An attractive building amid the Mesa Arts Center complex, the MCA Museum usually mounts four to five shows at a time in its relatively small galleries. There have been times I’ve visited when not all the shows appealed to me. Last visit, though, I feel like I hit the jackpot, and I recommend you see all five shows — all on exhibit until August 11, 2013.
I reached for the jackpot analogy because one of the best pieces in the show “American Dream,” which features the artists of Eye Lounge in downtown Phoenix, is Sarah Hurwitz’s “Lucky Livelyhood.” It’s a real slot machine retooled by the artist to mirror the games we play in choosing our careers. Put in a quarter, pull the lever, and the spinning images land on such choices as “pet detective,” “parachute tester,” “mad scientist” and “blogger” (oh, that’s a good one!). Flanking the machine are posters on oak tag paper with Hurwitz’s postage-stamp-size illustrations of faces and “clip art,” forming a caustic and comprehensive “Career List.”
The MCA greeter told me that the slot machine can be played only during supervised tours, as the museum doesn’t want to risk breaking Arizona gambling laws. Schoolkids have gotten a kick out of it, though.
I’ll highlight a few pieces by the Eye Lounge artists — this small collective, by the way, has been a mainstay on Roosevelt Row — but mention that almost all of the chosen pieces are worthy of being given this museum treatment and that this serves as a fine salute to Arizona artists:
— The fog-like street scene of Logan Bellew’s digital photograph “Untitled (In the Loving Calm of Your Arms),” which borrows from an essay by Roland Barthes, a French cultural critic.
— Abbey Messmer’s “Surface Tension,” showing three boys in a pool, which you would think would be a colorful, joyful piece, but which instead is dreamlike, with a potentially complex narrative.
— “Smoke” by Melissa Martinez, in which the actual remnants of trees struck by lightning are mounted on steel bases. The sight of them leads to ruminations on nature’s fierce beauty.
I purposely want to list the other local artists in the show (alphabetically): David Bradley, Lee Davis, Sean Deckert, Paul Elliott, Daniel Funkhouser, T.J. Hogan, Mimi Jardine, Chris Maker, Merkel McLendon, Michael Max McLeod, Christina Mesiti, Mary Meyer, Ann Morton, Dianne Nowicki, Crystal Phelps, Lara Plecas, Christina Pruitt, Olivia Timmons and Claire Warden.
Moving on to the show “Arizona Catalyst: Artists Working In & Beyond the State,” I felt a small triumph that the four featured artists all began their careers in Arizona, and although they now live elsewhere, their ties to the local art community remain strong.
I enjoyed seeing the multi-layered mixed media pieces by Fausto Fernandez, whose name has come up recently in conjunction with the beautiful mosaics and other public artwork at Phoenix Sky Train’s 44th Street Station. Wesley Anderegg entertains with his dioramas of puppet-like characters in storytelling poses. Angela Young produces beautiful pencil drawings, sometimes showing body parts magnified to the point of abstraction. Best of all is Angel Cabrales’ “Preparativos Para la Invasion,” a mixed media piece with Mexican and military paraphernalia and the sound of a Rachel Maddow broadcast — a sarcastic commentary on unfounded fears of Mexicans, perhaps?
Another current show at MAC is “Now Playing Everywhere: A Survey of Social and Political Works from the Stephane Janssen Collection.” You could spend quite a bit of time with the various works by internationally renowned artists — Janssen must be one of the smartest art collectors around — and the artists’ statements with each piece are quite helpful in understanding the mindset behind the strong messages of their work. Simply put, though, if you’ve never seen work by the likes of Spencer Tunick, Isaac Montoya, the Russian collective AES + F, Vic Muniz and Fritz Scholder (his famous “Indian Before Remington”), then head on over.
The smallest of the shows is the installation “Bipolar,” a collaboration between Texas artist Alice Leora Briggs and Arizona artist Albert Kogel, in which you are meant to walk among highly detailed woodcut cubes and metal sculptures as if you are somehow lost between reason and madness. Look closely, and be absorbed by the “mental patients” within.
As for the last exhibition to mention, it’s probably one of the main draws right now: “The Dogs of Ron Burns,” a survey of the Arizona artist’s colorful, idiosyncratic doggie portraits. I admit, I found myself sucked in … and I’m a cat person!
Variety is certainly the name of the game with the summer offerings at Mesa Contemporary Arts. See all five shows … or the one that most appeals to you.
All photographs below are courtesy of Mesa Contemporary Arts.