Blue Star Museums Blog (Archive)

Five Questions with the Phoenix Art Museum

Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix Art Museum’s main entrance and lobby at 1625 N. Central Avenue. Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Phoenix Art Museum. 

With a collection of more than 18,000 works, including  modern and contemporary art as well as fashion design; a full calendar of activities, including a film series and a hands-on workshop in which visitors craft hair accessories inspired by a current exhibit; and a comprehensive website on which you can browse objects from the collection or download lesson plans that meet Arizona state standards, it's no wonder one visitor enthused that the Phoenix Art Museum "is simply a treasure."  Today we're hearing from James Ballinger, the museum's executive director (and a member of the NEA's National Council on the Arts) on what makes Phoenix Art Museum a "don't miss" experience.

NEA: Please tell us a little bit about the Phoenix Art Museum and what makes it unique.

JAMES BALLINGER: Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Phoenix Art Museum reflects the vitality of a rapidly growing major metropolitan area. Volunteerism is the cornerstone of the institution and leads our philosophy to present great art from around the world in engaging ways for a diverse visitorship. The museum has ongoing programs for photography, fashion design, contemporary art, and the American west and Mexico, in addition to growing collections of Asian and European art.

NEA: What’s your favorite object in the collection and why?

BALLINGER: Among my many favorite works of art at the Museum is Jean-Léon Gérôme’s masterpiece Pollice Verso, painted in 1872.  This painting was acquired originally by an American collector, and it represents how art goes in and out of fashion, how important historical research can be, that to be daring is an important part of life, and as an attractive work to children it can create a lively interest in art.

Nicholas Nixon, The Brown Sisters, 1976.  Collection of John Dubinsky and Yvette Drury Dubinsky.  © Nicholas Nixon. One of the 36 black-and-white portraits from an annual series taken by photographer Nicholas Nixon of his wife and her three sisters.  All 36 photographs are on view at Phoenix Art Museum as part of Exposing Time.

NEA: What’s on exhibit now at the museum?

BALLINGER: The contemporary wing was recently reinstalled, featuring many gifts in honor of our 50th anniversary. In addition, two special exhibitions are being very well received: In the Mood explores life on the American home front during World War II through the large range of fashion designs from the 1940s, including haute couture and military uniforms; and Exposing Time presents five contemporary photographers’ exploration of time in our everyday lives. In July, we open Cézanne and American Modernism, a fascinating and important exhibition celebrating one of the most important painters in the history of art, and his tremendous influence on the development of modern art in America.

NEA: What do you hope visitors to the museum take away from the experience?

BALLINGER: We hope every visitor leaves the museum with an enhanced sense of awe, a greater belief in inquiry to better understand their world, and an appreciation of joy.

NEA: Aside from the Phoenix Art Museum, what’s your own favorite museum to visit and why?

BALLINGER: Two museums come to mind---our neighbor, The Heard Museum, and The Bargello in Florence, Italy.  The Heard celebrates Native American art, especially from our region, giving me a much greater appreciation for the history and culture of my home state Arizona.  The Bargello in Florence is a marvelous re-use of an early building, and it opened my eyes to the quality of Renaissance sculpture in a way that changed how I see all sculpture in succeeding centuries.

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