Image: Ceramic/mixed media work by Esmeralda DeLaney, “Madonna and Kids: Omar and Angeline.”
Art museums and galleries don’t usually spring to mind when families with school-age children (read: bored school-age children) are casting about for summer activities. Even water parks can get old, right?
Fortunately, Phoenix is enjoying a summer of many art opportunities brimming with a kid-friendly vibe. Chief among them is “BUILD! Toy Brick Art at the Heard,” with its jaw-dropping works of art created from LEGO bricks. For instance, Mark Mancuso and Joel Hornbeek closely reprise a vintage Action Comics cover using 55,000 bricks on LEGO plates and plywood. Other artists and designers tackle both whimsical and serious subjects. The word is, the exhibit is keeping kids happily occupied, thanks to the many creations on display plus various building stations and workshops. The exhibit is up through September 28, 2014. Check the Heard site for details. Sundays in July are free admission, with a $5 gate fee for “BUILD!”
Here’s a roundup of other kid-friendly Phoenix-area art venues I’ve come across. But I’ve probably missed a few, so please do make additional suggestions in the comments section below.
Tempe Center for the Arts — It’s the “Summer of Love,” with an easy-going exhibit themed around the love of family, friends, ethnic heritage and nature. The kids will love posing in front of two giant silhouetted hands forming a heart shape; the resulting Polaroid gets turned into a keepsake. Elsewhere in the gallery: Parents can help their kids study the symbol-laden mixed-media work of Marco Albarran, such as a half-human, half-bovine mythological being hanging from the ceiling. Dog lovers and others can enjoy the anthropomorphic work of Esmeralda DeLaney, who works in ceramics and mixed media. For the under-10 set, there is an art-making station, along with a reading nook dedicated to the lovely Caldecott Honor book “Flora and the Flamingo” by Arizona author Molly Idle. Vibrant paintings by Frank Ybarra are on display, which kids can study for their loving treatment of Hispanic culture. The Gallery at TCA site has more information, including dates for family art workshops. Steampunk owls, anyone? (August 2)
Shemer Art Center — Folk art, mostly from Latin America, is the subject of “Joy of Toys,” an eclectic collection of simply made yet pleasantly intriguing dolls, trucks, small sculptures and other wares relying on found objects and bits of cloth, wood and plastic. Not just toys, the objects are weighted with cultural significance that adults might want to parse. I suggest turning the visit into a scavenger hunt by creating a list of materials that the kids need to count as they visit the three exhibit rooms in Shemer. Count the Coke cans turned into art, the number of plastic bottle caps, the number of reused food containers, the objects that use string or yarn, etc. The show closes July 24, but check the Shemer site for summer art classes and information about the upcoming exhibit of student artwork.
Phoenix Art Museum — “Antonio Berni: Juanito and Ramona” is a fabulous show saluting one of Latin America’s most beloved artists. Adults will want to spend some time with it (I’m going back ASAP), to contemplate the social conditions of Berni’s two fictional characters and their profound expression in mixed-media works and paintings. But there’s much for kids to take in, especially Berni’s fantastical monsters created from discarded materials. I would consider steering the little ones away from the room with depictions of Ramona as a courtesan, but for teenagers, her story might stir up some empathy once they know more about it. In any case, catch the show before September 21, 2014. Details on the museum site.
Mesa Contemporary Arts — The museum at the Mesa Arts Center is having another blockbuster summer, with five shows — all worth seeing. Kids will be wowed by “Boundless,” a wide-ranging look at the ultimate re-utilization of books — stacked, cut apart, painted, rearranged and otherwise manipulated. Guy Laramee’s “The Grand Library,” for instance, is a sculpture from stacked books, chiseled away to form a Grand Canyon of pages. Also, I loved the hollowed-out books turned into miniature tableaux. MCA’s other galleries house: narrative bird sculptures by Marilyn da Silva; fascinating works in paper that have been created through delicate folding and cutting; an oh-so-relevant look at immigrant life in an installation by Sara Rockinger; and lovely metal jewelry by Betsy Douglas. Each show runs through August 10, 2014. It’s all enjoyable to see and educational, too! See the website for hours.
Arizona State University Art Museum — “Funny Papers” might be an unfamiliar term to your Internet-age kids, but they will quickly understand comic strips as an enduring art form in this quirky show, running through September 6, 2014. ASU is sponsoring a Family Fun Day on July 12 in conjunction with the show.
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art — In the Young@Art Gallery, a show called “Visions: Exposure” will inspire the young artists in your brood. It’s a professionally mounted showcase for the teen artists who took part in this year’s Visions program, and it’s up through September 7, 2014. The gallery is across from SMoCA in the performing arts center. In the museum itself, take the kids to check out the cool new geometric murals by James Marshall, aka “Dalek,” and venture into “Beauty” by Oliafur Eliasson, a color-filled, mist-like experience that is about the sickest thing on the planet. (You may borrow my teen lingo to convince the kids that it’s worth seeing.)