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Chaos Theory 13: Randy Slack Decides Not to Accept Suzanne Falk's Painting -- Is it Censorship? (NSFW)

Randy Slack doesn't like to be called a curator, but for the last 13 years he's invited members of the arts community to participate in his art show, Chaos Theory.

The event has grown -- bigger and faster than Slack ever imagined -- and this year, more than 60 artists are on the bill for a one-night show in downtown Phoenix.

While Chaos Theory is known to showcase all levels of work by artists in all formats, Slack still keeps a close eye on what goes up on the walls and what doesn't make the cut. This week, he learned the hard way that curatorial decisions cause quite the ripple, thanks to social media.

See also: Legend City Studios Announces Chaos Theory 13 In "Chaos Theory XII," the Decent Art Easily Stands Out Among the Rest Can/Should Anyone Curate an Art Exhibition?

Over the phone on Thursday evening, Suzanne Falk describes dropping off her piece to Slack's Legend City Studios. The local painter's been invited to showcase her work since the event's inception. But this year, things were a little different.

"I went and dropped off my painting yesterday," she says. "And I'm not naive. I assumed there was going to be a little bit of a fuss, but I never imagined that the delivery of the piece would be the issue."

Falk says her piece was a reaction to a critique of the show written by New Times art critic Kathleen Vanesian, who wrote:

"While Suzanne Meow Meow Falk's The Defenders of Sweet Dreams displays the artist's usual mastery of her medium, I just wish she would venture out of her comfort zone and mix a little acid with the sweetness of her nostalgic still-lifes."

"I took it hard," says Falk. "I spent months on that piece for the Chaos Theory Show ... so this year, I wanted to be a little campy, to call out some of the misogyny I've seen in other pieces in the show -- I wanted to kick the box a little."

Falk's piece is a 5-by-7-inch oil on canvas titled "in heaven, everything is fine." She describes the painting, which features a number of young men in a circle jerk, or group masturbation, as something she's been interested in doing for a while. "I'm working on this body of work while I'm doing my other stuff. I thought it'd be a good opportunity to get some feedback from people who know me and know what I normally do."

Slack didn't bite. He says that while the piece didn't offend him, it didn't fit with the mission of the show and was inappropriate for the all-ages audience that usually floods the huge studio/gallery space on Van Buren.

"It's a great painting," says Slack. "And if she approached me earlier, we could have made a booth or something. An hour before she came by, I told Eric Cox (another local Phoenix artist) that I couldn't show his piece because the imagery and message. He understood and gave me something else ... So I had already drawn a line in the sand. I think people need to understand that I have so much to consider when putting this show together -- including the 1,000 people who are going to be here."

 

"in heaven everything is fine" 5x7 oil
"in heaven everything is fine" 5x7 oil
Suzanne Falk

"Randy says there are going to be children at the show," she says. "And that's fine with me. But I don't paint for children. So we hit a stalemate and we were both pretty stymied by the situation. I left really upset ... I guess he can do what he wants, it was just very surprising."

Falk went home and posted on her Facebook page: "my painting for chaos theory was refused -- i need time to choose my words for exactly what i want to say." She blocked Randy Slack, and in 24 hours, more than 175 comments from the art community poured in.

Accusations of homophobia and hypocrisy were common, but the main discussion turned to censorship, which Slack says he absolutely had no part in.

"I've never censored anyone," says Slack. "I'm not a homophobe. I'm not a misogynist. I'm just an artist who happens to have an art show, and I've had to make some really difficult decisions. If she wants to push the boundaries and test her limits because of what Kathleen says, I'm not preventing her from doing so -- she can paint sex acts all day. But I don't have to show them."

Vanesian, who wrote the original review of Falk's work at Chaos Theory 12, says Slack's decision was curatorial -- not an act of censorship.

"If a circle jerk is artfully done, then it's a piece of art," says Vanesian. "But the intention appears to be not to be creating a piece of art, but making a statement in regard to an art review Ms. Falk was not happy with during the last show. I'm a great believer in the First Amendment, but Randy is the curator, and if Randy feels that a piece is inappropriate for whatever reason -- it could be a shitty piece, if it doesn't fit in to the concept -- then he has every right to decide who is in and who is out. No one has a constitutional right to be in Chaos Theory."

Slack says he understands Falk's situation because he's been there as an artist. "I've painted boobs, I've made edgy paintings, and for years, I didn't understand why I couldn't get into a gallery. So eventually, I opened my own. And [Falk] can do the same if she wants."

Randy Slack's piece from Chaos Theory 11
Randy Slack's piece from Chaos Theory 11
photo by Ryan Wolf

Damon Breidenbach, another Phoenix artist disagreed with Slack on Falk's Facebook page. "1. The painting is beautiful," he writes. "2. You were asked to submit a work and you did. It was rejected because of content which means you are being censored. Do not submit another work. 3. There has been nudity and sexually suggestive work in this show before and no one seemed to mind when it was painted by heterosexual white men. You are being censored. 4. In regards to #3, if you are being censored for content and you are a woman, an argument can be made or at least a discussion opened into whether or not this can be classified as unconscious misogyny or homophobia or both. That is fair game ... I like Randy very much and definitely recognize his contributions as well as his talent, but this is a bad play on his part. He is turning his back on a peer and fellow artist whether he currently sees it that way or not."

James Angel, who's a local painter and member of 3CarPileUp, a contemporary painting group with Slack and David Dauncey agreed with Slack's decision and cited a similar story. "Randy did that to me a few years back and I co- founded the event!" he writes. "Ultimately it is his space though so he gets all the outrage from eighty year olds and moms! ... Chaos Theory though, is all this arts community has. Think about it. Don't piss in the well."

Falk says that the piece is currently hanging in her studio, that interested buyers can seek her out personally, and while she doesn't want people to not go to the show, she has no plans to attend Chaos Theory.

Slack says he has about a million more things to juggle before opening the doors to Legend City Studios on Friday night. "I don't make any money on this thing. All I do is lose sleep and spend money ... And while I totally intend to continue on with the show, it's gotten too big. The only thing I can control now is to make it happy for the masses."

Legend City Studios will be open from 6 p.m. to midnight (ish) tonight, October 5. For more information. Check out the Legend City Studios website.

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