If 2018 is any indication, art is flourishing in Phoenix. From gallery and museum shows to outstanding live entertainment, there was plenty to see in the Valley this year. It made it hard for us to pick our favorites, but we managed somehow. These are the best things we saw in 2018.
“Any Moment Now”
For a time, several galleries at Phoenix Art Museum were filled with everyday objects such as light bulbs, footstools, book jackets, liquor glasses, headboards, and a lone pocket watch suspended from the ceiling. All were part of a mid-career survey featuring Brazilian artist Valeska Soares, whose works prompt fresh considerations of time by engaging memory and the senses. The exhibition, which ran from March 24 to July 15, included periodic installation of Soares’ Push/Pull, comprising sculptural pieces made with unusual flavors of taffy, suspended on a metal pole and constantly reshaped in front of visitors, who were invited to eat small pieces of the work. Even dried roses, marble pillows, and mirrored orbs were part of this compelling exhibit. Lynn Trimble
With works by more than 25 artists, this exhibition at ASU Art Museum explored the ways artists and artisans, most living and working in Guadalajara, Mexico, are exploring contemporary ideas through traditional techniques. It ran from May 17 to June 30. Featured artists used painting, prints, sculpture, video, ceramics, fiber, and more to explore intersections between history, politics, culture, and contemporary life. For History of the World (Consolidated), Eduardo Sarabia filled shelves with blue-and-white ceramics bearing historical and contemporary symbols of Mexico, from guns and cannabis leaves to the quetzal, a bird prevalence in Mesoamerican mythology. Jorge Pardo’s installation set hand-painted ceramic light-fixtures over a sea of glazed ceramic tiles, paying homage to the region’s art, architecture, and design. LT
RPM Orchestra’s live score for Alice in Wonderland
If you thought Alice in Wonderland was creepy and weird, just wait until you see the 1915 silent film version. This silent gem turns Lewis Carroll’s madcap masterpiece into a showcase for deranged animal suits and eerie costumes. A spooky film deserves a spooky soundtrack, so it was only fitting that dieselpunk/avant-rockers RPM Orchestra were on hand at FilmBar to do a live score of W.W. Young’s film. Using a radio, horns, stringed instruments, and drums, the band delivered a cacophonous and whimsical score that fit the film’s offbeat visuals as snug as a glove on the White Rabbit’s paw. They even played a bonus short film about a genius inventor who gets into some slapstick shenanigans beforehand. Ashley Naftule
My Brother My Brother and Me
At this point, many of us have been to at least one podcast taping, but it may be hard to imagine a weekly advice audio program filling the rows of say, Symphony Hall, with sincerely psyched audience members. However, that’s just what the three related hosts of My Brother My Brother and Me did on June 12, and the show’s avid listeners were more than ready to see the brothers on stage for the first time in Phoenix. As with every show, questions from audience members and of course, Yahoo! Answers, ranged from birds to bugs to relationships, and there was full, vibrant, deafening audience participation during the intro to the podcast-within-a-podcast segment that made a much-appreciated appearance, Munch Squad. Lauren Cusimano
Comprising works by multidisciplinary artist Nicholas Galanin, this powerful, thought-provoking mid-career retrospective explored contrasts between indigenous and settler culture, calling viewers to consider the cultural appropriation and commodification of American Indian culture. Galanin is a contemporary Native Alaskan artist with Tlingit-Unangax and non-Native ancestry, who uses a wide variety of media, including sculpture, prints, ceramics, video, fiber, and more. Curated by Erin Joyce, the exhibition ran from May 4 to September 3 at the Heard Museum. Featured works included engraved child-size handcuffs, a row of busts shot through with a bullet, a prayer rug resembling static on a TV screen, a crucifix-type sculpture referencing police riot gear, and a bear rug made with bullets and an American flag. LT
Trina McKillen, a Belfast-born artist based in Los Angeles, created a life-size confessional with transparent walls for her exhibition at Lisa Sette Gallery. The exhibit addressed the issue of child sexual abuse committed by priests, along with the complicity of the Catholic church. Inside McKillen’s exquisite, meticulously-constructed confessional, she placed a white, child-sized chair on one side of a latticed partition. On the other, she set a floor cushion covered in upright nails, signaling the need for pedophile priests to kneel and confess their sins. The exhibit, which ran from September 15 to October 25, also included antique vestments worn by Catholic boys and girls, suspended from the ceiling as signifiers of all the children who’ve been victimized. LT
Ballet Arizona delivered an intriguing mix of new and recent works during New Moves, performed September 27 to 30 at the Orpheum Theatre. The lineup included the return of “Rio,” a playful riff on Brazilian culture set to music by Philip Glass. Complete with gyrating hips and colors drawn from the rainforest, the piece choreographed by artistic director Ib Andersen punctuated the joyous intersections of the natural world with urban life. “In Creases,” choreographed by Justin Peck, also featured music by Glass. From its black and white costumes to clean, crisp lines, the ballet was a precise meditation on minimalism. New Moves also included “Inherent,” a new work by Ballet Arizona dancer and choreographer Nayon Iovino, which shared a dramatic tale of life lived through dance. LT
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Phoenix-based artist Janel Garza created a new mural, featuring desert colors and intersections of bold lines and shapes, for Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Painted in October, the mural reflects both Garza’s larger body of work, which includes geometric designs in fabric and wood, and the aesthetic of its surroundings. Garza’s piece beautifully compliments museum architecture by Will Bruder, and two public artworks that share space in the museum courtyard, including a James Turrell skyspace and James Carpenter scrim wall. Garza’s work also plays off the desert plants in the courtyard. Collectively, these elements prompt reflection on both the majesty of vast desert expanses and the intimacy inherent in thoughtful encounters with nature within urban environments. LT
Silence! The Musical
A show like Silence! The Musical – a sing-song comedy production spoofing The Silence of the Lambs – sounds like either a bad Mad Lib or a worse date. But get one second into Brandi Bigley’s spot-on rendering of Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling (with a wig to match), and you’ll be a believer. Silence! has been around for years, but the east Valley got a local taste in May when it was put on by Stray Cat Theatre inside Tempe Center for the Arts. Director Louis Farber kept it pithy and well-paced, meaning you were sucked into the goofy songs, dancing lambs, and a scarier-than-Ted-Levine Buffalo Bill instead of agonizing over how much you have to pee. LC
The Visitors and Disarm (Mechanized)
We may be doubling up here, but these two immersive, musical installations are both worthy of inclusion on the list, even if we don’t have room to list them separately. First, Ragnar Kjartansson’s The Visitors, part of the “Scandinavian Pain & Other Myths” exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum, viewers wander through a room where musicians and singers play a sad song, in separate rooms in the same house, each projected onto a separate screen.
Across town at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Pedro Reyes’ Disarm (Mechanized) gives new meaning to “beating swords into plowshares.” Out of components of confiscated guns, the artist has constructed an automated orchestra of jury-rigged drums and improvised string instruments, playing randomly or controlled via an app. Both are currently on view. Douglas Markowitz