth and distinct ethereal quality.

In each, five items -- one for each of the five senses -- were carefully balanced on top of one another and painted with an obsessive attention to detail on dark walnut panels. He called them "totems to human experience." And I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

6. Kyle Durrie's Moveable Type Truck at ASU When the Arizona AIGA chapter announced it was bringing Portland-based artist and letterpress fiend Kyle Durrie to Phoenix, there was an audible squeal that came from somewhere deep inside the New Times office.

Durrie's known for her travelling letterpress studio she built inside a 1982 Chevy van with funds from Kickstarter. Durrie parked outside the ASU art building in Tempe for an afternoon, told stories of her letterpress trip across the country, dubbed "Moveable Type," and gave her drooling fans a chance to create (and buy) a couple posters. Moveable eye candy, indeed.

5. "Cattle Track Couture" at Cattle Track Dennita Sewell and Janie Ellis work very well together. Sewell is Phoenix Art Museum's Curator of Fashion Design, Ellis runs Cattle Track, an artist compound in Scottsdale. And while their daily lives look next to nothing alike, they were both raised by parents who were pioneers and craftspeople who built their own houses, farmed their own land, and, most importantly, made their own clothes.

In March, the two opened the doors to Cattle Track for a special exhibition of handmade clothes by Janie's mother, Rachel, who crafted dresses, blouses, pants, and skirts for Janie and a number of theatrical productions around town.

The show was beautifully presented; clothes were fitted to forms Janie handmade and stuffed (which she'll tell you was no simple task), and a collection of fabrics Ellis used was on view for large groups of fashion-invested community members and art appreciators alike.

4. James Turrell's Skyspace in Tempe As soon as the construction fencing around a mysterious glowing structure on ASU's Tempe campus came down, I drove down (in a lightning storm, no less) to see what all the mumbling was about. The glowing structure was the latest skypsace designed and built by Arizona artist James Turrell along with Phoenix-based architect Will Bruder, who designed Burton Barr Library, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, and The Nevada Museum of Art (to name a few).

Turrell's work relies on light and environment, and his series of "skyspace" installations (including the Knight Rise at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art) capture and frame the natural light and create a constantly changing visual experience for the audience. His skyspace in Tempe is a slight departure, in that Turrell relies both on the light of the sky and on man-made light and color reflected on the large-scale frame that's suspended by a metal structure surrounding the installation.

The colors change periodically and the best time to sit and watch the show is half an hour before sunrise and/or sunset, when the color of the sky and the color of Turrell's frame change most dramatically -- or in a lightning storm, when the colors, lights, and surroundings get really interesting.

3. Chaos Theory 13 at Legend City Studio Randy Slack's Chaos Theory art show is always a spectacle. Once a year, the local artist clears the walls of Legend City Studios, which he owns with three photographers (Jason Grubb, John Balinkie, and Brandon Sullivan), and hangs dozens of pieces by local artists -- usually within 24 hours.

This year was especially notable, as Slack had to explain a few curatorial decisions to the community days before the big opening. But, as usual, the night went off with a bang and without a hitch. Hundreds crowded into the gallery to see work by more than 60 artists (about the closest we get to a Thursday night in Chelsea).

They looked, they laughed, they brought their kids, who climbed over each other (and around the artwork) to create one of Chaos Theory's most "community-centric" feeling events since its inception.

2. Matteo Rubbi at Combine Studios Italian artist Matteo Rubbi was an artist in residence with ASU Art Museum throughout 2012. You might have bumped into him making masks for young First Friday goers, at "Magic Friday" dinners at the museum and in downtown Phoenix, or challenging the local view of how art can transform a space and the interaction between audience and gallery setting.

His research, interactions, and creations during his time in Phoenix were center stage at Combine Studios in downtown Phoenix in November, where he discussed culture aspects of mining in Arizona, urban transportation, and food as bridge between people of different cultural backgrounds.

His show included work on copper, chalkboard drawing, mixed-media pieces, and a large-scale board game Rubbi interpreted from a Jules Verne book. His work is smart and refreshing and his whimsical personality was something to be seen. Rubbi returned to Italy late this year, and now we just have to figure out how to get him to come back.

1. Carrie Marill's Tribute Mural In March, hundreds of volunteers, Roosevelt Row staff members, and a group of local artists gathered on Roosevelt Street to build picnic tables, clean the sidewalks, and paint murals on a few of the neighborhood's buildings. Carrie Marill, whose art has traveled across the country (I spotted it in Soho in April and at SMoCA in October) designed a large cyclist for the flowerist on Roosevelt and Third Street.

It was a tribute to Margaret Kilgallen, a huge-name and well loved street artist who died in 2001. The man on an old-school cruiser with a striped top and a hefty baguette in his bike basket was immediately recognizable as Kilgallen-esque, and drew a variety of responses from the community. Many loved it, but in November, the mural was defaced on a Thursday night - painted over with huge red blocks of paint.

Marill assumed whoever painted over it thought it was merely a rip-off, not a tribute. She thought about painting a different design, but I'm glad that instead, on the following day, Marill and a few volunteers bit back, grabbed a few more buckets of paint, and repainted the design for a live, First Friday audience.

Claire Lawton edits Jackalope Ranch (phxculture.com), New Times' culture blog.

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