Featured photo: “Tremolo” (2015) by Dion Johnson. 60 X 80 inches, acrylic on canvas – diptych. Courtesy of Bentley Gallery.
Every time I see local shows of the caliber of “Dion Johnson: Luminous Trajectories,” “Bruce Munro,” and “Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads: Gold,” it makes me want to shout to non-Arizonans, “We’re a desert, but not a visual arts desert! Really!”
I packed these three shows into a balmy Phoenix afternoon recently and felt my time was efficiently and gratifyingly spent, all the while knowing that there was even more I could see and enjoy this month in the metro area.
First, the Dion Johnson paintings at Bentley Gallery, on view until January 5, 2016: A Southern California artist, Johnson creates deceptively simple canvases characterized by gently swaying “curtains” of wildly colored vertical stripes. Often the stripes seem pushed together by large color fields of black, white, red 0r green, adding a concave/convex effect and suggesting movement and urban density. I really love the paintings in which Johnson uses masking and airbrush techniques to end a stripe with just a hair’s-width of color as well as areas where the absence of color creates pinnacles and slivers amid the cool blues, lime greens and hot pinks. All in all, this is SLICK work, and it looks great in the front gallery of the newly remodeled Bentley.
“Ferryman’s Crossing II,” “Restless Fakir” and “Eden Blooms,” by Bruce Munro. Courtesy of Lisa Sette Gallery.
Second, the Bruce Munro light-based installations at Lisa Sette Gallery, running through January 2, 2016: You can see large-scale installations by this internationally known British artist at four different metro-area venues through the spring, notably the network of 30,000 gently pulsating colored lights forming “Field of Light” at the Desert Botanical Garden. But the Sette show is Munro’s first time in a U.S. commercial gallery, which gives him license to scale his works differently and play with indoor digital projection. An example among the five installations is “Moon Watcher,” a wall on which digitally controlled lights present a portion of a famous science fiction book while mimicking the phases of the moon.
The lovely thing about Munro’s work is that you can parse it for insights into the science of light, the mysteries of the natural world or the vastness of space — or you can just meditate upon the way the lights sparkle or move in patterns or emanate from unusual objects. The room that contains the slightly raised table re-imagining “Ferryman’s Crossing” (the full-size version is at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art through April 24, 2016) is definitely worth several minutes of contemplation. The sense I get from my recent interview with Munro is that the individual experience of the work is key, even though he is likely to incorporate scientific, literary and musical references that interest him yet are unfamiliar to you. He’s not expecting everyone to have read Siddhartha, for instance, the inspiration behind “Ferryman’s Crossing.”
Be sure to complete this season’s Munro-athon by visiting his eight installations for “Sonoran Light” at the Garden (through early May) and by walking along the Arizona Canal in downtown Scottsdale to see his “BLOOMS,” a set of lighted flotillas, through March 2016.
Ai Weiwei installation (partial view), “Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads: Gold.” Photo by Deborah Ross.
Third, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s 5-foot-high circle of gold-plated zodiac heads at the Phoenix Art Museum, through January 31, 2016. This was a no-brainer stop on my afternoon art journey, given my longtime fascination with Ai. I’ve seen a different iteration of this in Washington, D.C., but am grateful the work has finally traveled here. As the museum explains, Ai’s 12 animal heads — according to the Chinese zodiac, I’m a monkey! — are inspired by those that once graced an imperial estate built by the Qing Dynasty in the 18th century, before being looted by the British and French. Ai recreated the circle of heads in 2010 as a commentary on cultural theft, which is a common theme in his conceptual work.
You might enjoy this seven-minute video that is also on view at PAM as part of the show:
Dear readers, Where should my gallery-hopping take me next, in this fine month of art shows?