Outside the Lines
When world-class art collectors built a vacation home-cum-private museum in North Scottsdale, they tapped a self-styled provocateur to transform the property into an outdoor gallery.
By Ben Ikenson | Photography by Michael Woodall
Retired investment banker Kent Logan and his wife Vicki rank among the world’s top collectors of contemporary art. Their collection numbers at around 1,300 pieces. They’ve been ardent champion of the arts, having made generous donations to several prestigious art institutions across the country. Museum wings have been named in their honor.
“The significance of art is that it is a cultural reflection that defines a civilization at a specific time and place,” says Kent. “In 100 years, people won’t recall the titans of business or the political players of the day. It’s culture which always defines society.”
A few years ago, the couple decided to build a winter home on a two-acre lot in North Scottsdale, with primary considerations geared toward displaying their art. “When the Logans first
started talking with us about the design, they were emphatic that it be a place that served as a private museum first and foremost and as a winter home secondarily,” says Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award-winning architect Eddie Jones, who designed the project.
Constructed by architect and general contractor Andy Byrnes in a gated golf community near Pinnacle Peak, the stunning 7,000-
square-foot LEED Platinum-certified contemporary masterpiece features flat concrete surfaces, clean lines and a series of galleries that utilize natural daylight strategies to best showcase the Logans’ art collection.
But the couple’s love of art would not be contained by the structure’s confines.
“The property had this really long driveway and I thought, ‘Hey, this offers a great opportunity to showcase a lot of sculpture set amid all the wild, native desert plants as we drive up to the house,’” says Kent.
So Jones introduced the Logans to Bill Tonnesen, a landscape architect he describes as “really knowing how to exploit a design opportunity in a way that ultimately improves everything else around it.”
It was a natural fit, as Tonnesen himself is not only a fellow modern art enthusiast but also a prolific and distinctive—and often provocative—artist in his own right. He has overseen a number of high-profile, sometimes controversial development projects in Tempe, including the transformation of several properties into large-scale public art installations. He has produced experimental art projects at Burning Man, the massive, counter-culture arts festival held annually in the Nevada desert. And currently, he is focused on a large avant-garde exhibition called The Lavatory, a risqué showcase of experimental, immersive art housed in a commercial building in Central Phoenix.
Under Tonnesen’s direction, the Logan property has been—and continues to be—transformed into an outdoor sculpture gallery set among many artful landscaping innovations. It even earned a place in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Gardens in 2016.
For Tonnesen, the property—with its topography of cacti and palo verde and boulders—is as an ideal template as a piece of wild Sonoran Desert. “There’s something about the desert—that it is so dry and skeletal—that lends itself quite naturally to artistic presentation,” he says. As such, the presentation on the Logan property generally falls within two categories: landscaping and sculpture.
“For me, a big decision early on was to use only native plants,” explains Tonnesen. “That means that the basic areas on the property that are disturbed either by the developer putting in the utilities and streets or by the homeowner building the house are revegetated with the plants that would have been there, say, 200 years ago.”
During the home’s construction process, the indigenous desert trees and shrubs were carefully preserved and protected; some of the saguaros were moved within the property while others were removed, but none were destroyed per the Logans’ wishes. Then Tonnesen began putting his creative touches to the landscape, adding a number of innovate designs that demonstrate the artistic force of the plant life itself.
There’s something about the desert—that it’s so dry and skeletal— that lends itself quite naturally to artistic presentation.”
—Bill Tonnesen, landscape architect and sculptor
His “Botanicals” series features various cactus species planted in clusters and patterns. Most striking among them, perhaps, are what Tonnesen has dubbed the “bubble baths,” which are circular arrays bursting with clusters of golden barrels. “Combining them into over-crowded ring colonies occurred to me after visiting a huge wholesale nursery in California,” he says. “The plantings had grown together, and shoulder-to-shoulder it looked like a gorgeous lumpy carpet.”
The significance of art is that it is a cultural reflection that defines a civilization at a specific time and place.”
—Kent Logan, homeowner and collector
Similar assemblages feature teddy bear and jumping chollas, and Tonnesen is contemplating the possibility of a grove of boojum trees.
A variety of other cactus species are strewn throughout the property, including the aforementioned preserved saguaros. An icon of the Sonoran Desert, they can grow taller than 50 feet and weigh more than two tons. As such, they often require bracing support to succeed into maturity when transplanted. With many of the larger specimens, Tonnesen brought an artistic response to this need, beginning first with his “ball brace,” which features a rusted industrial steel apparatus set at an angle and clamped around half the diameter of the plant’s main column. The contrast between the natural and the fabricated establishes a motif for other sculptural installations that followed.
Tonnesen’s work represents roughly half of the dozens of pieces displayed throughout the yard. His pièce de résistance and “most complex commission ever undertaken,” “The Wishing Well,” is a powerful political statement that deals with the plight of immigrant workers. It appears to depict a bronze cast of a woman, clothed in tattered rags, holding a baby upside down over a pit, or well—when in fact the hole is “the end of the tunnel that has delivered them to a new life opportunity,” the artist notes. A trio of skulking javelinas surround the pit. The display includes miles of barbed wire and required the creation of a water drainage culvert.
Works by other sculptors are likewise powerful. Parked next to a towering saguaro, “Arbol de la Vida,” by Mexican artist Margarita Cabrera features a John Deere tractor adorned with decorative Mexican folk art embellishments, such as butterflies and birds—all painted in monotone earthen hues. The piece serves as a metaphor for both the hope for employment for migrant workers and the frustrations and dangers facing families on both sides of the border.
“Arizona, like much of the country, is very reliant on immigrant labor,” says Kent. “The birds and butterflies, which can fly freely and are not bound by the constraints of borders, create a remarkable juxtaposition.”
Additional noteworthy pieces include “Fallen Dreamer,” a large toppled bronze head by Tom Otterness; “Beneath the Gnomes: Cactus,” a concrete figure installed on a painted fiberglass pedestal embedded with fossils, shells and discarded knickknacks by Jason Middlebrook; and “Contemporary Terracotta Warrior,” a compelling example of neo-surrealism by Yue Minjun. Works by renowned artists Stephen De Staebler, Zhou Chunya, Kiki Smith and Thomas Houseago, among many others, are also represented.
Every element of the Logan’s property is formulated to both please and challenge the eye. And while the gardens were meant to showcase the couple’s peerless—and precisely placed—sculpture collection, they themselves with their meticulously designed and innovative plant beds serve as living works of art.
“One of catalysts for expanding the gardens was to create more space to showcase art,” says Kent. “And it is turning out even better than we could have imagined. There are lots of nooks and tranquil, meditative spaces. The whole place—inside and out—is a reflection of the passion for art that Vicki and I share, and which we have devoted such a large portion of our lives to.” π
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