A Super DC-3 planes painted by How & Nosm in the Tucson boneyard
A Super DC-3 planes painted by How & Nosm in the Tucson boneyard
Claire Lawton

"The Boneyard Project" Lands in Tucson's Pima Air & Space Museum

If you're looking for the latest work by a few of the biggest international names in street and contemporary art, don't bother looking at the walls. Instead, look south, down Interstate 10 past Tucson. It's there, in the "boneyard" of retired aircraft, that a caravan of trucks and cranes is wheeling painted planes and parts to Pima Air & Space Museum.

In the past few weeks, three Super DC-3 planes were given face-lifts by artists How & Nosm, Nunca, and Retna. On Saturday, January 28, these planes will be joined by a C45 painted by Faile, a Lockheed VC 140 Jetstar painted by Andrew Schoultz, a C97 cockpit painted by Saner, and more than 30 nose cones painted by such international artists as Richard Prince, Lee Quinones, Kenny Scharf, Aiko, Futura, Peter Dayton, JJ Veronis, Mare, Tara McPherson, Crash, Daze, Ron English, Erik Foss, Tristan Eaton, Lisa Lebofsky, Mark Ryden, Walter Robinson, Judith Supine, Ryan Wallace, Jameson Ellis, Mark Kostabi, and Eric White and Arizona-based artists Colin Chillag, David Quan, Daniel Martin Diaz, Randy Slack, El Mac, and Hector Ruiz.

In 2010, Eric Firestone, who owns and operates Eric Firestone Gallery in Hampton, New York (once based in Tucson and, for a short time, on Marshall Way in Scottsdale), approached longtime New York arts writer and curator Carlo McCormick with an idea: Contemporary art on retired aircraft — new canvases for the artists and new lives for rusting planes.

McCormick says he thought Firestone was crazy. And then they took a trip to the boneyard.

The two say they found piles of plane scraps, picked apart by industrial designers and DIYers for their latest boutique-hotel-inspired tabletops and seat-belt lawn chairs. But what always remained were the planes' nose cones.

Firestone and McCormick began collecting the cones and sending them to artists, who attempted to fit them through their studio doors before painting, collaging, and writing on the metal surfaces.

The decoration, McCormick says, isn't a new concept but, instead, is a tribute to American and European folk art developed after World Wars I and II. The painted nose cones have become a modern take on the pop culture icons, pinups, slogans, and tattoo art that decorated war machinery and uniforms.

The collection of nose cones was then shipped back to Firestone's New York gallery last summer for an exhibition titled "Nose Job."

Almost a year after one of their first trips, Firestone and McCormick are back at the boneyard on a chilly January morning with Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art's Lesley Oliver, they're safely guiding three painted planes across Tucson's busy Valencia Road to the museum's property and installing more than 30 nose cones in one of the museum's hangars.

"The Boneyard Project: A Return Trip" is the continuation of "Nose Job" and a project McCormick (who's been burying himself in the museum's archives full of models, historical publications, and Air Force uniforms) and a few participating artists say they hope will continue.

For artists like Andrew Schoultz, the project is an opportunity to translate his large-scale work — featured at Art Basel Miami Beach last year — to an audience of plane fiends, fans of contemporary art, and road-trippers.

For the Arizona artists, the project is a chance to connect with international artists and represent their home state at an admittedly unusual venue for an international art show.

And for Firestone and McCormick, "The Boneyard Project" is only the beginning of a concept that's rooted in the ever-evolving notion of flight, from Icarus to da Vinci to the Wright Brothers to the space shuttle.

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