Niche Market

Despite the bleak gallery scene, up-and-coming artists make a home for themselves at ASU

Long before the economy took its most recent nosedive, the state of the contemporary art scene in the Valley of the Sun could be labeled as pretty abysmal. Only a handful of decent contemporary galleries still open their doors, especially ones willing or financially able to show the work of emerging artists. Alternative spaces have crystallized into unimaginative institutional parodies or become cutesy boutiques that second as social hangouts for the hipoisie. Because of this palpable lack of gallery space, entrepreneurial Valley art makers of all stripes have been forced to act as their own gallerists and curators in an admirable Spanky and Our Gang let's-put-on-a-play-in-the-backyard spirit.

It was that DIY spirit of Phoenix artists, as well as a small exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, that motivated John Spiak, senior curatorial museum specialist at ASU Art Museum, to put together "Nooks and Crannies," an offbeat exhibition that utilizes unexpected places in the museum as gallery space for selected emerging Valley artists. So inspired, Spiak contacted local artists for his potential show and asked them to submit proposals for art they would create specifically for non-gallery spaces of their own choosing among the niches, pigeonholes and hallways ignored by most museumgoers.

"I saw a number of artists here who were doing the same underground things as those in L.A. were doing," says Spiak, referring to the use of hotel and motel rooms, old houses and garages, supermarkets, post offices, even a California Department of Motor Vehicles office and a freeway off-ramp for staging art exhibitions and performances. "I wanted to highlight the fact that there are amazing artists in town who are curating their own exhibitions and being active in the arts community, despite the fact that they don't have any gallery representation at all."

Imitating art: Except for a few cautious hours after the terrorist attacks, John Haddock's Neri Dressed as a Policeman Kills Barzini has been on display in one of the museum's stairwells.
Kathleen Vanesian
Imitating art: Except for a few cautious hours after the terrorist attacks, John Haddock's Neri Dressed as a Policeman Kills Barzini has been on display in one of the museum's stairwells.


On view through January 2, 2002. Call 480-965-2787.
ASU Art Museum, 10th Street and Mill in Tempe.

Since some of the work presented in "Nooks and Crannies" is fairly subtle, blending in with areas usually unassociated with displaying artwork, or very out of the way, you'll definitely need to arm yourself with the show's exhibition guide for pinpointing just where the art is lurking (who would think to look up at the ceiling or along window ledges?). Those black binders hanging on the front wall of the museum lobby, which I mistook for some sort of sculptural installation at the show's rather muted opening on September 14, are actually gallery guides that contain a treasure map illustrating where work is hiding.

No museum space has gone unmolested by the artists in "Nooks and Crannies." Even the museum's lower-level palaises de pissoir and one of the building's elevators have been commandeered for duty in the ardor for alternative art display areas. If you want to check out the installation in the opposite sex's bathroom, grab someone of their ilk and have him or her check to see whether anyone is using the facilities. If the coast is clear, first go into the men's restroom, where Ryan Breen has created a takeoff on an ingenious new Japanese audio innovation for public bathrooms, genteelly designed to cover up embarrassing bathroom sounds; his adaptation uses a highly edited translation of a tape made for young Japanese girls about American etiquette and female cultural mores in the U.S.

Visit the women's rest room next, where Tara Kozuback's Garnish, a video piece projected like roaming police searchlights on the white tile mosaic floor, lies in wait for the unprepared. Intrigued by a phone message about police helicopter searchlights left on her answering machine one night by an unidentified older woman, Kozuback put her imaginary video version of the incident together with the anonymous recorded message.

Ask the guard at the reception desk to show you Cyndi Coon's installation, Noted Instructions, made for the bag-check area, which is usually closed to the public. Better yet, check something in and you will get in return a plastic packet with an object and text inside describing the artist's fortuitous run-in with a stranger she's encountered (you're now officially a part of the interactive installation, by the way). In the museum's gift shop, you'll have to search among real merchandise to unearth Jeremy Briddell's Suburban Mistletoe, a not-for-sale wall installation across from the shop's real Christmas ornament display that makes a strong statement about consumer acquisitiveness. All this interacting will probably wear you out, so locate one of Angela Ellsworth's Wall Ticklers and rub against it. Clinging to walls next to the museum's print room and an elevator door, these vaguely obscene, pearl-studded "mini-massagers" purportedly can transmute mundane vertical surfaces into instruments of unmitigated bliss.

Not all of the show's offerings provide comic relief or witty ironic musings. Like everything else, "Nooks and Crannies" fell unwitting prey to fallout from September 11's tragic terrorist bombings. Jon Haddock's oversize action figures in a stairwell vignette re-creating one of the final scenes in The Godfather became instantly controversial the day after the attacks. The sculptural installation, for which no explanatory text had been put up at the time, depicts several figures lying in pools of resin-made blood, with a nearby gangster dressed as a police officer pointing a gun at another victim fleeing up the stairs.

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