VACATION TRAVEL FOR ARTISTS: WORK OR PLEASURE?
Every vacation I take with my wife (and fellow Myth Maker), Donna Dodson, begins with goals: take a break together, hike landscapes, experience climates unfamiliar and see art that inspires. We prioritize exercise, abhor crowds and limit driving to four hours a day. After a year of working in our studios preparing solo shows and completing four monumental public art projects, the idea of unfamiliar art museums and walking blocks of art galleries together seemed a delightful rest.
Donna had Niki de Saint Phalle’s “Queen Califia’s Magical Circle” in Escondido, California in mind. My ambition was an off-season hike into the Grand Canyon. Phoenix proved a great arts-destination airport for our adventures. We experienced a fortuitous beginning — public art greeted us at the car-rental building: Ten of Jun Kaneko’s life-size, ceramic “dangos!”
We toured art galleries in Sedona and Flagstaff, saw a condor on our way into the Canyon, then skipped past Las Vegas to Ugo Rondinone’s “Seven Magic Mountains.” We arrived as suggested, an hour before sunset. Day-glow-painted rocks tower 35 feet tall over the open desert. Weighing tons, they are stacked like a child’s building blocks. Seven carefully balanced towers are arranged in an irregular line. The “Seven Magic Mountains” have a magnetism and transcendence that is evident in the crowds gathered daily. The packed parking lot and stream of enthusiasts amongst the pieces were an insignificant distraction as compared to the grandeur of the installation in the open desert. Sunset brightened the fluorescent stones, reflecting vivid colors back onto the sand.
We ventured into Joshua Tree and the Mojave Desert landscapes, Palm Springs and Palm Desert art galleries and museums, then up the twisting canyon and down to Escondido, the final home and studio of Niki de Saint Phalle. “Queen Califia’s Magical Circle” is de Saint Phalle’s only American installation. This late-in-life work is built from her iconic mosaic-covered, cement and steel structures. One enters the “Magical Circle” through a series of walled paths. This maze of tiles and mirrors lead one into a walled world where the mighty 20-foot-tall Queen Califia reigns with an attendant collection of totems. A spectrum of ceramic colors and polished stones swirl in a visual frenzy. The high-surrounding walls embraced and created a sense of place that seemed separate from the world.
After several side hikes on the coastal cliffs, family visits and curator introductions in San Diego and Los Angeles, we found ourselves at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).