The southwestern U.S. state of Arizona is packed full of great museums, science centres, galleries and other cultural venues that play host to a diverse programme of exhibitions throughout the year.
With its mix of Native American Indian and Hispanic cultures, Arizona represents the quintessential flavour and essence of the American West. If you’re coming to Arizona over the coming weeks and months and would like to check out any exhibitions during your visit, we’ve dug deep and picked out 10 of the best that are taking place across the state through the fall season.
William Herbert “Buck” Dunton: A Mainer Goes West
Founded in 1915, the Taos Society of Artists (TSA) became arguably the most important group to create and popularise images of the western United States – and this exhibition explores the work of one of the society’s most eminent members. Born and raised in Maine, William Herbert “Buck” Dunton drew influence from his childhood summers spent in the rural countryside to paint subjects and scenes of the region. Throughout his career, Dunton enjoyed commercial and critical success, yet his work has received very little attention in a larger art-historical context. The exhibition strives to correct this oversight by providing an intimate look at some of the artist’s most significant paintings.
Phoenix Art Museum / Through 30 June 2024
Keioui Keijaun Thomas: Magma & Pearls
This is the first solo museum exhibition by artist and performer Keioui Keijaun Thomas and expands on her ongoing practice of world-building to create spaces of safety, joy, and healing. Transforming the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Great Hall into a speculative, post-apocalyptic geography through site-specific installations, the multimedia exhibition includes video, sculpture, artist performances, and community-generated programming. The project builds on over a decade of Thomas’ work that explores the affective and material conditions of Black and trans identity, expands her embodied research to consider the impacts of climate catastrophe, and imagines new ways to exist in relation to the American landscape.
Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson / 20 October 2023 – 18 February 2024
This exhibition looks at the ways in which we understand and view the term ‘craft’ and its relationship to fine art. It seeks to flatten the western European art historical cannon and hierarchy and unhinge the binary that often places ‘fine art’ and ‘craft’ at odds with one another. Artists in the exhibition utilise materials and modes of production that are often relegated to what is historically viewed as craft, mediums such as glass, textile, felt, miniature, and wood, and instrumentalise them to make commentary about some of today’s most pressing issues, including climate catastrophe, representation, geo-politics, and migration.
ASU Art Museum, Arizona State University / Through 14 July 2024
Early Days: Indigenous Art from the McMichael
Organised in collaboration with present-day Indigenous stakeholders – including scholars, traditional knowledge keepers, and living artists – this exhibition showcases the remarkable diversity and vitality of Indigenous art in Canada. Including both historical and contemporary art, it features objects ranging from 18th-century ceremonial regalia to the work of the vanguard artists of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, such as Norval Morrisseau, Carl Beam and Alex Janvier, and leading contemporary Indigenous artists like Kent Monkman, Meryl McMaster and Rebecca Belmore, all serving to explore our relationship to the land, to our ancestors, and to each other.
Heard Museum, Phoenix Through 2 January 2024
American Society of Aviation Artists’ 35th Annual International Aerospace Art Exhibition
The Pima Air & Space Museum is a world-renowned aerospace museum featuring over 450 air and spacecraft exhibits and thousands of artifacts in 6 hangars over an 80-acre campus. The collection covers every era of aviation including international examples of commercial, civil, military, and experimental aircraft. A visit to this museum is a thrill for aviation and history buffs but also fun for the whole family with many tactile learning opportunities, an aerospace-themed playground, and the Flight Grill restaurant. Exhibits at the museum explore science and technology as well as humanities and art.
Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson / 8 October – 31 January 2023
Vast Lands, Inner Visions: The Art of Joella Jean Mahoney
One of the most important female artists of the Southwest, Joella Jean Mahoney’s career spanned over six decades, from her roots in the abstract expressionism of the 1950s to her role as a mentor and master artist with a distinctive style that bridges realism and abstraction. In the 66 years that she spent painting the landscapes of the Southwest, Mahoney was able to convey the beauty and intensity of the region with her unique and eloquent style. This exhibition presents key paintings by the artist, who left an indelible mark on the art of the United States that continues to inspire future generations.
Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff / Through November 2023
Women of the West
The role of women artists was critical in the development of modern Western art. This exhibition focuses on influential women artists connected to Arizona through the late territorial period and early 20th century. Beginning in approximately 1890, women artists lived and worked in Arizona in increasing numbers. With no major art centres, few patrons, and minimal support for artistic venues, it was difficult for artists to sustain their careers. Yet women artists came and flourished, bringing significant formal art training and professional experience. The artists included in this exhibition were pioneers who shaped popular culture’s perceptions of the American Southwest and influenced generations of modern artists.
Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, Scottsdale / Ongoing
The Science of Guinness World Records
From the world’s smallest stop-motion film to the world’s fastest human reflexes, this exhibition is designed to inspire visitors by shining a light on the science behind these mesmerising accomplishments. The 6,000 square feet of interactive exhibits leave guests astonished as they discover exactly what goes into accomplishing the seemingly impossible. Learn about amazing record-breakers, and how their bodies react, focus, and endure. Guests can also use the science behind their own skills to help them become better record-breakers as they’ll have the ability to challenge themselves and others to officially break a world record. This in depth look at what it takes to break records through the lens of science is meant to burn the flames of inspiration for scientists and enthusiasts alike.
Arizona Science Center, Phoenix / Through January 2024
Designed to Move: Seeds That Float, Fly or Hitchhike Through the Desert Southwest
Organised by the Biomimicry Center at Arizona State University, this exhibition features work by photographer Taylor James, introducing viewers to an up-close look at the beauty and functional diversity of desert seed designs. James’ photographs illustrate the ingenious design of desert seeds that employ different methods for dispersal and propagation. They can float in the air and water, fly far from their mother plant and hitchhike on the fur of animals. The exhibition also features items from the museum collection highlighting the ethnobotanical uses and cultural importance of these plants.
Arizona State University, Tempe / Through April 2024
Play Ball: The Arizona Spring Training Experience featuring the Cactus League Hall of Fame
One of the largest baseball exhibits in Arizona can be seen in Mesa, birthplace of Arizona spring training. This exhibition focuses on the people and events that have made the Cactus League one of America’s most popular sports destinations. It highlights such Cactus League Hall of Fame members as Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Randy Johnson, Rollie Fingers and so many more. Baseball is a sport, but it is also woven into the economy, history, and culture of Arizona communities.
Mesa Historical Museum, Mesa / Permanent
Mexican Folk Art: Artesanía del Pueblo
The Desert Caballeros Western Museum houses an assortment of displays and exhibits focused on the Western heritage of the town of Wickenburg. This kaleidoscopic exhibition takes visitors on an immersive journey into diverse, colourful art from various regions of Mexico. The items on display are made for utilitarian or decorative purposes or created for celebrations, festivities, or religious rites. Each piece is a blend of indigenous and European technique and design, representing a strong Mexican regional and national identity that invites further exploration.
Desert Caballeros Western Museum, Wickenburg / Through 28 April 2024
Lucho Soler Fine Pottery Art
Since the age of 10, Peruvian-born Lucho Soler has experimented and worked with clay – a period spanning nearly 60 years. His pottery has been showcased in galleries across the US and in his home nation of Peru, where Soler extensively studied the ancient pottery of the Andean area of South America. This exhibition features 40 of Soler’s finest pieces, each pot formed by hand, traditionally fired, and laboriously polished with agate stones. Soler uses a variety of design techniques, such as fine gold appliques, carved designs, and all-natural pigment paints and slips, incorporating his interpretation of ancient geometric and figurative motifs to create a unique, contemporary ceramic masterpieces.
Amerind Museum, Dragoon / Through June 2024