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Clear evidence of the artist's hand

Clear evidence of the artist's hand

TMA Biennial exhibit unites 80 juried works created by Arizonans

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The ghosts of birds that have crashed into windows. A mother and child at a tattoo parlor. Words. Violence. Religion.

You'll find them all at the Tucson Museum of Art's Biennial exhibit, which is the oldest running juried exhibition featuring exclusively Arizona artists.

The show, which opened Saturday, features about 80 works by 62 artists. More than 400 artists submitted pieces for consideration.

"Artists want to transcend the commonplace, take us somewhere else, to escape. I thought there was a lot of lyricism in the show, and quirkiness. They were universal, but individual," said this year's guest juror, Rene Paul Barilleaux, who is chief curator at San Antonio's McNay Art Museum.

In choosing works for the show, Barilleaux concentrated on pieces that would make for a cohesive exhibit.

"One of my particular interests is in things that are physical, that are evident of the artist's hand," he says.

"To me, that's one of the characteristics that unified the works."

Just a sampling

Here is a taste of what you'll find in the Tucson Museum of Art's "Arizona Biennial" show:

• In the lobby, the north window is covered with panels of a site-specific piece by Simon Donovan and Rebecca Horton. "Bird vs. Window" is an homage to the millions of birds that attempt to fly through windows every year, the artists have said about the work.

The sun streams through the window and illuminates the images of birds, colorful, ghostly and beautiful. The work is ethereal and a fitting tribute to the beautiful winged creatures.

• Next to it are two videos by Gary Setzer, "Derivations 2 Literally Reaching" and "Derivations 4 The Projection Principle." They feature the artist standing against a blank background as he builds a tower of alphabet and number toys from his mouth.

The tension builds as they extend out of his mouth, one on top of the other. The videos are initially funny as he adds each piece carefully so as not to topple the tower. After a bit, one begins to feel uncomfortable. Watch a bit longer and you can't help but think of the words that cascade out of our mouths, sometimes unrestricted, nonsensical, too fast and too much.

Gary Setzer—"The Derivations Suite II: Literally Reaching," 2013 from Gary Setzer on Vimeo.

From the artist: "In 'Literally Reaching,' the artist uses alphabet and number-shaped toys to construct an arcing protuberance from his mouth, reaching for something unseen.  As the tumescence swells so does the precariousness of the task; the artist’s battle with gravity is both real and metaphoric."

• Upon leaving the lobby and entering the museum, the first thing you'll see is Jennifer Day's large landscape acrylic, "Time is Nested and Layered." Day's painting depicts the memories that belong to a piece of land.

It is almost surreal, with ghostly figures wandering through, a truck swallowed by the earth, streaks of red and black, a building in the background, snow falling on a portion of the image. It's a painting that demands attention. And one can't help but think of the ghosts of the museum's land, which contains historic buildings and is next to the site of Tucson's original presidio.

• Around the corner in a small gallery is a startling sculpture, an untitled bronze of a deer. His long neck is up and tense with muscles, his face alert as he turns to look behind him, as though he just heard a gun cock. At the beginning of the deer's torso, just behind the front legs, the artist Jesse Berlin stops it abruptly, as though it had just been cleanly sliced at that point. Visible and bright are the deer's innards, bones and the marrow in them, the organs, blood, veins. It's not a gory image; Berlin presents it very matter-of-factly and it is quite beautiful. It brings to mind the violence that ended the life (and the sustenance it would provide) of this gorgeous animal who is there one second, and then gone with the shot of a gun.

• Deeper into the museum are Edwina M. Scott's photographs taken at a tattoo convention. One, "Mother and Child," echoes Duccio di Buoninsegna's 14th century "Madonna and Child." The mother is leaning back, looking contented as one arm is being tattooed and the other is wrapped protectively around her daughter. The child has a look of security and tranquility about her. The image is almost a jolting one, and immediately makes one questions assumptions that are made.

• "In Love with Oblivion" is an acrylic painting by Amanda Ivy Reed. It is a pile of cd cases with the titles on the spines visible. They include "Zappa Plays Zappa," "Comet Gain: City Fallen Leaves," and "TV on the Radio: Return to Cookie Mountain." Go ahead, laugh. We think you are supposed to.

• A few pieces away from that is another work thick with humor. Hirotsune Tashima's "Organic Banana in the Supermarket" is a life-sized sculpture of a man stepping out of a banana peel. Stuck on his body are a variety of organic food items - all of them processed. He is weighed down with such items as cereal, cooked rice, packaged drinks and canned tomatoes. Tashima, who teaches ceramics at Pima Community College, leaves no detail out - the man in the piece even has a small earring in one ear.

• On the final floor of the exhibit is an installation behind a screen. Jill Marie Mason's "In the Dark" has background organ music, a guest book, pictures along the wall and a grave mound packed with flowers. Chairs are arranged as though waiting for participants at a funeral. At the head of the room is a large video screen which shows clouds wafting through the skies. Loneliness seeps through the work. And a sort of confusion about death, and a bit of cynicism about an afterlife. A banner across a wreath says "Nothing lasts forever." A felt wall hanging has the words "Who knows when we shall meet again ... if ever." It has images of two candles, one burns brightly, the other is still smoking, as though it has just been snuffed out.

It's a powerful installation; it has a whisper of humor yet is heavy with rituals, death and questions.

If you go

• What: Tucson Museum of Art's "Arizona Biennial."

• When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursdays, and noon-5 p.m. Sundays. Through Sept. 29.

• Where: TMA, 140 N. Main Ave.

• Information: 624-2333,

• Cost: $10, with discounts available. Free to youth 18 and under, active military and veterans, and museum members.

• Get in free: The first Sunday of the month is free for everyone.

See more online

See a copy of Gary Setzer's video, "Derivations 2 Literally Reaching" and a slide show of additional works in the Tucson Museum of Art's "Arizona Biennial" with this story online at

Artists in the Tucson Museum of Art's Arizona Biennial


Noé Badillo; Robert Barber; Jesse Berlin; Michael Cajero; James A. Cook; Craig Cully; Jennifer Day; Daniel Martin Diaz; Simon Donovan and Rebecca Horton; Moira Marti Geoffrion; Sarah Gill; Ron Kovatch; Monica Aissa Martinez; Tom Mickelson; Anh-Thuy Nguyen; Michael Nolan; George Peñaloza;Teri Pursch; Doug Rautenkranz; Amanda Reed; Aaron Thomas Roth; Phil Rowland; Dave Sayre; James Schaub; Edwina Scott; Gary Setzer; Martina Shenal; Shannon Smith; Mano Sotelo; Shawna Leigh Spargur; Mike Stack; Karen Strom (Sonoita); Hiro Tashima; Kathleen Velo; Angie Zielinski.

Phoenix area

Kristin Bauer (Tempe); Brent Bond (Scottsdale); Christopher Colville (Phoenix); Bill Dambrova (Phoenix); Fausto Fernandez (Phoenix); Jacob Fisher (Tempe); Dan Fogel (Tempe); Christopher Jagmin (Phoenix); Mohammed Reza Javaheri (Phoenix); Wen Hang Lin (Mesa); Larry Valencia Madrigal (Peoria); Michael Marlowe (Phoenix); Jill Marie Mason (Tempe); John Randall Nelson (Tempe); Anthony Pessler (Phoenix); Mark Pomilio (Tempe); Rembrandt Quiballo (Tempe); Eduardo Rivera (Tempe); Sarah Rowland (Tempe); Henry Leo Schoebel (Phoenix); Rossitza Todorova (Tempe).

Northern Arizona

Kerstin Dale (Flagstaff); Jennifer Holt (Flagstaff); Alan Bur Johnson (Jerome); Devin Kelly (Flagstaff); Steven Schaeffer (Flagstaff).

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at or 573-4128.

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