People have been pouring into Scottsdale Fashion Square this month in search of the perfect holiday gift. Some have stumbled onto an arts venue called Wonderspaces, which opened near the food court earlier this year. And, they likely wonder: Is it worth the $24 price of admission?
Wonderspaces bills itself as an immersive space where interacting with art sparks curiosity and wonder. The concept launched in San Diego with a pop-up exhibition several years ago. Later, the first permanent location opened at the upscale Scottsdale mall.
The venue presents changing exhibitions, which typically include more than a dozen installations. First up for Scottsdale was an exhibition called “Point of View,” which included a compelling mix of artworks. Now, it’s showing “Elsewhere.” And it’s a whole other ballgame.
Its website promises 13 “extraordinary works of art.” Instead, it filled 16,000 square feet of space with creative endeavors that fall far short of expectations. Soil is basically a floor of silver tiles that tilt as people walk across them. And Levitate is a simple row of tubes with balls that rise or fall in response to viewer proximity.
Fortunately, there are a few exceptions. Nicole Banowetz’s inflatable Erupture sculpture surrounds viewers with an alternative landscape complete with transparencies that reveal internal structures. Matthew Matthew’s On a Human Scale allows viewers to activate videos of diverse people singing by manipulating the keys on a piano.
Odds are, some people will be perfectly satisfied with “Elsewhere.” It has a couple of Instagram-worthy pieces, including Squidsoup’s Submergence, which features over 8,000 points of light. And it’s a refreshing alternative to following your friends around from store to store for hours on end.
For people familiar with the local arts scene, it raises some interesting questions. So far, Wonderspaces hasn’t featured work by Arizona creatives.
It’s a curious choice considering the wealth of local artists who’ve creating intriguing installation art — from Saskia Jorda’s Cacerolazo shown during Michigan’s ArtPrize to Denise Yaghmourian’s Objects of Memory shown at Bentley Gallery in Phoenix.
Jorda suspended pots, pans, and cooking utensils from the ceiling with red string, which references her Venezuelan roots and a popular form of street protests in the South American country. Yagmourian dipped objects acquired through the years in black paint, then created a hanging installation that speaks to memories and time.
Another “Elsewhere” installation sparks curiosity about Wonderspaces’ familiarity with the local arts landscape.
For several years now, the concept of secrets has been a pivotal part of Christopher Jagmin’s art practice. Back in 2016, he created community confessionals for Scottsdale Public Art’s Canal Convergence event held just a block south of Scottsdale Fashion Square. People wrote secrets on pieces of paper, which were grouped in a public display.
Candy Chang’s Confessions for “Elsewhere” bears striking similarities, although it lacks the depth of Jagmin’s Your Secret is Safe With Me, in which some community members also chose to exchange their secrets sitting face to face.
For art history nerds, there’s another layer of letdown.
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Devoid of context, some people might delight in seeing Mesplé’s Killing Time. It’s a kinetic hourglass triggered by movement, which has a black liquid oozing from the open mouth of a golden skull. But others will be disappointed because it pales in comparison to the rich tradition of “vanitas” artworks that explores issues of love and death with still-life paintings that often incorporate the human skull.
Even so, there are ways to maximize the Wonderspaces experience.
The venue has a cold, sterile quality when it’s not buzzing with activity. There’s an entirely different vibe when the gallery spaces are filled with people. Conversations happen. People intuit artists’ intentions more freely. The shared community experience creates a sense of joy and wonder that’s lacking in most individual encounters with these artworks.
So check it out if you have $24 to spare. But take a friend. And temper your expectations.