Monday, January 3, 2011

Going West: Scottsdale and Phoenix, AZ, to hunt down keys; San Francisco and San Jose, CA, American History - now + then

Jean Shin and Brian Ripel, Lost Vista, installation view, 2010. Courtesy of the artist. 
© Jean Shin and Brian Ripel.
For a short trip to research two exciting upcoming projects for 2012 – a solo exhibition of sculptor Julianne Swartz and a project by Jena Shin and Brian Ripel - I found myself gazing out over the mountains around Phoenix – both from my airplane seat and from the safety of the museum gallery.

The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) opened Jean Shin and Brian Ripel: Unlocking this fall, a smart mediation on the local landscape of Scottsdale, AZ – a city defined as much by its brown mountain range as by its notorious housing bubble and bust. In 2012, SMoCA and deCordova will join forces, with gust curator Rachael Aruaz, to produce the first major museum survey of the work of Julianne Swartz, in the exhibition Julianne Swartz: How Deep is Your. That same year, we will also be featuring a new project by Jean Shin and Brian Ripel.

(left) Gravity House, opened up.    (center, right) Brent Green’s Installation (detail)

Another trip highlight was a visit to Arizona State University Art Museum where I saw Brent Green’s mesmerizing and heartbreaking installation Gravity was Everywhere Back Then. The film and large-scale installation of surreal rooms tells the true story of Leonard Wood, who built a house, room by marvelous room, in an attempt to save his wife Mary from a fatal cancer diagnosis. Wood continued to build the house even after Mary passed, in effect, as a built love letter to his late wife.

It was then on to San Francisco to visit the San Jose Museum of Art where they just celebrated the west-coast equivalent of the Boston Cyberarts Festival (!) the Zero-Festival. In honor of their comparable tech community (in that small thing called Silicon Vallery), the Museum organized two fantastic shows: a retrospective of the light-art Leo Villareal and vibrant, brilliantly-titled group show Retro-Tech.

Katya Bonnenfant, 2:57AM Onibaba Anguish 
from “Vintage Packaging for Animation,” 2009
Digital animation on iPod Touch, mounted in vintage clock

Leo Villareal – Installation as self-portraiture

Leo Villareal – Installation as self-portraiture

And finally – what is any trip without a studio visit. This time it was to the illustrious Allison Smith – sculptor and American History buff – who was featured in The Old, Weird America exhibition, organized by the Contemporary Art Museum, Houston, that came to deCordova in Summer 2009. Newly transplanted out west with her latest storefront project SMITHS, Allison was gracious enough to share her morning coffee with me and chat things old and American. We look forward to seeing her around these parts again soon!

- Dina Deitsch

SMITHS, Oakland, California