While some may call these art exits a brain drain, others view such typical ebb and flow as a cerebral swap necessary to reinvigorate our local arts community. According to the ever-networking arts booster John Spiak, a curator at ASU Art Museum since 1994, "People come and go from our arts community all the time, which is extremely healthy. When they leave, we often hear it's a 'brain drain,' but I believe that's the wrong way to think about it. New individuals arrive to our community all the time, infusing our scene with new energy, insight, and vision. They also bring knowledge from their former communities, helping to build expanded relationships, connections and opportunities."

"The individuals who leave," adds Spiak, "provide us with connections in the communities in which they relocate."

Some of the more recent infusions to Phoenix's arts scene include Phoenix Art Museum's new curator of modern and contemporary art, British-born and Sorbonne-educated Sara Cochran. No slouch in the curatorial department, Cochran left Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where she was an assistant curator of modern art. Before that, she was a curatorial assistant at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, a researcher for the education department at the J. Paul Getty Museum, and curator of the East Wing Collection at the University of London's Courtauld Institute of Art, touted as one of the world's pre-eminent centers for the study of art history. If this seems too good to be true, see for yourself at Cochran's meet-and-greet lecture at PAM on October 14 (details at phxart.org).

An image from Carrie Marill's show at Jen Bekman Gallery in New York City.
An image from Carrie Marill's show at Jen Bekman Gallery in New York City.

Not to be outdone, in April of this year, SMoCA added Claire Schneider to its curatorial roster as the museum's senior curator. Schneider came from a 10-year engagement at the Albright-Knox Museum in Buffalo, New York, one of the oldest and best-known modern and contemporary art museums in the country. Considered a heavy hitter, Schneider also has put in time at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA), New York's Guggenheim and Brandeis University's Rose Art Museum. She's mounted a number of important exhibitions, including ones showcasing the work of Mathew Barney and Andrea Zittel, and is best appreciated for co-curating "Extreme Abstraction," a gigantic international survey of over 150 artists that included 20 site-specific installations and special commissions. The work in "Extreme Abstraction" spanned several generations of American abstractionists and minimalists (think everyone from Pollock, Gorky, Rothko, and deKooning to Judd, Flavin, and Lewitt to Linda Benglis, Polly Apfelbaum, and Damien Hirst).

Also new to town and sure to add a Pacific Rim presence is Rico Reyes, a multimedia artist working in video, installation, and performance, and former director of the University of the Pacific Art Gallery in Stockton, California. Reyes made his art mark by curating exhibitions of contemporary Filipino-American art. He's been a member of Barrionics, a group of Filipino-American artists featured in "Barrionics Does Barrioque" at the Togonon Gallery in San Francisco — how's that for new influences on the old local scene?

Another newcomer to Phoenix, but old-timer to the international art world is Bruce Ferguson, a well-known independent curator and critic with credentials to choke a sword-swallower. The former dean of New York's School of Arts at Columbia University and president and executive director of the New York Academy of Art, Ferguson was the founding director and first biennial curator of a little art soirée known as SITE Santa Fe, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I guess he thinks Phoenix is important enough in the international art galaxy for him to plan a brand-new media, arts and culture institute at ASU, which will be known as Future Art Research Institute (FAR).

People seem to ignore the fact that just because artists leave town doesn't mean that they never come back. Tethered by roots to family, friends, and colleagues, they visit on a regular basis. Some actually move back, like interdisciplinary artist Angela Ellsworth, a glittering star in the Phoenix art firmament (boy, did I cry when she left town the first time). Ellsworth is now an assistant professor of intermedia in ASU's Herberger College of the Arts. And I don't hear anyone heaving a sigh of relief — though they should — that Perihelion has decided to stay in town and is moving to Roosevelt Row's Artisan Lofts. Specializing in slightly demented, high/lowbrow work heavily influenced by pop culture that appears in San Francisco-based Juxtapoz magazine, Perihelion is an aesthetic groundbreaker whose vision has just been given certified museum credentials by "In the Land of Retinal Delights: The Juxtapoz Factor," an exhibition at Laguna Art Museum presenting the work of 150 artists who are an integral part of the huge, but officially unrecognized, art movement that's been taking place in this country for the past 40 years.

And don't forget all the artists who may not live here but are constantly in town working on public-art projects or showing at places like Marshall Way's Lisa Sette Gallery — people like Kim Cridler (Madison, Wisconsin) and Einar and Jamex de la Torre (San Diego/Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico).

I just don't see any reason to bemoan the loss of art types who are moving up the ladder to bigger and arguably better things, especially when they're being replaced by such incredible newcomers who've left places just as important as the places for which the old artists, curators, and gallerists are leaving. Artists are built to crave new surroundings for new inspiration and will always go elsewhere. It's going to happen. It has to happen to transfuse Phoenix's art scene with new life. God only knows how many artists have come to town in the past six months whom we just don't know about yet.

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