Wayne Michael Reich

Writing ∙ Photography ∙ Art


Month: January 2011

Critics Corner (State of the Arts)

“To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts – such is the duty of the artist.”  ~Schumann

Hello Blogiteers!

It is a great day in my artistic neighborhood, even if you don’t want to be my neighbor- and I will tell you why. Is it because I received the “KISS Kompendium” a hardcover bound collection of every KISS comic book ever printed, as a Christmas gift? Nope. Is it because I recently turned 36 for the sixth time? Nah, says I. Is it the fact that azkaos.com listed yours truly as one of the Five Notable PHX Blogs for 2010? [I’m ranked number three, by the way.]

Not even close, kitten. I’m upbeat because I can throw some light on some artistic peeps, who are responsible for some amazing work as of late. But first, I’m going to throw some praise at The Phoenix New Times. Yes, you heard me right.

The same PHX New Times that I’ve been bashing for the last couple of months, the same PHX New Times that employs Martin Cizmar, Claire Lawton, Steve Jansen and everyone’s favorite Managing Editorzilla, AKA: Amy Silverman- is getting some mad Artbitch props. I know… it hurts me to write it, much less mean it. Fortunately for my street cred, this praise isn’t entirely meant for NT, but for it’s resident theater critic and columnist- Robert Pela. In this week’s New Times, Robert has written an excellent and heartfelt op-ed story entitled: “Phoenix’s Art Scene Could Use Another Curator”

In this refreshingly candid article, Mr. Pela tells the back story of how he came to curate Willo North Gallery’s current show featuring the incredible work of Artist Eric Cox, and he shares his opinion on the state of the Downtown PHX art scene. Pela’s observations run parallel with my slightly more acidic blogs of past note, but they both have an eventually converging path- the downtown art scene was once more about art, and less about hanging out and drinking wine.

Pela goes further on to explain the motivation behind his becoming a curator: “I wish this scene were more about art and less about partying. The established artists I love are rarely shown downtown anymore, and if they are, it’s in a group show, where their work often as not shares space with junk by kids who are entering a gallery scene that’s not really set up to nurture them.                                                                                

Which is why, rather than just complain about the sad state of affairs — and don’t think I don’t still bitch up a storm, because I do — I became a curator of art. I started booking shows by established artists and the occasional up-and-comer at a local gallery, not because I have a secret desire to work for free, but because I’ve begun to worry that no matter how hard arts advocates like Beatrice and Greg Esser and Cindy Dach work to provide places for artists to show their work, others have to step up and make sure that the bulk of that work is worth seeing.

Otherwise, I’m convinced, the art scene in downtown Phoenix will devolve into a party at which paintings by the sister of the best friend of the gallery owner’s next door neighbor have been hastily hung and are beside the point, anyway. And because I’m convinced that an arts community, no matter how vibrant, can’t just be about displaying new artists but must also be about nurturing the careers of the folks who’ve been painting and sculpting and creating all along.”

Damm. I could have said it more bitter, but definitely not better. But like any clear opinion, it also has it’s muddled detractors- note this statement posted online in the comments section located underneath the story.

 From Matthew: “The above is all this article boils down to. His taste conflicts with theirs, wah wah. Judging by the artists he fawns over in the first half of the article his taste is pedestrian at best, uninformed at worst.”

That’s some bold talk there, especially since ten bucks says this comment was written by a skinny jean wearing, Emo Hipster emulating, non art buying, so called “supporter” of the local art scene. Showing up is not support- especially when you need some form of it yourself to keep your drunken ass vertical at the end of the night.

Purchase some art, drink less, then you can brag all you want about how you “support” the arts in PHX- that’s all we ask of you. Come to think of it, we actually do have more things to ask of you- but we’ll start with baby steps. Happily, I digress to another elegantly stated opinion, this one regarding arts coverage in PHX, which comes once again from loyal Artbitch supporter and fellow artist, the one and only Peter Petrisko: “While I cannot disagree with Pela’s basic premise -that partying has surpassed artistic dialogue and support within the downtown arts as the norm – I don’t believe his editorial tells the whole story. The arts has always had a “marriage of convenience” with the media. However, in Phoenix, the Az Republic has left it widowed and New Times has filed for divorce.

I remember when the Az Republic included a local appearance by performance artist Frank Moore (internationally-known for his night-long pieces that include participatory audience nudity) in its Fall Arts Guide, when the Phoenix Gazette gave sustained ink to local arts, and New Times pushed the envelope past both daily papers by providing keen in-depth coverage of the more cutting-edge cultural happenings.

That was a long time ago.

Now the Rep has trouble getting the facts straight, the Gazette is long gone, and New Times regularly substitutes the depth of facts with surface flash in its online blogs. When it comes to Jackalope Ranch, research and details are too often sacrificed for what amounts to Doodle Journalism.

The best talented and undiscovered artists can hope for is coverage of what they’re wearing or how many tattoos they may have, possibly with a hyperlink to their art website included. Instead of writing about what these artists do, and why – even if in the context of a more superfluous topic – the new standard is that hyperlinks are used to fill the void left by a lack of more relevant story content in such articles.

My criticism is less about what’s NOT written about but more of what isn’t included when it is written. That’s not to say there aren’t a few culture writers at New Times who regularly place substance over style, by doing more research and avoiding cookie-cutter questions, producing lengthier blogs that are far more satisfying. But it’s seemingly not the norm, which may have more to do with editorial direction rather than what all the writers are capable of producing.

Even opportunities to combine hard facts with some flash are regularly missed. As recently as this Tuesday, in its coverage of that night’s First Friday street closure meeting, the blog ended with “don’t fret if you can’t watch the sparks fly tonight — we’ll have a recap tomorrow right here” – then Wednesday came and went, with no recap being published.

I only wish the culture blog (and its sister blog, Up on the Sun, which reads like Pitchfork-Lite, at the expense of other music genres) would reach for the high-content bar set by NT’s political/social blog entries. I don’t believe I’m alone in that sentiment.

Bottom line, vacuous coverage will only encourage vacuous culture. I commend Pela for speaking out, and becoming part of the solution to return a more art-centric role to the arts scene, but my question is this: Will the rest of Jackalope Ranch follow suit, by more regularly digging past the surface to provide more insightful detail in its coverage? Heck, it may even inspire other galleries in downtown to follow Pela’s curatorial lead. That’s kind of how marriages work, even ones of convenience.”

Brilliant, Peter. Simply brilliant. Now it’s time to see if all parties named will nut up to the challenges ahead. But as they say- Put up or shut up. And God knows I don’t know how to shut up, so here’s my small contribution to help out the scene by promoting some artistic brothers and sisters who deserve a nod.

First: Willo North Gallery: 2811 N. 7th Ave (Corner of 7th Ave, & Thomas Rd.- “Grace and Gravitas: Work by Lawrence McLaughlin and Eric Cox. Curated by Robert Pela “

The show features two artists heavily influenced by nature and earthly forms. Lawrence McLaughlin  presents a collection of his jagged and visceral sculpture while Eric Cox shows off his heavily textured multi-media wall pieces. I have seen this show twice, and I will see it again on Third Friday, January 21’st if all goes to plan- Eric’s work is amazing, and Robert has curated one of the most solid shows I have seen in quite a long time. If you miss this, you will regret it. Meet Eric now, before he blows up and surrounds himself with an entourage of sexy Asian ladies, ala Gwen Stefani.

Second: The Icehouse: 429 West Jackson Street- “Document and Facsimile: Photographs from the Icehouse” Photographs by Joe Jankovsky”

With a 20-year legacy of providing a venue for some of Phoenix’s most notable art exhibitions and events, the Icehouse claims they will close their doors at the end of 2011. Photographer Joe Jankovsky presents an homage to the venue with his collection of images taken throughout the years at these art happenings. This show is an artistic Tardis for those of us who were here “back in the day”, and shines a spotlight on a highly creative era for those who weren’t.

Top notch work, merged with the expertise of a master printer- not to be missed. Joe is also very approachable, and most likely will have no entourage, as they eat too much.

Third: Practical Art 5070 North Central Ave.- “New Work by Denise Fleisch”

Denise Fleisch’s arresting planes of color are the result of her recent explorations in translucent oils and textural mediums.  She works intuitively, harnessing and exploiting the wavelengths of energy inherent in each carefully chosen hue. Denise is one of the Artbitch’s peeps from the way back Paper Heart Gallery Era, and her abstracts are intense, bursting with color and movement.

A co-owner of Phoenix Fall Space Gallery/Studio, located at 1023 NW Grand Avenue, Denise is dedicated to the promotion of Downtown PHX art and its creators, something New Times and a few other galleries should take a cue from. Everything at Practical Art is locally handcrafted by American artisans they personally know, so if you are someone who appreciates the small details and wants to return to the days where everything was handmade and had inherent individualized beauty, this is the place for you.

But not necessarily the Artbitch. I’ll explain. A few blogs back [Exile On Pretentious Street PT.3, to be precise] I completely slammed local so-called “performance artist” Kara Roschi, saying that in the Artbitch’s opinion she was: “as genuine as a Prada handbag at the PHX Park N’ Swap.” And that was the “me being nice” part. Well, as fate would have it, Kara works at Practical Art, and my presence could be just a tad bit awkward, what with me writing: “You’re not an artist, Kara- but you are one hell of a bad example”, and all. But you can’t make an art omelet without breaking a few eggs, and lucky for me, Kara knows all about that. At the very least- it will be interesting; I dare to say.

In closing, a story to think upon.: The great French Marshall Lyautey once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected, saying that the tree was slow growing and would not reach maturity for 100 years. The Marshall replied; ”In that case, there is no time to lose, plant it this afternoon!”

December 21’st is Third Friday. I’ll be planting metaphorical trees.

What about you?

“Snap them out of their art trance”- Laurie Anderson