Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art unveils an unprecedented retrospective of seminal Italian-born American artist and architect Paolo Soleri.
Organized by SMoCA Curator of Contemporary Art Claire C. Carter, “Paolo Soleri: The City Is Nature” focuses on drawings, sculptures and models that Soleri produced during the richest years of his artistic evolution — from 1947 until the mid-1970s. The selected works represent Soleri’s most creative moments when he was making his artwork and constructing his home-studio, primarily with his own hands. The exhibition brings together elements from his built and unbuilt residences, bridges, dams, cities and transportation systems.
In addition to original drawings, models and sketchbooks, the exhibition surveys the artist’s earliest ceramic and bronze artisan crafts, as well as fabric designs and silkscreens. It also investigates Soleri’s personal engagement with the art and architecture of his time; the widespread recognition of his work by museums, scholars and curators; his relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright; and his influence on the American counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s.
“The museum is very excited about this retrospective,” says Sara Cochran, Ph.D., SMoCA director and chief curator. “It represents the culmination of SMoCA’s three exhibitions series with Paolo Soleri and the Cosanti Foundation, and almost a decade of engagement with, and study of, Soleri’s work, ideas, models and practices. It has been a joy to have the opportunity to work with Soleri during his lifetime and to publish this comprehensive catalog that we believe will add to the scholarship around this visionary thinker now that he has passed. We look forward to seeing ever more interest and study of this compelling figure who pioneered so many ideas, including the idea of high-density living, and who built some of the icons in the Arizona landscape.”
The exhibition is the first and only retrospective and monographic exhibition since Soleri’s death in 2013 in Paradise Valley, Ariz., and represents the largest collection of original drawings, fragile sketchbooks, architectural models, sculptures, prints and photographs presented in North America since 1971.
It covers about 4,500 square feet with works gathered from the artist’s vast archives, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, and private collections. Large scroll drawings — some more than 30 feet long — are presented for the first time since their conservation in 2005.
Soleri’s pioneering idea, “arcology,” or the fusion of architecture and ecology, proved prescient in its ties to current issues about sustainable cities, suburban sprawl, climate change, renewable energy and water shortages.
Construction at Cosanti began in 1955 and new construction ended in 1969 when Soleri and his apprentices redirected their attention to Arcosanti. Soleri initially conceived of Arcosanti as a residential community focused on environmental accountability and sustainability.
Arcosanti quickly became a nexus in American avant‐garde art, music and theater. During the latter half of the 20th century, Cosanti and Arcosanti were considered pilgrimage sites for the counter-culture and were visited by celebrated artists and intellectuals, such as composer John Cage, feminist Betty Friedan, scientist Stephen Jay Gould, choreographer Anna Halprin, photographers Julius Shulman and Hans Namuth, and filmmakers Frances Ford Coppola and George Lucas.
The majority of structures were completed by the early 1980s. The number of residents peaked in the mid‐1970s when more than 150 people camped onsite. During the 1980s economic crisis, financial resources, as well as popular interest in the site, waned.
Today, Arcosanti includes a ceramics workshop and bronze foundry, community spaces, a performance stage, cafeteria, dormitories and private residences where about 40 permanent and semi‐permanent individuals live.
“Throughout his career, Soleri’s designs changed radically,” Carter says, “but one constant remained: a concern for the how man should live among other humans, but also amid the natural splendor of the world around us, and the ways in which our built environment can serve that goal.”
“Paolo Soleri: The City Is Nature” is SMoCA’s third and final exhibition exploring the trajectory of Soleri’s art, architecture and philosophy, initiated in 2010. The first was “Bridges: Spanning the Ideas of Paolo Soleri” (2011) and the second was “Paolo Soleri: Mesa City to Arcosanti” (2013).
Paolo Soleri: The City Is Nature
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, 7374 E. Second St., Scottsdale
For more information, visit smoca.org.