Plein Air Challenges Assumptions and Aesthetics at MOCA Tucson
By Lynn Trimble
Lynn Trimble (she/her) is an award-winning writer based in Arizona whose work for regional and national publications ranges from arts reporting to arts criticism.
In Plein Air at MOCA Tucson, artists challenge norms in paintings, installations, and video works that confront the white gaze that privileges colonizer culture and systems of oppression.
Plein Air, installation view, 2022, Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson. Photo: Julius Schlosburg. Courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson.
May 14, 2022–February 5, 2023
Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson
Seven contemporary artists counter historical assumptions and aesthetics in the exhibition Plein Air exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson, where their work shatters the colonial gaze and forges new relationships with land. They’re part of a new generation of creatives expanding not only who works in plein air, but also the materiality and meaning of this evolving art practice.
Art historical accounts of Western painting practices typically place the origins of plein air painting, which is titled after a French term for painting outdoors, in the 19th century. Early practitioners included English painter John Constable, followed by French Impressionists such as Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Many credit the technique’s rise to the invention of tubes of paint, which made it easier to transport and use materials outside the studio.
Paula Wilson, a Black female artist born in Chicago and based in New Mexico, shows two pieces that powerfully counter reductive, homogenous perspectives with complex layers of form, color, texture, and pattern. Plein Air includes Wilson’s Salty + Fresh, a 2014 video conceived as the origin story of a painting, which was filmed on the “colored only” Virginia Key Beach in Florida.
From left to right: Paula Wilson, Salty + Fresh, 2014, and In the Desert: Mooning, 2016, installation view, Plein Air, 2022, Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson. Photo: Julius Schlosburg. Courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson.
Paula Wilson, In the Desert: Mooning, 2016, from Plein Air, installation view, 2022, Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson. Photo: Julius Schlosburg. Courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson.