The Fine Art of Alienation

Letters from the week of June 6, 2002

Church Business

Sex, lies and the Catholic Church: Thank you for your continued excellent reporting on the past and current state of affairs in Bishop O'Brien's office ("Blame Game," Robert Nelson, May 30). As a member of the church, I must tell you that the depth of the continued sanctimonius deceit, as well as the obvious malfeasance, continues to both amaze and sicken me. I for one have withheld all payments to the church and have written a letter of protest to the Office of the Holy See in Washington, D.C. Mr. Nelson, do not stop. Do not relent. Do not allow your newspaper to give in to the threats. I also applaud Mr. Romley. I ask and support his prosecution of the law. No one, no institution is above the law. Shame on O'Brien, who, as far as I am concerned, has forfeited his title. If I ever see him on the street, I will be happy to spit in his direction and then offer my forgiveness.

Michael A. Perrino
Tempe

Lost Art

Minority report:As an artist and arts writer, I read Susy Buchanan's piece on the MARS Artspace with great interest ("Ghosts of Mars," May 23). The circumstances that plagued the MARS space are not uncommon in the visual arts. This is particularly true of minority spaces as well as alternative venues. Either through design, or the way situations evolved, it seems from the article, that the MARS space was a victim of its own success in showcasing artists. As soon as the founders began to claim an audience for their individual works, a precipitous decline in interest and support of the group collective began. The draw to find other, and perhaps more profitable, venues left MARS minus the very people it needed the most for the long haul — its founders. Minus that drive, the space became a venue minus either an aesthetic direction or a community foundation.

I also feel that certain "attitudes" on the part of some members did not help matters. It is to be expected that artists use bravado and self-aggrandizement as promotional tools. However, Jim Covarrubias' quote: " Those cats just aren't as good as I am, that's why they can't sell," does very little to promote the merits of Chicano Art. Was it really necessary to allow that to see print, or was it a joke? Was this just so much "self promotion" along the lines of "I'm the best artist in Arizona?" What may pass as idle chatter or clever wit in private takes on an air of decided self-importance and superiority that may, or may not, be entirely merited. Since Mr. Covarrubias aligns his artistic identity with his ethnicity, this brings into question his sense of both commitment and support of the very ethnic group that fuels his creations and identity. I have seen this time and time again, where once a "minority" artist achieves some level of recognition and frequent sales, there is a persistent need to differentiate him or herself from the collective group by taking on the mantle of being "special." Rather than permitting a range of artists into this exclusive enclave, it seems imperative that the successful from the group ensure that their expressions are seen as the definitive ones and others as the contrivances of "lesser" talents.

Another issue that the article raised was that of Annie Lopez and her reaction to a negative review. It is to be expected that, when you place work in an open arena, you place yourself on examination. Lopez' reaction to the review was to create a work that was as jejune as it was confusing. When one evaluates work, one must create a judgment, either pro or con. To accuse an art reviewer of being judgmental is like punishing an artist for being too creative. It is part of the review process to be "judgmental" and to create a system for evaluating the merits of a work. One hopes that the reviewer will have an open system that is inclusive and aware of the state of visual art on both a local and international level. To respond with a work that is critical of the concept of judgment makes little if any sense and seems to point to an inability to accept constructive criticism.

Another point made by Lopez was her irritation at being refused exhibition space for her work while attention and room were made for "La Grafica Chicana: Three Decades of Chicano Prints, 1970-2000" at the Phoenix Art Museum. While she pointed out her exclusion from the proceedings, she did not note that it is a huge step forward that mainstream museums are acknowledging the artistic merits of Chicano artists, the very goal MARS was established to foster. The fact that Ms. Lopez was not included does not automatically mean that there is systematic segregation. Could it be possible her works are simply not on a level of accomplishment to make them worthy? Could it be possible that her creations did not fit the premise of the show? These are questions that one could easily ask before jumping to the conclusion that there is systematic racism taking place in this instance.

I am not trying to say the racism does not exist. Certainly there are cases of it taking place. There are also cases of politics, networking and promotion that make the difference between selling a work and not selling one. Race is one of many factors. What I do find disturbing is that criticism of minority artists, irrespective of which one, is automatically construed to be a form of racism.

To criticize art, of any group, is not in and of itself a form of "western bigotry."

Kurt von Behrmann
Via e-mail

Energy drain: The irony in interviewing Covarrubius, Lopez, Guglielmo and Ray for pawing the ashes of MARS is that they are among those most responsible for its future or fate: by using it, leaving and then undermining it, by declaring it to be irrelevant, inferior and not truly Chicano.

Yes, it's true that most of us who have been connected with it for the last 15 years and wanted so much more than these artists to see it succeed did not realize it was dead until now. And for most of those 15 years, in fact, it even thrived and provided a venue for art unlike any other in Phoenix. It has gone down because, like any co-op organization, the potential is determined by the ideas, energy, resources and opportunities that the board, membership and community will contribute. Today, these things have all been exhausted, and the downtown art scene has gone with it. Today, downtown is for bars, sports and street parties, and this was not made so by the artists of MARS. I think it is somewhat disrespectful of those who have worked to support it to have MARS' epitaph written almost exclusively by (at best) nonsupporters. But I would grudgingly admit that it creates an accurate view of how and why it has ended this way.

I am happy that at least Xicanindio will continue as a cultural focus. Although I can forgive the Chicano artists of the Valley for not having the energy to support more than one place, I cannot really understand why they can't share space or opportunities with people who are part of the Southwest but are not brown.

Doug Nering
Phoenix

Play Ball

Coach brutality: I feel sorry for Nelson's kids ("Ode to Coach Busken," Robert Nelson, May 23). Real men, as I learned at Parris Island, don't need to wonder where the line is — they know. Brutalized athletes also grow up to be our murderers, rapists and abusers.

Robert Sullivan
Mesa

Sex and The City

Fire in the fire house: Roast away on those weenies ("Weenie Roast," Spiked, May 23). Great story. Wow. Sexual harassment must be everywhere. Hmmm. You know, Klusman needs some counsel from his mom. I bet she could help him quite a bit. They could discuss "things" at his house. Like how to wad and throw paper. Or how to stand on his feet without a prop. Sexual harassment? Now, Miss Klusman . . .

Chris in Texas
Via e-mail

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