Letters from the week of September 23, 2004

 Downtown Buzz

Quibbles and bits: I enjoyed your review titled "Finding Nemo" (Stephen Lemons, September 9), and not for the reasons you might suspect. I'm a total foodie and an avid believer in downtown Phoenix and its forthcoming renaissance. Believe it or not, it's coming.

As an aside, I do agree that the majority of art exhibited during First Fridays is amateur, but it's a start. As the city matures, so will its artists, and, as a benefit, we might start to see acceptable artwork.

I live, work and play in the heart of downtown Phoenix and want to see some growth in the dining biz. My husband and I love Pizzeria Bianco, Fate, Portland's, Ruby Beet Gourmet, Los Dos Molinos and even Lux. We resent that the culinary culture is so far from downtown.

My husband and I are part of a rapidly growing demographic of professional 30-somethings who live downtown and are eagerly waiting for more hip and independently owned restaurants, bars, and other lures, such as bookstores and coffee houses. Your review struck a chord with me. My disappointment in the lack of interesting eateries was magnified while I read your article.

Regrettably, we don't try more restaurants because the thought of driving 30 to 40 minutes is unbearable. And even more unbearable is driving 30 to 40 minutes home on a wine buzz. I am hoping that more risk-taking chefs (like Chris Bianco) give the downtown area a chance. There is a demand.
Montse Anderson, Phoenix

Democracy in Action

A variety of opinions: I have read two articles in New Times by Joe Watson about the "Democracy in America" exhibition at the ASU Art Museum ("Heil to the Chief," July 1, and "Bush League," August 19). The show, which stated its intention to place "contemporary political satirical art in historic context" and "to encourage debate about issues regarding democracy," has achieved its mission. The works included express the varied opinions and positions of those artists who were brought into the show by a curatorial staff from whom I have come to expect provocative exhibitions.

"Democracy," like the earlier exhibitions on El Salvador, contemporary art from Cuba, and the Joel-Peter Witkin show, is an example of the gutsy approach that has distinguished this museum as one of the premier venues for contemporary art in our nation.

I was, therefore, surprised and appalled at one of the recent articles by Joe Watson that suggests and, quite frankly, insists that censorship has played a role in the curating of this exhibition, as I could not find examples in the exhibition that would imply censorship.

The anti-Bush pieces selected for this show are good works, such as Lynn Randolph's Coronation of Saint George, Alfred Quiroz's Bushwhacked, and Robbie Conal's Apocalips. It can be noted that works that are anti-Bush proliferate in today's art world and are easy to find. However, works that are anti-Kerry are more difficult to locate perhaps because he has only recently come into the public eye as a presidential candidate, and satirists and artists are just now catching up with him.

There are, however, a number of works of high quality that are anti-Kerry, and they serve to dispel this fabricated notion of censorship with regard to the exhibition. These include Linda Eddy's political pieces that ridicule Kerry, the video animations of Greg and Evan Spiridellis, and Jim Budde's Heinz ketchup bottle ceramic teapot.

Beyond the Kerry/Bush division, there are a lot of excellent works about American policy. One of my favorites is a beautiful drawing by artist Sue Coe called The Shooting Gallery that depicts the First Amendment being shot in the back (threatened as it is under the current administration). Another work by Jon Haddock is a nonpartisan piece showing Democrats and Republicans equally in support of the Patriot Act.

There are also humorous portraits of George Washington, including the unlikely medium of embroidery, which may or may not intend to serve as a caricature. Einar Jamex de la Torre's work is one that takes on American border politics: war, trade agreements and racism. It seems to me that this exhibition is much more than a show about "red and blue." It is a show that offers a wide range of ideas about our American democracy.

Okay, now let's talk about Ryan McNamara's piece that was also published in New Times with the article. Can anyone possibly believe that a curatorial staff that exhibited the works of Joel-Peter Witkin would really be afraid to show Angry Americans? Could it be that some other standard was applied when making the decision not to show his work? As an artist, I was trained to take strong criticism about my work. And frankly, sometimes the work just does not cut it. I am just guessing, but perhaps this was the case with McNamara's Angry Americans.

Let's not gloss it over: This is not a perfect world. Was the art museum under pressure as the New Times article suggests? Yes, you bet it was -- especially when articles such as these are published long before the completion of the curatorial process. Was this censorship? Absolutely not! As an artist, I would not want someone coming into my studio when the work is half done demanding that I change it to suit their preconceptions. Watson wants a different exhibition. Sorry, Mr. Watson . . . this is not your show!
Patricia Clark, Assistant Professor of Digital Media, ASU West

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