In summing up, Yassin makes acknowledgments and comments on the "problems and imperfections of any jurying system." He also quotes from his own foreword to the 1993 Biennial catalogue. (One artist described Yassin's self-indulgently quoting himself as "a crime.")

I can only guess that Yassin was trying to placate the Board of Trustees with these statements, and I spoke to people in a position to know who also felt that was the case. (I tried to reach Yassin for comment, but he was unavailable.) It is a political reality that directors need to be sensitive to the Board of Trustees, which are typically conservative groups.

But these folks must be a tough crew to please. To characterize the 1995 Arizona Biennial as "avant-garde" is, well, somewhat of a stretch.

It's not too surprising that some artists and Arizona art people were ticked off about the director's statement on his museum's show.

"I thought it was really weird that it was part of the catalogue," one Tucson art dealer said. "I mean, it should have been left out of the essay. It sounds like an apology.

"I don't know all the ins and outs of the museum, but I understand he may have been dealing with political pressure from the board [of Trustees]. The weird thing is--there is plenty of Western art in the museum."

Another person who worked closely with the exhibition theorized Yassin was trying to deflect from himself criticism he anticipated receiving from his board concerning the selections for the show. "It didn't make sense to talk about a show's perceived pitfalls," this person said. "I know he had his reasons, but it just sounds bad."

And these "pitfalls" are fabricated. The future of Arizona art hopefully will not stagnate into a pool of manly cowboys and their horses. It is a limited genre made for a limited, often wealthy audience that generally cares less for aesthetics than for the Western fantasy the works depict. Traditional Western art would have had no place in a show judged on "high creativity," "new ways of seeing" and "degree of challenge."

Maybe that is why no Western works were submitted!
The slides that were entered came in droves. The first "blind" judging this spring (works were not identified by artist) cut down the entries from about 1,100 to 130. Artists were then asked to bring the work in for a second judging, which brought the number to the final 92 works from 64 artists. Twenty-three are from the Phoenix area.

Jurors Jim Waid, David Rubin and Lisa Sette all felt extremely positive about the quality of the work that made it into the show. They looked for work that was "exciting, aggressive and challenging." Sette and Waid both described their excitement in not even recognizing work belonging to a particular artist because the artist's progress had been so great since the jurors' last encounter with the work.

Some very strong pieces reach out and yank you in. Standing out from the walls with a vengeance were: Phoenix artists Max Lanier and Lora McDonald's provocative mixed-media art books wrapped in everything from rusty steel to inner tubing, Moline of Tucson's bizarre and obsessive shadowbox collage "Malleus Maleficarum" with its nuns and bizarre pornographic allusions, Tucson artist Daryl Child's hellish pastel "En Vito," Martina Shenal's quietly beautiful beeswax-rubbed collage works on canvas and muslin and Tucson-based Joanne Kerrihard's haunting oil-on-wood landscape "Exterior (Triptych)" for which she won a TMA Purchase Award.

Tucsonan Ann Simmons-Myers also won a purchase award for her elegantly toned silver print "Shrouded: Rose Garden." The photograph, as well as its companion "Shrouded: Landing," both feature what could be their title images mysteriously wrapped and sculptured into bundles and nestled in underbrush.

I also admired Pamela Marks' "Gouache Drawing" of an unidentifiable digestive organ. Could be a mutant pancreas, I don't know. But the amoeboid anatomy study over the pale washed background faintly showing a rough sketch is like a marriage of 15th-century anatomy studies and Terry Gilliam's animation for Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Douglas Denniston, Tucson painter and retired professor, whose work is found in various public collections and whose sparse desert oil landscape "Blackwell House" is included in the show, laid down his own take on the show quite philosophically. Denniston, a self-described "dead-white European-American male," is 74 years old and couldn't have cared less if I used his name.

"I don't think one can blame the museum uniquely for this," he said. "The museums are what they are and the museum here is doing what all other museums are doing. They do not have a choice but to make money and are generally in a bind financially.

"The patrons, the people who buy art here in the Southwest, are the cowboy politician people," he continued. "The political problems in the show represent the problems in the art world today. Taken as a singular situation it isn't that interesting. What is a problem, though, is when the assumption is made that art that originates locally isn't worthwhile--that assumption or perception can be damaging to the arts community in Arizona or anywhere."

Loose Ends
As long as you are in Tucson, stop in at the Center for Creative Photography to see California photographer Arthur Tress' "The Wurlitzer Trilogy."

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