Visions of Transformation

Art museums offer a varied palette to Valley patrons

By Liz Massey

Phoenix is fortunate. While it isn’t the epicenter of the visual arts world, it is a place that features a dazzling confluence of cultures, languages and geographies.

This makes for a highly varied art scene — one that encompasses the best of contemporary art, as well as contributions from emerging local artists and others who remake the world of the eye with their originality and frankness.

Here is a sampling of exhibits that will be coming to Valley museums and galleries throughout the year ahead.

Heard Museum

2301 N. Central Ave., Phoenix;

DarrenVigilGray_Basketmakers16Beautiful Games:

American Indian Sport and Art

Dec. 20, 2014-Nov. 29, 2015

Sports have played a pivotal role in American Indian tribal communities; in fact, many contemporary sports are rooted in traditional tribal sporting games. Lacrosse and surfing have long been attributed to indigenous peoples, and Native athletes quickly gravitated to sports like baseball, basketball, football and rodeo, as well as excelled in emerging modern sports. This exhibition will examine the ways in which sports teach cooperation, consensus, compromise, and teamwork, all of which are pillars of indigenous societies. It will also foster discussions about sports and its role in tribal life.

That’s The Way I Like It!

Through Feb. 8, 2015

Talk about an experiment in crowdsourcing: this exhibition was created by asking visitors to the Heard Museum and its Facebook page which of 22 artworks currently at the Heard Museum were their favorites. Balloting for artwork for the exhibit started last fall and ended in mid-February. Museum visitors received a blue chip — like a poker chip — that they could place in one of 22 blue boxes placed near the Lovena Ohl Gallery. Each of the 22 boxes had a photo of a work of art recently donated to the museum.

Artwork chosen for this exhibit represents a variety of media, from paintings to pottery. Included is Darren Vigil Gray’s (Jicarilla Apache) 2011 acrylic on canvas painting Motherland of Basketmakers #16 (below), which won the round of voting based on the chips, as well as Fausto Fernandez’s 2009 mixed media artwork, Demographic Fabric of America, which won the online component of the balloting. In addition to works chosen by popular vote, That’s the Way I Like It! will introduce several new works received at the museum since the polling began.

Alwun House

1204 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix;

Monsters Menagerie

Oct. 3-31, 2014

Returning for its 15th annual appearance, this exhibition at Alwun House, one of the first nonprofit alternative/contemporary art galleries to locate in downtown Phoenix, will showcase slightly (or extremely) demented creative works that depict dark underworld fantasies, monsters of domination and greed, and satirical takes on what constitutes “horror.” The exhibit will open with a First Friday celebration that promises to bridge the gap between this world and the next, and close with the Monsters Ball, a “high energy thriller stage show” that invites visitors to costume themselves for revelry.

Exotic Art Show 31

Feb. 13–March 20, 2015

Alwun House reprises its popular and envelope-pushing exhibition of all things sensual and passionate, which now attracts more than 50 professional and emerging artists from coast to coast. It contains mature subject matter, and children under 18 must be accompanied by an adult. The exhibit, a fundraiser for the Alwun House Foundation, will kick off with a mind-bending party Feb. 13, which organizers describe as “an experience of total immersion in multisensory, unabashed flights of fantasy with evocative, uninhibited art and performance at every turn.”

Phoenix Art Museum

1625 N. Central Ave., Phoenix;

Antonio Berni, Juanito ciruja [Juanito the Scavenger] (detail), 1978. Oil, bonded fabrics, tin cans, papier mâché, burlap, canvas shoes, rubber, plastic, metals, wire, cord, nails, and staples on wood. Private collection, Buenos Aires Antonio Berni, Juanito ciruja [Juanito the Scavenger] (detail), 1978. Oil, bonded fabrics, tin cans, papier mâché, burlap, canvas shoes, rubber, plastic, metals, wire, cord, nails, and staples on wood. Private collection, Buenos Aires

Antonio Berni — Juanito and Ramona

Through Sept. 21, 2014

Early in his career, Argentinean artist Antonio Berni (1905–1981) was widely recognized throughout Latin America as a pioneering painter. In the mid-1950s, motivated by the social distress and poverty he witnessed amid his country’s rapid industrialization and parallel socio-political upheavals, Berni abandoned painting for a more visceral artistic medium: assemblage.

As he worked in this new medium, he created two fictional characters, Juanito Laguna, a country transplant to Buenos Aires living in poverty on the outskirts of the city, and Ramona Montiel, a middle-class teenager lured into a life of high-society prostitution by the promise of expensive gifts and a life of decadence.

Berni spent nearly 20 years constructing narratives of their lives, using trash, machine parts, and other discards from everyday life. This series is social narrative on industrialization and poverty, underscoring disparities between the wealthy Argentine aristocracy and the “Juanitos” of the slums and condemning high-society prostitution. This is the first exhibition to focus on this iconic series created by Berni and the first Berni exhibition organized by a U.S. museum in nearly 50 years.

Paulo Bruscky: Art Is Our Last Hope

Sept. 6–Dec. 28, 2014

Thisis the first survey exhibition of Brazilian artist Paulo Bruscky’s career in the United States. Bruscky was born in northeastern Brazil in 1949, and witnessed the 1964 military coup that ushered in more than 20 years of rule by dictators. One of the world’s first artists to use a photocopier as an art-making tool, Bruscky is also a poet, creator of artist’s books, inventor, performance artist, photographer and filmmaker. He has played a critical role in bringing major international artistic movements, including mail art (a populist artistic movement centered around sending small scale works through the postal service) and performance art to Brazil.

This exhibition will feature works created between 1971 and 2011, including mail art, video, sound art, Xerox art, and performance documentation. It will be accompanied by extensive public programming, including a lecture by the artist on Oct. 29, a symposium on Oct. 8 on mail art in Latin America, and an exhibition of contemporary mail art from around the globe.

Mesa Arts Center

1 E. Main St., Mesa;

Circus Today:

Pencil Drawings by Mark McDowell

Sept. 12, 2014-Jan. 4, 2015

If your life feels like a three-ring circus, this may just be the exhibition for you. Painter, printmaking and fine art book publisher Mark McDowell has become known for his distinctively graphic focused drawings in colored pencil on birch wood panels. Circus Today features this Arizona artist’s latest body of work, which showcases the classic imagery often associated with circuses: acrobatic performers, animal acts, sideshow curiosities, and of course, the iconic big top tent. The exhibit will feature a free opening reception Sept. 12, and is paired with several other circus-themed exhibits at the center during the fall and winter.–E

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