Phoenix Art and Architecture

Before I left for Virginia (yes, I’ll blog about that later), I joined Tucson Museum of Art’s Contemporary Art Society for the annual Phoenix Art Tour.  We toured an art gallery, an art studio, and Taliesin West.

Bentley Gallery

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The Bentley Projects Gallery (synonymous with significant contemporary painting and sculpture in the Southwest), was once a linen laundry warehouse dating back to 1918.  Jeremy Thomas’ inflated metal sculptures were pretty awesome.

Each piece begins as welded circles of plate steel, which are then placed in a forge furnace and heated until malleable. (At Hades-like temperatures, about 2000° F, metal can be molded like clay.) The piece is then removed from the furnace and injected with bursts of pressurized air. Most of the volume is powder-coated in bright, primary colors that reference farming machinery, while the rusted side gets an oxide patina, creating a soft, leathery contrast to the hard, shiny surfaces.

There is a very short video of him creating, in his forge is outside of Santa Fe, one of his sculptures. 1

Mayme Kratz studio

Mayme Kratz works both in resin and blown glass. Her pieces are intended to capture nature in transparent structures.
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Her studio was full of grass works that she has done for Tucson Museum of Art’s exhibit, Desert Grasslands, which shall open January 26.   Above are birds’ nests that she created out of cas phoenix 022grasses then encased in resin.  To the right is her talking about her work, with grasses laid out as a sunburst in resin.  My favorite was this one made from thistle.cas phoenix 024

Taliesin West

Late in the afternoon we drove to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, way to the northeast of Scottsdale, now in the McDowell Mountain Regional Park, for our tour.  It had been ten or fifteen years since I’ve been there.
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“Taliesin” is of Welsh origin and means “shining brow,” and both Taliesin East, which he built for his mother in 1911 in Wisconsin, and Taliesin West are positioned on the “brow” of a hill.  (Ok, my houses don’t hold a candle to Wright, but I did nestle them into the hillside.)

Wright positioned the home on the “brow” of a hill, rather than on the peak so that Taliesin would appear as though it arose naturally from the landscape. In his words, “…not on the land, but of the land”.

In Wisconsin, however, the hill is eroding away from the buildings.  In the restoration process they are using using reinforced concrete piers and beams to tether the house to the bedrock; otherwise Taliesin might slip down the hill.

taliesin mapWright started Taliesin West in 1937.  (2012 was the 75th anniversary, good time for a fund drive for renovations.)  With the Fallingwater commission he paid $2,000 for 600 acres of desert (less than $350 an acre), way out of town and with no utilities.  He bought well water from nearly ranchers and carted it to his site in barrels.  His students dug in a taliesin 029road.  They were really dedicated – check out the length of that road!  (The dark squares to the left are solar panels which power the complex, costing $1.1 million, but donated by First Solar last year.)  They found many Hohokam petroglyphs, which are displayed around the site.

biltmore-stain-glassNine years prior he had consulted on the luxurious Arizona Biltmore hotel [for which he designed this beautiful stained glass window, which has a light behind it], and he also had been hired in 1928 to design a resort for Dr. Alexander Chandler just south of Phoenix. Unfortunately, those plans ended up crashing, along with the stock market in 1929, slashing his $40,000 fee to just $2,500.1

It seems I was trained wrong, by parents with a Depression mentality who had so little money that they shared the purchase of a wheelbarrow with my aunt and uncle.   Wright, on the other hand, said Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves.  Darn, why didn’t I think of that?

Taliesin’s design is beautiful, but the details leave something to be desired.  (It was Mies van der Rohe who said God is in the details. Wonder what he would have thought of Taliesin West.)   The ceilings in most of the rooms are claustrophobic.  (Wright was a short person who said that anyone over 5’8″ was wasted material.)

I had noticed, when I was on my architectural tour of Japan, similar low ceilings in the” iconic” central lobby wing of Wright’s Imperial Hotel, designed in 1920, now recreated in the Meiji-Mura Museum near Nagoya.   (The old hotel was demolished in the 60’s and replaced with a high-rise structure, to maximize the use of land.)

The ceilings at Taliesin were originally canvas, to give diffuse light.

The view at Taliesin West was so integral to its success that when power lines appeared in the distance in the late 1940s, Wright wrote President Harry S. Truman, demanding they be buried. It was a losing battle. So after briefly considering rebuilding in Tucson, he “turned his back on the valley,” and changed the entrance to the rear of the main building.

Eschewing the poles, Wright refused electricity until 1949. The canvas taliesin 030leaked when it rained and was shredded by the desert sun, so had to be replaced every year.  They finally used acrylic sheeting over the fabric (now Sunbrella I think).  This photo of mine shows the low ceilings, the roof of canvas, and one of his weirdly-shaped doors in the Visitor’s Center.

The trusses of redwood dried out so much that they were replaced with Douglas-fir.  That, however, did not take the stain the same as the rest of the redwood, so all of the wood was painted Taliesin Red.  Now the trusses are being replaced by steel as guggenheimthe doug fir has not held up well to Phoenix’s summer either.

I have a page of notes from the tour.  For example, Wright worked on the Guggenheim Museum design for 17 years!  It opened in October of 1959, six months after his death.

His design for the State Capitol Building in Phoenix was never built, but the design for the spire was bought and it was erected in Scottsdale’s Promenade shopping center in 2004.

frank lloyd wright spireaz-state-capitol

The sale of his plans help support the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.  Taliesin West is still an architectural school.

Every Saturday night everyone would dress in gowns and tails.  The students gave concerts to Wright and his wife.  If one of them didn’t know an instrument, his wife would teach them.

taliesin 041The concrete work is very rough, but pretty awesome with the six- or eight-man rocks, which had been loaded into slanted wood forms.  However (there seem to be a lot of however), the concrete mixed from sand on the site retains water.  Wrights’s paperwork had to be moved from what had been a storeroom.

This photo of mine of a stone and concrete wall shows a dragon that Wright sent his wife from Japan.  It was supposed to spout water into a fountain, but his wife said that no self-respecting dragon would do that, hence its location atop a roof.

desert by night 2desert by day 2Clare Boothe Luce, American editor, playwright, social activist, journalist, ambassador, and congresswoman, as well as Wright family friend, also did mosaics, incorporating many natural desert materials.  She gave Desert by Day and Desert by Night to Taliesin.  (These photos are from the Web, since we were not allowed to take photos inside the Garden Room.)  Wright became famous in 1938 after her husband, Henry Luce, who owned Time/Life, put him on the cover.

taliesin 037The buildings at Taliesin were originally open to the elements.  Wright and his followers would decamp for Wisconsin before the weather got too hot, storing all of the furniture in the Kiva (a windowless room used to show movies).  In the fall they’d return, having to clean out the packrat nests and sand from dust storms.  Finally windows were installed, but Wright refused to move one of his vases, so the window was cut out around it.  (My photo.)  I just love these details.  Don’t you?

Taliesin is now surrounded by the McDowell Sonoran Preserve of 21,400 acres, preserving the view that Wright loved.


blind justiceToday’s news: JPMorgan Chase bet on credit derivatives that cost the bank $6.2 billion in nine months.  Because of that, the company’s board has cut the CEO’s compensation in half, to just over $11 million.

The largest bank heist in the US was for $17.3 million in 1997.  The primary defendant was sentenced to 11 years and three months in federal prison, and the bank got back 95% of the stolen cash!  What’s the difference between stealing millions and irresponsibly betting billions?  11 years and three months in prison v. $11 million in salary!   Yeah, JPMorgan Chase had gotten a bailout of $25 billion. (But at least they paid it back.)

Haven’t heard anything since October about the New York Attorney General suit against JPMorgan Chase.

The lawsuit is the first legal action against a Wall Street bank to come from a joint federal and state task force announced by President Barack Obama during his State of the Union address in January. It alleges civil fraud violations, which means that potential penalties will be measured in dollars, not jail terms. Nevertheless, the JPMorgan Chase lawsuit qualifies as one of the more significant actions taken by a law enforcement agency to date against a Wall Street bank. 3


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