Phoenix Art Museum to unveil newly restored digital artwork by Julian Opie

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Phoenix Art Museum to unveil newly restored digital artwork by Julian Opie
Julian Opie, Julian and Suzanne Walking, 2006. Animated LED display. Collection of Phoenix Art Museum, Purchase with funds provided by Jan and Howard Hendler. Courtesy of Phoenix Art Museum, Photo: Airi Katsuta.

PHOENIX, ARIZ.- On February 26, 2023, Phoenix Art Museum will unveil the newly restored digital artwork Julian and Suzanne Walking (2006) by British artist Julian Opie in celebration of the Museum’s first PhxArt Family Funday, a fully free-access day activated by live programming for visitors of all ages and abilities and made possible through the generosity of Presenting Sponsor Men’s Arts Council. The popular public art installation, commissioned with funds provided by Jan and Howard Hendler, was taken off view in 2019 due to weather-related wear-and-tear and has since been restored by the Museum to represent the artist’s original intent. The restoration was made possible through the generosity of Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust’s “Now is the Moment” Grants Commemoration. Beginning this Sunday, Julian and Suzanne Walking will be back on view on the east-facing façade of the Museum’s south wing, and as part of the Family Funday celebration, Museum staff will hand out commemorative pins featuring Opie’s digital work. Additional Museum programming inspired by Julian and Suzanne Walking will continue into April.

“Through the support of Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, Phoenix Art Museum is thrilled to relaunch Julian and Suzanne Walking by British artist Julian Opie, an iconic work gracing the skyline of the downtown Phoenix arts

district,” said Jeremy Mikolajczak, the Sybil Harrington Director and CEO of Phoenix Art Museum. “We are grateful to the artist and his studio for their partnership in restoring this beloved artwork. Making art, including large public works, accessible to audiences of all ages and backgrounds is important to Phoenix Art Museum’s mission, and Julian and Suzanne Walking is just one way all metro Phoenicians and visitors can experience a unique artistic expression by a leading contemporary artist.”

Born and based in London, Julian Opie (b. 1958) translates photographs and short films into graphic figurative portraits and landscapes, creating remarkable and distinctive animations that evoke real people and places in their simplest forms. Julian and Suzanne Walking (2006) was created through a series of short videos that the artist made of himself and another model walking on treadmills at varying speeds. The footage was plugged into a software system, edited, drawn over, and then reanimated. Despite the minimalistic nature of the work, Opie’s figures display a sense of individual expression, seen by Suzanne’s empowered stride compared to her male companion’s loafing.

First presented at Phoenix Art Museum in 2006, the original installation utilized a digital wall composed of single- strand LED strips, which had to be replaced individually and by hand. The work eventually went off view in 2019, as the dated technology could no longer withstand the harsh Arizona weather conditions, including extreme heat and monsoons. The impact of the pandemic beginning in 2020 further delayed repair of the work. In 2022, PhxArt began restoring the digital artwork in cooperation with Opie and his studio, which included a global search for the appropriate technology needed to ensure the work could withstand the Arizona climate and enjoy a permanent installation as part of the Central Phoenix skyline. The reinstalled work, to return to the Museum’s façade this month, will utilize a new, custom-designed, weatherproof LED screen that will bring Opie’s vivid and animated scene back to life. Its restoration was made possible through the deep generosity of Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust. In 2021, the Museum was awarded an unanticipated $4 million grant through Piper Trust’s “Now is the Moment” Grants Commemoration, a single-day investment of $123 million in Maricopa County’s nonprofit community.

“One of my earliest animated public commissions, Julian and Suzanne Walking was drawn some 18 years ago,” said Julian Opie. “I vividly remember standing on East McDowell Road, coffee in hand, shading my eyes in the baking heat and watching them walk for the first time. It’s just as exciting today to have the work back up again after an extended collaboration to update the screen. Making artworks is one thing, but siting and installing them in specific situations is almost as important. The low desert horizon and long sitelines of the straight roads of Phoenix make a perfect position for the work. I’m very grateful to Phoenix Art Museum for their generous and ambitious invitation, to Jan and Howard Hendler, the original sponsors of the work, and to Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, who has sponsored the renovation.”

“We are fortunate to have the internationally recognized artist Julian Opie’s energizing artwork returning to the Phoenix skyline. It is a symbolic piece for all to celebrate as we get back to going out and experiencing the distinct artistic offerings there are throughout Maricopa County,” said Mary Jane Rynd, president and CEO of Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust.

Opie’s artworks are in museum collections around the world, including the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; the Museum of Modern Art in New York; the Stedelijk Museum; the National Portrait Gallery in London; the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo; Tate Gallery; and Phoenix Art Museum, among others.

To celebrate the reinstallation of Julian and Suzanne Walking, PhxArt has organized the following opportunities:

PhxArt Family Funday
February 26 | 10 am – 5 pm
Complimentary admission | Free-access day
Featuring the return of Julian and Suzanne Walking (2006) and commemorative pins featuring the artwork. The day will also feature free-access to the entire Museum, along with live performances in the galleries, art-making, demonstrations, and hands-on experiences for visitors of all ages and abilities.

PhxArt Family Fundays in 2023 are made possible through the generosity of Presenting Sponsor Men’s Arts Council.

Creative Saturday
March 11, 2023 | 11 am – 2 pm
Free for Members | Included with general admission to the general public
Featuring a scavenger hunt and the last opportunity to snag a Julian and Suzanne Walking limited-edition commemorative pin. The day will also feature art-making activities, traditional Japanese flute performances, and kawaii-style face painting, inspired by the special-engagement exhibition Mr.: You Can Hear the Song of This Town.

Creative Saturday is made possible in part by Carolyn Dunkin Schulte Educational Endowment Fund, The Discount Tire Endowment for Children’s Art Programs, and the William Randolph Hearst Endowed Fund for Education Programs.

Storytime in the Garden
April 5, 2023 | 10:30 – 11 am
Free for Members | Included in general admission for the general public
Designed for our youngest Museum visitors (ages 0-5), families can discover how art and movement connect through experiences inspired by Julian and Suzanne Walking. The event will include a reading of Wonder Walkers by Micha Archer, a group “wonder walk,” and a take-home art activity.

Storytime in the Garden is made possible in part by the Angela and Leonard Singer Endowment for the Performing Arts, The Discount Tire Endowment for Children’s Art Programs, and the William Randolph Hearst Endowed Fund for Education Programs.

Art Talk – Vitalizing Spaces: Public Art in Phoenix
April 5 | 6 – 7 pm
Free for Members and the general public during Pay-What-You-Wish-Wednesday Presented in Singer Hall
Public art installations, like Julian and Suzanne Walking, provide accessible and inclusive art-engagement experiences. Hear from Danielle Foushée, designer, artist, and ASU professor, and Mitch Menchaca, executive director of the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, during this free presentation as they discuss the vitality of public art in Phoenix and how it enriches the city’s cultural life. Before and after the talk, visitors can stop by the Lemon Art Research Library for a pop-up featuring rare books, periodicals, and other ephemera centered on Julian Opie and the subject of public art.

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