For centuries, the American West has been considered the land of opportunity, where men and women chase dreams of getting rich quick by making something out of nothing. Bob Adams mines this rich history as a launching point for “The Phoenecians,” a show about the arbitrary nature of value. (Questions of worth are on the minds of several artists in Phoenix this month; at the ASU Art Museum, Danish artist collective Superflex’s “Superfake: The Parlay” also challenges objects’ inherent or perceived value, both monetary and emotional.)
Adams, who has been living in Phoenix for twenty-seven years, has watched the sprawling city evolve. For “The Phoenecians,” Adams scans images of houses from Phoenix-area real estate magazines; each originally one or two inches, he blows them up to 16 x 24 inches, so they end up fractured and pixelated. The array of building styles evokes a city struggling with an identity crisis -- some 1950s tract homes, a French-style chateau in north Scottsdale, and lots and lots of stucco. Lawns range from sparse desert-scapes with palm trees and decorative wagon wheels to lush green squares lined with even-greener hedges.
Adams mounts these images on frames, skipping the canvas altogether; instead, he wraps the printed photos with semi-translucent packaging tape, a presentation tool used to imply worth. (To underscore this point, the works’ titles are the listing prices of the homes.) Beneath layers of iridescent tape, the dwellings take on a cloudy nostalgia, like conjured mirages, until one realizes that these images were all taken in the last year. The effect is disorienting; in fact, it’s frustrating, like removing your contact lenses before bed only to paw at your nightstand in the haze for your cup of water.
“The Phoenecians” is onto something, but it lacks a sense of history of Phoenix itself and how the value of its neighborhoods developed over time, particularly within the last decade. Bereft of any careful thought to our city’s complex cultural identity and individual challenges, “The Phoenecians” might just as well be “The Los Angelenos” or “The Denverites.” Still, Adams raises valid questions about the subjective nature of value, both inherent and illusory.