Letter from Phoenix

March 21st, 2013  |  Published in March 2013

Letter from Phoenix
Fran Watson
I  went for sunshine and got sleet, rain, and chill. Phoenix natives don gloves and earmuffs for their morning walks when the temps hit 60 degrees. The art made up for it all even though several art festivals were literally blown away by high winds.

The entrance lobby and hallways of the Phoenix Art Museum  were hung with hundreds (thousands?) of black paper (?) moths.  Clustered, scattered, clinging to the walls and skylights, tenuously resting on architectural supports, there was a breathless emotion in their presence.  Dianne and Bruce Halle, like many  collectors in our time, have honed in on a particular area from which to gather their very contemporary art.  This installation, and the accompanying pieces from “Order, Chaos, and the Space Between” were chosen from Latin American art, all high quality and innovative.

“Digital Print Fashion”, also at PAM, was a flamboyant, eye-popping display of dresses produced in digital prints created by international designers, including Alexander McQueen nad Issey Miyake. Not quite as new as they look, this is a collection 40 works produced over the past 20 years.  While the museum is 50 plus years old, it certainly doesn’t look it.  The light, open exhibit spaces are perfect for contemporary art, which apparently is the top priority there.  A Deborah Butterfield found object horse, “Ponder”  was an unexpected pleasure.  It was displayed on a balcony, quite alone and surprisingly accessible.  Moving around it, and inspecting it closely increased my appreciation more than in past exhibits where the audience is carefully held at a distance deemed safe by museum security.

My hostess in Phoenix neither knows nor cares about art, so talking her into one museum day was quite a feat.  Two would be miraculous.  But there is my favorite tiny gem, Scottsdale MOMA to be seen and I tap-danced my way into another art trip.  Paolo Solari’s Arcosanti starred with a huge model of the self-sustaining city by Solari.  The artist lives in Scottsdale, continuing to make his trademark metal wind chimes which had their beginnings at Arcosanti.  I’ve been there and loved the solitude and quirks of the fraction of its initial plan that exists.  I also have a friend who spent a summer there as an apprentice. Many huge drawings Solari executed during its inception were included along with posters.  These last were the piece de resistance of the large exhibit.  Their purpose was to interest apprentices and other workers to spend a paid residency at Arcosanti.  Their concept was as different as are all of Solari’s creations.  Black backgrounds on which bits of architecture and simple type-written messages were printed must have stood out in the 60’s amid the wild psychedelic cartoon-ish advertising art of the era.

I mentioned the outdoor art festivals which were blown out of business.  We watched as the juried artists in the Scottsdale Art Festival at the Civic Center anchored their booths with sandbags and tried, sometimes in vain, to stash their artwork securely.  The worst of the winds occurred after we left, so there was still a handful of artists to be seen.  The quality was outstanding, making the weather even more regretful.  If you’ve ever done an outdoor show, you can sympathize with the participants.  Often the work on display has taken years to assemble rendering the loss emotional as well as costly.


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