Thursday, January 21, 2010

Contemporary art at the Phoenix Art Museum

So we went to a lot of museums and artistic things when we were in Arizona for Christmas, but I haven't blogged a one of them yet. I've been meaning to. Here's one.

Everyone told us that the Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art is the one to see in Phoenix. We eventually hit it, too, but we needed to check out the Phoenix Art Museum, too: for professional reasons, we have to check out any collection of Asian art within reach, no matter how piddling.

And the Phoenix Art Museum's Asian art collection is pretty piddling. But its collection of contemporary art is surprisingly impressive. It takes up two whole floors, huge galleries, and what's on display is at least equal to what we saw at the ICA. (Looking back at what I wrote about the ICA, I figure I might as well note that the PhAM is a beautiful museum: on the gray day we went, the building's gray walls gave it an air of dignity and set it apart from the sand color of the rest of downtown Phoenix; also goes nicely with the palo verdes in the garden.)

What do they have? I wish I'd taken notes. Here's what I remember:

A huge pair of Morimuras, riffing on the Mona Lisa.

Another Josiah McElheny, complete with fulsome wall text - in fact, the wall text was clearly written by the same person. Which tells me that the curators at the MFA, PhAM, and ICA probably had nothing to do with writing it: it was him or his dealer. Interesting. This one wasn't as captivating conceptually as the other two I've seen, although it benefitted from being next to the Peter Wegner colored-paper installation (click on the link and scroll down). The McElheny reflect the Wegner in very drippy, psychedelic ways. No doubt it's not what McElheny intended, but it's cool.

The Wegner itself is magnificent. It's so bright that it dominates the room its in, and the sheer beauty of its colors makes me wonder why so much serious art shies away from bright colors. Is the pleasure of color suspect, because it's pleasure? Then again, I like psychedelic Fillmore posters, too.

My favorite piece was by Kusama Yayoi. Entitled "You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies" (a Japanese title if there ever was one), it's a big, irregularly-shaped, mirror-lined room, unlit except for hundreds of little lights on black cords hanging down from the ceiling. The lights, no bigger than fireflies, change colors, and sway as you walk through the room. They don't give off much light: once you're in the room you're lost. You don't know where the walls are, or where the exit is. You're forced to walk along with your arms outstretched, brushing aside fireflies and hoping you can find a wall. But all the while you're breathless from the illusion that you're in an infinite space of fireflies. Really amazing. Even now, a month later, I kind of feel like I'm subtly changed for having been there.

1 comment:

Katie said...

I also love the Peter Wegner piece at the museum it is by far my favorite there. Although I was there recently and saw the Ansel Adams exhibit it was incredible. I see you were just here for Christmas, but if you come back before June you have to go check it out.