West Valley Art Museum
Making the haul to Sun City for a visit with Gramps will be much more pleasant if you make a pit stop at the West Valley Art Museum. We discovered this little gem and couldn't believe that such refinery was hiding in the hinterlands.

The gorgeous, modern building houses a permanent collection of more than 4,000 pieces that range from expected paintings, sculptures, and drawings to sneaky surprises like ethnic dress, textiles, and fine crafts. The museum also circulates temporary exhibitions of local or Southwestern artists. But don't let that scare you — these pros pick contemporary artists who facilitate a Southwestern flavor with innovative aesthetics — no howling coyotes or dream-catchers here.

And if you hit the place over the weekend, you might be lucky enough to catch a music recital.

After an uncomfy visit to the elderly, there's nothing like taking in some killer art with the sweet sounds of Beethoven drifting through the galleries.

Too often, public art means dancing naked ladies or portrait statues of important figureheads. But Michele Stuhl's white-painted steel arch, which looms over McDowell Road between 16th and 17th streets, focuses on location by mimicking the cityscape of surrounding buildings and an abstracted picket fence at the apex, bringing to mind the surrounding residential areas. On a clear day, the sunlit white sings against our blue sky — a relief in the midst of traffic and surrounding strip malls. The structure not only looks beautiful, but also commemorates a time in the 1950s when the stretch of McDowell Road from 12th to 20th streets was a bustling and vibrant business district, referred to as the "Miracle Mile." Of course, with the city's growth, the area has experienced a decline, but it will keep some class as long as this piece is integrated in the scenery.
Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza
Anyone remember what this big-ass steel Frisbee at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza downtown was supposed to be for? Yep, it's the much fought-over Arizona 9/11 memorial, the one the right-wingers railed about and implied was traitorous during the 2006 gubernatorial donnybrook between Len Munsil and Janet Napolitano. Now the goofy Funyun-lookin' object has quietly slipped into much-deserved obscurity.

No one gives a crap anymore about the 9/11 shrine, and it's ridiculous that we ever did, seeing that the attacks were thousands of miles away on the East Coast. Indeed, other than one dood from Tempe in the wrong place, wrong time, the connection between the 9/11 strikes and the Zona was always tenuous at best, as long as you don't count 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour slamming Flight 77 into the side of the Pentagon. He was trained partly in AZ, you see. At least with the attack on Pearl Harbor, there was the USS Arizona. And there are enough Vietnam vets and Korean War vets from AZ to justify their monuments. The 9/11 Memorial, however, is a colossal non sequitur that never should've been built to begin with. That's clearer than it's ever been.

We reckon the town fathers of Guadalupe must be passing out paint by the bucketful, as many of the buildings along its main drag of Avenida del Yaqui are decked out with murals or other brushed-on decorations of some form or another. Not that we're complaining or anything, as the rough-around-the-edge-style renditions of Christ's crucifixion or commemorations of the town's shared Latino and Yaqui Indian heritage give the tiny Hispanic hamlet a sense of folk art panache.

The mural we've been digging the most lately is a tattoo-like creation covering the front of the Guadalupe Youth & Young Adult Program building. Created in 2003 by a number of the program's teenage members under the guidance of a local art instructor, the 12-foot-wide, 5-foot-high painting utilizes imagery from throughout Chicano history and culture on either side of a large icon of a sacred heart. The past is depicted by an Aztec warrior and the Virgin Mary, while the present is represented by Dia de Los Muertos skeletons, a vato-like skull, and a pair of the "laugh now, cry later" drama masks. Has us eyeing that blank cinderblock fence in the backyard...

There's a chance your artistic tastes might not be ready for the huge collaborative mural that adorns the outside wall of Jesika Jordan's gallery and record store at the .anti_space building in downtown Phoenix. If so, we can't really blame you, as a Pepto-pink backdrop filled with chrome-like graffiti script and shiny mech-style robots laying waste to skyscrapers isn't for everyone.
The good news is, the madcap mural will be painted over in a month or two. It'll likely be replaced by a similarly surreal graf art scene, as Jordan and a collection of her spray paint-wielding cohorts — including Ekose, Zokes, Weo, and Joerael Elliot — whip up a new wall painting every couple months, as part of a cooperative art project. "There are only a few legal walls in downtown, because people tend to look down on graffiti as a legitimate art form," Jordan says. "One of the owners of the business next door almost called the cops on us because she thought we were tagging illegally." Guess she didn't dig the mural, either.
Icehouse
A towering, 13-foot-high pyramid of stacked Chinese shipping boxes. Several liquid-powered robot gongs lined up in a row creating a clamorous cacophony of noise. A gigantic woven rubber and metal cage suspended like a spider web from the walls and containing a punky performance artist. These are just a few unusual examples of the edgy, outrageous, and inspiring installation art pieces — both large and small, with an emphasis on the former — that one can witness on a regular basis at the Icehouse.

Ever since 1990, when co-owner Helen Hestenes converted this former warehouse in downtown Phoenix into a massive 30,000-square-foot art compound, she's given up space in the joint's three main rooms for every type of installation piece imaginable across numerous mediums, from sculpture and video art to interactive and performance-based pieces.

They run the gamut from the surreal and spectacular (like when members of Mexico's "X'TeReSa Alternative Art Center transformed the White Column Room in 1994 into an elaborate temple for Aztec rain god Tlaloc) to the more subtle and small-scale effort (such as Jennifer Urso's more recent, interactive Fractured Thought, which had patrons breaking fragile ceramic tile after walking across it in order to illustrate chaotic human thought processes).

Although Hestenes is often hosting local art scene regulars like Susan Copeland, Pete Deise, or Mona Higuchi, she provides opportunities for newbies to get their works in the public eye, such as a recent showcase of work by ASU students.

"The Icehouse is here for artists who want to create pieces that [are] either large-scale or exploratory, or both, since there aren't many venues in the Valley that can handle that kind of work," says Hestenes.

Thank you, Helen!

Ed Mell's Rising Phoenix, a Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture commissioned work completed in December 2006, explores the legend of the Phoenix bird that gives our lovely town its namesake. The 40-inch-tall bronze statue, bordered by the beautiful Historic City Hall structure to the east and the Calvin Goode Building to the west, is perched atop a four-foot tall concrete pedestal. Mell's background in illustration and drawing is evident in the work, as the attention to detail is unparalleled. The silver nitrate patina polish applied by the artist, who is represented by Scottsdale's Overland Gallery of Fine Art, gives the work a mystical, pensive quality as the bird victoriously rises from the flames. There are plenty of shade-providing trees, so feel free to enjoy a sack lunch in the plaza while gazing at the bronze bird.
SOCA Gallery & Vircille
In the real estate game, location is everything. Mortgage banking executive Terri Rundle knew that when she opened SOCA Gallery and the neighboring antique shop, Vircille. Named for its prime location just south of Camelback Mountain, the lofty building features burnished gold walls, cathedral ceilings, and killer acoustics for the musicians that flock to play at the fab space's corporate parties. Admittedly, the eye-popping grandeur of SOCA is what drew us there in the first place, but Rundle has assembled a quirky collection of art from her travels that transcends the cactus-studded landscapes and Native American kitsch some local galleries are drowning in. Locals Mark McDowell and David Sklar have been showcased, along with Bulgarian-born surrealist Vladimir Ovtcharov, whose vibrant, offbeat paintings combine rich colors and textures with whimsical wonderland creatures. We look forward to seeing what Rundle pulls out of her dusty collection next.
Make all the jokes you want about Mesa, but do it fast because pretty soon, the place won't be so easy to poke fun at. Things are happening over in the East Valley and we're not talking about new strip malls or good fabric stores, either.

If you happen to cruise Mesa's main drag downtown, you may notice a local art scene that is kicking up and gaining a foothold with the recent opening of Windup Gallery. Owners Lindsay and Anthony Cresta have already showcased a knack for tapping into the local arts scene with their Summer "Homegrown AZ Artist Show" — all the coolest graffiti artists in town coughed up some kickass works. Not only was the art punchy and colorful, but the opening night was bumpin' with scenesters from all over the Valley. Windup has gotta be doing something right if we're willing to haul our cookies to Mesa on a Saturday night.

A mere six months ago, Derrick Pacheco's HoodRide and Paul Moncrief's Route 123 were just ordinary home-based art galleries that shared a duplex on Fifth Street in downtown Phoenix's Evans-Churchill neighborhood. But since then, the pair joined forces and re-created their pads into a kickass compound of coolness that's become a hot hipster hangout during First Fridays.

The building now sports an oddball burnt orange and aqua paint scheme, which makes it stand out from neighbor MADE art boutique and The Lost Leaf like some funkdafied beacon. Moncrief's infamous front-lawn sculpture garden, which the photographer created from automotive and aircraft parts, has now become a bizarre open-air lounge where you can kick back in 1950s-era hair dryers.

Pacheco, a graphic designer with a flair for vintage automotive style, built a treehouse-style DJ booth in the front yard so as to rain down ambient techno beats upon visitors and other passersby. There's also an ample stage in the backyard where live bands perform. The fun isn't just limited to the monthly art walk, however, as the pair host music and performance art events throughout the rest of the month as well. Other RoRo music venues, watch your backs.

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