Ziggurat is the latest cool word I have discovered. According to Webster, it is "an ancient Mesopotamian temple tower consisting of a lofty pyramidal structure built in successive stages with outside staircases and a shrine at the top." It's also what's used to describe Maya II, this public installation erected by Norman Rockwell's son, Jarvis, in downtown Scottsdale. After his father died in 1979, Jarvis began collecting all sorts of toys--mostly action figures. I have no idea if one event had anything to do with the other. But in a nutshell, a bunch of volunteers helped him line up hundreds of toys on a pyramid. It's the second time he's exhibited his toys (hence the II in Maya II and Maya is sanskrit for "illusion"). The installation can be interpreted a number of different ways: a slice of childhood nostalgia, a commentary on how the same devotion people feel for deities is sometimes conveyed to pop culture idols, a commentary on mass consumerism, etc.
The piece definiteily stops people in their tracks. I went down to the atrium of the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts where it's on display. It was pretty interesting to overhear other onlookers get excited when they saw an action figure they recognized. Just about every cartoon and comic book character was represented. They were grouped together to set up all these little stories taking place on one narrative. I spotted figures from "He-Man" (Evil-Lynn), "The Simpsons," every Disney movie, many popular Marvel and DC comics, Princess Xena hugging an MC Hammer doll, "Star Wars," "Star Trek," and Japanese pop art from Yoshitomo Nara.
The best part was that Jarvis was there himself and I got to chat with him for a few minutes. A really adorable, jovial 75-year-old man. For those of you who don't know, Norman Rockwell is one of my favorite artists. I like the sentiments and images he portrayed in his art, though I know it was all part of an idealized reality. But it was so cool to talk about those things with his son. He thought I was right on when I said everyone wants those feelings of comfort that a Rockwell painting evokes, even if it's all part of a fantasy. I told him I always wanted to go to the East coast and see a "Norman Rockwell" town. Jarvis said he grew up in that kind of place and it wasn't like his Dad's works. He was pretty frank. He said his region had one of the highest suicide rates. It got so cold in the winter, there was no TV and not much else to do. People were lonely or suffered from anxiety. It's funny. Norman Rockwell was popular before Andy Warhol and other pop artists came along, before there was a pop culture. Now, his art has sort of become part of popular culture and here's Jarvis poking fun at it in a different medium. I know there's some irony in there somewhere.