240 Tempe, AZ: House by a Road

[ASU Art Museum Gallery]

After seeing the painting, I went to see the museum. A handout informed me, "The Arizona State University Art Museum is dedicated to idea-driven art and artists. It is a cultural resource where issues of social, political, and cultural relevance are addressed and where diverse audiences are engaged by work that both stimulates and delights." On display were works that aimed to imitate states of Alzheimer patients. The layout made me feel like one. The floor in the main entrance area of the museum was sandy flagstone; the two galleries upstairs had hardwood floors, but to get from one to the other, I had to go either down or up one level and back to the other side of the building.
On the top floor was an outdoor sculpture garden, but again a concrete trellis protected the art from the sun. The ASU Art Museum earned a reputation for an excellent ceramics collection, as you might expect in an environment that bakes the earth. Otherwise, the museum displayed one of everything because it was as much a classroom as it was an exhibition hall.

One wall in the American art wing had variations of the motif "House by a Road." Charles Sheeler's Barn Variation and Ernest Fiene’s Above the River, which shows a series of homes in a section that's above a river. William Gropper's Migration shows a family leaving their dust bowl house, and Ernest Leonard Blumenschein’s The Pass shows a house in a rocky, western mountainscape. Houses and house-owning are American obsessions and something that Tempe is very much all about.

I found in one gallery John, a broad-shouldered, muscle-bound student with brown eyes, sideburns, and hair moussed into a point. He wore a white T-shirt with a logo on the chest that said "Pricks." Around his neck was a thin brown string with a small brown oblong rock on it. John worked for a local magazine about the art scene in the Phoenix area.

"You know what?" John hedged when I asked about Tempe and Hopperesque isolation. "I have no idea; I haven't even seen it. I'm not aware of Hopper as much. Seems people in Tempe are more isolated now. Especially, obviously, with people coming in and out [to ASU], I think that it's a shallow relationship with a lot people. But with computers and so forth, I think the people feel less of a need to communicate with someone else."

I said, "Are the students isolated?"

John said, "I think it depends on who you talk to and where they are. Tempe doesn't know about what's going on in the Phoenix area as much as they could. But I think that goes for anybody who spends a lot of time in one area as opposed to another. You have a lot of commuter students, and, in that aspect, that helps bring in other areas. It's not as holed up as someplace like Gainesville, Florida, where the university is all there is."

Another student came in. She had curly red hair, big white teeth, and green eyes on a long, thin, freckled face. She wore a light red halter top, brown leather boots, and blue jeans.

"If you see someone on campus who is isolated," she said out of the side of her mouth, "you notice more because the campus tends to have groups and not isolated individuals. Because a college is supposed to be people constantly interacting. I think they kind of are isolated. But I live around the campus, so to me Tempe sort of is the college campus. The college is a community compared to the rest of the area, which I don't think really is."

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