Fay Ray: PORTALS at MOCA Tucson

March 8 – September 22, 2024

PORTALS is the first solo museum exhibition by Los Angeles-based artist Fay Ray featuring large-scale hanging sculptures and seven new site-specific commissions. In PORTALS, the artist fills MOCA’s space with her distinctive metal sculptures and debuts a new immersive black and white collage created with images taken in the Sonoran Desert. 

Ray’s two and three dimensional works reference histories of abstraction, shapes and patterns found in the natural world, and spiritual iconographies. Developing her practice over the last two decades, the artist has generated an extensive vocabulary of forms that she uses to compose her monumental, monochromatic metal sculptures, which redress the male-dominated history of large abstract sculpture and painting. Ray uses industrial processes and materials alongside organic forms and handcrafting to make these works, including: machined aluminum sheeting; individually hand-looped chains; manually polished surfaces; kiln-formed glass and carved stone medallions; casts of plants, shells, and baskets. These works are suspended from the ceiling with custom hardware, and depend on connective physical relationships and careful balance between disparate materials and objects.

Relationality is key to Ray’s photographic collages as well, which use repetition and contrast to build up landscapes that depict inner and outer worlds simultaneously, opening up portals to other visual fields and sensory experiences. For this project the artist realizes a new 14 foot tall collage composed of textures, plants, objects, and debris found in the desert surrounding Tucson, which provides a backdrop and counterpoint for the sculptures. The piece reorients the content and grandiosity of traditional landscape photography by fragmenting images of the desert and reorganizing them into an abstracted, mandala-like composition—manifesting an imagined place that eludes photographic capture. 

Further diffusing the mythos of male abstraction, Ray transfigures aspects of her biography into source material for the work. She utilizes aluminum as a primary material that references her family’s multi-generational trucking business, which linked agricultural producers between California, Arizona, and Northern Mexico. Cast agave and cactus signal the presence of the desert in her childhood, while primary shapes like discs, bars, and crosses form altars and mobiles nodding both to Mexican-American Catholicism and modernist aesthetics. The scale, physical labor, connective elements, and process-based nature of the sculpture reflect the artist’s experiences of birth, creativity, and life-force as a mother of three.  

Ray’s seven new commissions respond to the scale of MOCA’s architecture, engaging in dialog with male-dominated lineages of monumentality, minimalism, and the legacy of landscape photography. She asserts a feminized perspective stating, “I want to bring into the experience of the work a simultaneous sense of the immense and the infinitesimal, the mortal and the unending that I know intimately as a birthing person.” Each artwork in the show offers a doorway, a gate, a portal—illuminating a way into the immense inner landscapes of our own creation.

March 5, 2024