Press RoomPhoenix Art Museum debuts Charles Gaines’s newest series featuring Arizona cottonwood trees

Phoenix Art Museum debuts Charles Gaines’s newest series featuring Arizona cottonwood trees

Phoenix Art Museum debuts Charles Gaines’s newest series featuring Arizona cottonwood trees
May, 08, 2024

Special Engagement Exhibitions

Phoenix Art Museum debuts Charles Gaines’s newest series featuring Arizona cottonwood trees

Charles Gaines: Numbers and Trees (Arizona Series) premieres in full at PhxArt in conjunction with major traveling survey Charles Gaines: 1992-2023

PHOENIX (May 8, 2024) – This fall, Phoenix Art Museum (PhxArt) opens the original exhibition Charles Gaines: Numbers and Trees (Arizona Series), marking the first complete public display of Gaines’ most recent body of work, Numbers and Trees: Arizona Trees 1, 2023. Curated by Olga Viso, the Museum’s Selig Family Chief Curator, the presentation is mounted concurrently with Charles Gaines: 1992-2023, a major survey of the artist’s career organized by the ICA Miami. Both exhibitions highlight Gaines’ unique use of sign systems, language, and layered imagery to explore various themes including race, class, climate change and philosophies of meaning-making, perception, and the subject. Numbers and Trees (Arizona Series) is on view from October 30, 2024 through July 20, 2025 in the Museum’s Cummings Great Hall, and Charles Gaines: 1992-2023 is on view from October 30, 2024 through March 9, 2025 in Steele Gallery.

“We are honored to premiere the entire series of Charles Gaines’ Numbers and Trees: Arizona Series 1, 2023, which he created after time spent in the Sonoran Desert,” said Jeremy Mikolajczak, the Sybil Harrington Director and CEO of Phoenix Art Museum. “The cottonwood, which is a beloved tree species native to the southwestern United States and Mexico, is the central focus of this series. This exhibition, along with Charles Gaines: 1992-2023, provides a unique opportunity for viewers to experience a critical and timely survey of Gaines’s career-reaching oeuvre, while also exploring his latest body of work that delves into his layered approach to creating systems and structures around a single subject.”

A preeminent figure in conceptual art, Charles Gaines is widely known for converting images and text-based documents into numerical structures, musical notations, and other sign systems through rigorous translation mechanisms. Since the 1970s, he has drawn inspiration from various forms including the imagery of trees, spanning from California walnuts and palms to southern pecans. In his newest tree series, Numbers and Trees: Arizona Series 1, 2023, the artist focuses on the Arizona cottonwood. Using his signature gridding and layer techniques, Gaines produced eight large-scale triptychs depicting cottonwoods that were photographed along the San Pedro River outside Sierra Vista, AZ. The trees were then plotted with specific colors and a numbered grid reflecting the full form before sequentially overlaying the trees. Each work’s title references rivers, creeks, washes, and arroyos of Utah and Arizona, where cottonwoods are most often found growing near significant bodies of water.

“With this exhibition of Gaines’ newest work centered on the Arizona cottonwood, we invite regional and visiting audiences to explore the artist’s ongoing investigation of this powerful imagery in a local context,” said Olga Viso, the Museum’s Selig Family Chief Curator, who curated the exhibition. “Presented in tandem with a larger survey of Gaines’ work from the past three decades, Numbers and Trees (Arizona Series) highlights the trajectory of the artist’s career, illuminating themes and approaches to art-making that he continues to revisit and refine throughout his practice.”    

Numbers and Trees (Arizona Series) is complemented by the presentation of Charles Gaines: 1992-2023 in the Museum’s Steele Gallery. Organized by the ICA Miami, the exhibition features a selection of works from series that Gaines has worked on since 1992, when his practice underwent a pivotal shift, and he began to replace non-descript images with critical theory frameworks, ranging from the writings of Franz Kafka and Frantz Fanon to the manifestos of the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement. Utilizing these texts, Gaines channels decolonial discourse into complex formal and conceptual works. 

Artworks featured in the survey include Greenhouse (2003–2023), a massive 12 x 16-foot sculptural enclosure that contains three stainless steel trees at the center. These trees become enveloped with smoke as adjacent monitors track historical and real-time temperature patterns of global warming. The work represents a poignant meditation on the global climate crisis that has persisted from the 18th century to the present. The exhibition also features the sculptural installation Falling Rock (2000–2023), in which a 65-lb piece of granite drops at randomized intervals either striking or falling just short of a sheet of glass. Viewers are left in suspense of the work’s outcome and whether (or when) the glass will shatter.

These exhibitions simultaneously demonstrate Gaines’ enduring aesthetic commitment to demystifying systems of representation as well as his ongoing and indispensable contributions to the field of conceptual art.

High-resolution photography for Charles Gaines: Numbers and Trees (Arizona Series) can be downloaded here. Images for Charles Gaines: 1992-2003 can be downloaded here. To request interviews, contact the Communications Office of Phoenix Art Museum at 602.257.2117 or

About the Exhibitions
Charles Gaines: Numbers and Trees (Arizona Series) is organized by Phoenix Art Museum and curated by Olga Viso, the Selig Family Chief Curator. The exhibition is made possible through the generosity of Men’s Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, Hauser and Wirth, Ellen and Howard Katz, and Jane and Mal Jozoff.

Charles Gaines: 1992–2023 is organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, and curated by Gean Moreno, Director of ICA Miami’s Knight Foundation Art + Research Center. Major support is provided by Hauser & Wirth, the Nicoll Family Fund, and The Steven and Kathy Guttman Family Foundation. Additional support is provided by Funding Arts Network and by the State of Florida through the Division of Arts and Culture and the National Endowment for the Arts. Thanks to ICA Miami’s Leadership Partner Cartier for their support of this exhibition. The presentation of Charles Gaines: 1992–2023 at Phoenix Art Museum is coordinated by Olga Viso, the Selig Family Chief Curator of Phoenix Art Museum. It is made possible through the generosity of Men’s Arts Council, Ellen and Howard Katz, and Jane and Mal Jozoff.

All exhibitions at Phoenix Art Museum are underwritten by the Phoenix Art Museum Exhibition Excellence Fund, founded by The Opatrny Family Foundation with additional major support provided by Joan Cremin.

Admission is free for Museum Members; youth aged 5 and younger; and Maricopa County Community Colleges students. Entrance into the exhibition is included in general admission for the public. Visitors may also enjoy reduced admission to the exhibition during voluntary-donation times on Wednesdays from 3 – 9 pm, made possible by SRP and City of Phoenix. For a full breakdown of general admission prices and hours, see

About Phoenix Art Museum
Since 1959, Phoenix Art Museum has provided millions of guests with access to world-class art and experiences in an effort to ignite imaginations, create meaningful connections, and serve as a brave space for all people who wish to experience the transformative power of art. Located in Phoenix’s Central Corridor, the Museum is a vibrant destination for the visual arts and the largest art museum in the southwestern United States. Each year, more than 300,000 guests engage with critically acclaimed national and international exhibitions and the Museum’s collection of more than 20,000 works of American and Western American, Asian, European, Latin American, modern and contemporary art, and fashion design. The Museum also presents a comprehensive film program, live performances, and educational programs designed for visitors of all ages, along with vibrant photography exhibitions made possible through the Museum’s landmark partnership with the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona. To learn more about Phoenix Art Museum, visit, or call 602.257.1880.

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