Art Detour, the yearly open house of downtown Phoenix art studios and galleries, came and went this year without much fanfare. No trolleys to shuttle folks along the circuit of art spaces, no "mystery" galleries (empty downtown storefronts turned into art spaces for the event), no juried exhibition.

In other words, no money. It's a sad comedown.
"When I started the event in 1988, there were just a few of us, and I thought of it as a way for artists to get out into the community," says Beatrice Moore, local artist and founder of Art Detour. "We were in Madison Street Studios then, where the America West Arena is now. We organized an open house one year, and I thought it would be great to expand it to other art spaces in the area."

Moore received a $600 grant from the Phoenix Arts Commission to put on the event. Her fund-raising efforts brought in an additional couple of thousand dollars. And Art Detour was born. Since 1988, it has been put on each year by Artlink, Inc., a nonprofit corporation founded specifically for Art Detour.

"Everybody was really surprised at the turnout that first year, and we did have the trolleys to take people from space to space," Moore says. "We invited a lot of key people from the arts commission, and the mayor. There was a lot of foot traffic. During the past few years, we would have a couple of thousand people coming through our studio on Jackson Street."

This year's Art Detour obviously underwent a decline--a development Moore attributes to a lack of successful fund raising by Artlink after she left as director in 1993 and to a general "loss of steam" within the organization.

There was also the problem of getting help to stage an increasingly large event.

"As Art Detour started getting bigger, we began to have a really hard time getting even the artists who were on the events to help," she says. "We needed a lot of volunteers every year to pull it off right, people to drive shuttles, do office work, put up posters.

"Getting applications from art spaces was sometimes ridiculous," Moore says, shaking her head. "That first year, it was only $15. We would call and call and people would say, 'I misplaced my application,' or, 'I forgot.'"

So, anyway. Trolleys schmolleys. This year, I did it by foot.
After a brief stop at Metropophobobia to browse its always-interesting bookshelves, and after finally ditching the scary guy wearing margarine tubs taped to his head, I headed for CRASHarts at the Icehouse on Jackson Street.

The Icehouse is an extremely powerful architectural space with or without art, which makes it a favorite location for parties and locally filmed television commercials. "We can have installations here that no one else in town can have because of the space. Like the 25-foot-high ice-machine-tower installation we had," explains artist Helen Hestenes, who owns the Icehouse with her husband, sculptor David Therrien. "Artists see the space and want to show their art here. I think it is a place artists can be inspired by."

I was definitely inspired by Al Price's "Caruso's Motion Picture" in one of the second-floor ice chambers. Price graduated from Arizona State University two years ago, traveled around for a bit and currently teaches sculpture at his alma mater.

Looking into the room, the viewer confronts a rotating pale translucent scrim, which is suspended from the ceiling and rustles quietly along the floor.

The viewer moves through the opening of the scrim to experience the "motion picture"--moving images created by Price's vertical hollow metal sculpture, which incorporates a winged figure of opera singer Enrico Caruso and images from Gray's Anatomy. Price is not a dedicated opera fan, but explains that artistically, he responds to "the over-the-top" quality of opera. "It's like emotions on steroids," he says.

A light suspended inside the hollow sculpture moves up and down, sending shadowy images of skeletal fragments and of Caruso's visage crawling along the walls and along the scrim as it sails past. The environment created in the room is disorienting in a pleasant way--flickering, ephemeral, softly rustling. From CRASH, I headed to the new Flight Zone Studios located between Phoenix and Tempe, outside the typical Art Detour inclusion zone. The former Washington Street glass-manufacturing plant has been transformed into the studios of Neil Borowicz, Keith Gossiaux, Max Lanier, Lora McDonald, Kevin Pawlak and Martina Shenal. Visiting artists also exhibited during the weekend.

A lot of interesting work is going on at Flight Zone, but shortly after my arrival on Saturday night, I became fixated on the work of husband-and-wife team Max Lanier and Lora McDonald. Besides working in other media, the couple began collaborating on more traditional bookmaking in their art-school days at the University of Georgia. They use found objects, and have a great eye for "stuff" to transform old books into evocative and sculptural objets d'art.

One wing of the studio was lined with small shelves, each one holding some incarnation of a book. There was a book wrapped in some kind of institutional gauze and bound with copper wire; a slick, futuristic cyberbook covered in metal-vented sheeting; sexy, fetishistic books that look as though they could squish you like an insect between their pages. Folk-arty books decorated with old tools could be some rural family Bible. Some books have been transformed from books to sculpture, the case with one of my favorites. The volume has been carefully encased in scraps of rusted metal, its midsection removed and replaced by a large, gray river rock. It was a perfect surrealist icon.

The best thing is that you can touch them. "The gallery owners get really nervous when you pick them up," says McDonald, laughing, "but they really are meant to be held."

Aside from the art, what really stands out about Flight Zone is that, despite the airy warehouse-iness of the building itself, there is an intimate, almost clubby feel to the studio spaces. Screened panels line doorjambs, allowing you to see inside. The interior layout seems to invite the artists to hang out and bounce ideas off one another. You get the feeling that people don't lock their doors here. "It's true," confirms Gene Kadish, who co-directs the studio with Mary Statzer. "People who commit to working in this space know that they are coming into an existing community, and they have got to want to be a part of it to work here."

Flight Zone's closing reception for Art Detour is on Saturday at 7 p.m. And, of course, if you're an artist looking for studio space. . . .

Loose Ends
"Frank Lloyd Wright and Japanese Art" is a beautiful exhibit that is currently at Phoenix Art Museum. Wright was one of many artists caught up in the wave of japonisme that swept Europe and America at the turn of the century. The legacy of this passion for things Japanese is here on view. More than 200 Japanese Surimono prints (with which Wright was obsessed) cover the walls, as do Japanese ceramics, screens and textiles once owned by Wright--and subsequently by his fortunate creditors. Interspersed among the Japanese prints are pages from Wright's own oeuvre--architectural perspective studies, drawings, prints and furniture that clearly demonstrate the tremendous influence of Asian art on Wright's brilliant pre-1930s architecture, especially in its understatement and delicate linear rhythms.

Don't bypass the display cases that contain Wright memorabilia like yellowed receipts for Japanese print purchases, photo albums and other interesting items.

"Frank Lloyd Wright and Japanese Art" continues through June 11.

Your last opportunity to see much of the art featured during Art Detour has not rolled away like a tumbleweed into the Phoenix night, but will come around again on Friday from 7 to 10 p.m. Many of the downtown galleries and art spaces will be open for Phoenix First Fridays, the monthly downtown Phoenix version of Scottsdale's Art Walk. For information on participating venues, call 252-9851.

Take note: CRASHarts at the Icehouse, which usually doesn't participate in Phoenix First Fridays, will be open that night, as well.

"Con-Text," a juried exhibition at Galeria Mesa, definitely merits a trip to the 'burbs. Paintings, collages, sculpture and assemblages are represented in this exhibit, which features artists who utilize some method of written communication to convey their message.

The messages run the gamut from Annie Lopez's "Walking Home," an uncomfortable and disturbing mixed-media piece recalling a bizarre memory from her childhood, to Stephanie Speckhart's very clever "Untitled (100 Puzzles)." Speckhart's piece features 100 identical, heart-shaped jigsaw puzzles, neatly packaged in plastic and emblazoned with bits of vernacular.

The show also includes some of the art books by Max Lanier and Lora McDonald, so if you missed them at Flight Zone, catch them here.

Anyway, good show. Now go see it yourself.

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