Featured photo: “Evolving Palette Portrait” by Jon Wassom, part of his solo show at monOrchid.
This week was a good time to play catch-up with the Phoenix visual arts scene, now that I’m back from a lovely vacation in cooler climes. And there’s always art to explore, especially on Roosevelt Row, as well as scuttlebutt to get up to speed on (I’ll get to that “meat tenderizer” in a moment).
First, I headed south of the ballpark to take a drive-by look at one of my favorite galleries, Bentley, where it looks like minor construction is underway to condense the warehouse-size art space into something more efficient for today’s art clientele. I’ll be excited to see the changes come late August, when Bentley is scheduled to reopen.
My second stop was Lisa Sette Gallery in midtown Phoenix, another favorite hangout, where the current group show is teasingly named “13 Works You’ll Be Lucky to See This Summer” (through August 29, 2015), which shows off Sette’s fine stable of artists, including Rachel Bess, Maximo Gonzalez, Luis Gonzalez Palma, Siri Devi Khandavilli, Mayme Kratz, Yao Lu, Carrie Marill, Reynier Leyva Novo and Xawery Wolski. All the works fit the bill, with attention focused on Saskia Jorda’s “Cartograms of Memory” (2010), a 12-foot-long installation of cut and sculpted industrial felt that calls to mind a skeletal monster rising from a giant topographical map (or at least that’s one fun way to see it). The gallery is not quite ready to reveal its fall season, but did mention that it will be working with two other Arizona cultural institutions in showcasing an internationally renowned artist. Hmm, can’t wait!
After Sette and a long gulp of water, I headed to Roosevelt Row, where the improvements at monOrchid are a pleasant surprise. Lookin’ good with the new Be: Coffee + Food + Stuff and the oasis-like Bosque plant boutique. The main gallery is currently featuring Jon Wassom and his “Palettes of the World” series (through August 30, 2015). His colorful, highly textured mixed media paintings send viewers to exotic places. I found myself preferring the smaller portraits in which Wassom leaves part of the canvas abstract and thick with globs of paint, as if to let us in on his thought processes. I wasn’t sure how to interpret “The Many Faces of God,” a large oil and acrylic on canvas featuring a montage of famous faces — from Gandhi to MLK to Deepak Chopra — except to say it seems quite personal to the painter and that the faces are beautifully rendered.
RoRo mainstay Modified Arts is featuring (through August 15, 2015) “Maybe Tomorrow, Darling,” a group show curated by Kara Roschi that the gallery describes as using “the visual, conceptual, and material language of the office place to consider the relationship between being and doing, art and life, art work and ‘work-work.’ ” All in all, it contains several wry commentaries on cubicle life, although maybe in a “meta” way, since a good chunk of the building is actually an office — the headquarters of Local First Arizona. When I glanced over at the staff, though, they didn’t appear to be lost in a “Dilbert” cartoon, thank goodness.
Walking back to my car, I wondered, “Where can an art stroller grab a bit of shade on a triple-digit Phoenix day?” Under one of the new trees in giant terracotta planters between Second and Third streets? Nope, the trees are still too new and half of them are withering. Under the expensive new public art piece “Shadow Play” (which is being critiqued as a giant “meat tenderizer”) at the Third Street traffic triangle? OK, it offers a little bit of relief, but metal benches aren’t exactly inviting. Which brings me to my struggle to form an opinion on the evolving streetscape improvements as Roosevelt Row ups its game. I am not blown over by them, but I’m willing to give them a chance as the vacant lots continue to fill in. It’s still early; I just hope all relevant public and private entities are having a meaningful dialogue as to how a popular arts district, along with funky eating/drinking establishments and high-rise apartments, can coexist — old together with new. Is there a cohesive plan, or are cosmetic improvements going in one at a time, by entities with diverse agendas? I recommend reading the thoughts of a few longtime Phoenix artists in a recent New Times piece. Also, see how Arizona Republic photographer Nick Oza teased out some beautiful shots of “Shadow Play” in this slideshow.
Readers, I would love to hear your views on Roosevelt Row in the comments section below.