Modified Arts": Looking Back on the Future" Great Sampling of Phoenix's Art History

Modified Arts after its recent nip/tuck. See more shots in our Modified Arts slide show.
Modified Arts after its recent nip/tuck. See more shots in our Modified Arts slide show.
Kathleen Vanesian

So maybe Roosevelt Row isn't L.A.'s La Cienega in the 60s and our Grand Avenue ain't exactly Soho in the 70s and 80s. And we can definitively say that Marcel Duchamp never played chess at Phoenix Art Museum with a nude Eve Babitz (or anyone else, clothed or naked, for that matter). But that doesn't mean Phoenix doesn't have its own -- and very unique -- art history to flaunt.

Our surprisingly significant contemporary art scene is on display via artwork and advertising pieces at Modified Arts in "Modified Arts: Looking Back on the Future," curated by the gallery's new director, Kim Larkin, a non-native who parachuted into our fair burg recently to take over management of Kimber Lanning's iconic space.

I know for a fact there's no comprehensive tome outlining this town's art history, so it took a prodigious amount of research and interviewing for Larkin to come up with a tight, well-presented art historical overview of Phoenix spanning from the Franklin D. Roosevelt WPA era to the present. The exhibit, which remains on display until February 13, is a smart choice and firm foundation for other ones Larkin will be curating in the future. The show looks particularly impressive in Modified's new, cleanly industrial space, obviously renovated and lit to cater primarily to visual arts. Exhibition wall texts are especially informational, putting art and artists into a context we can actually follow, and dishing up long lost data that puts real faces to the names of those who've gone before.

Modified Art's new director, Kim Larkin
Modified Art's new director, Kim Larkin
Kathleen Vanesian

Besides paying homage to the usual suspects, like Phillip C. Curtis (1907-2000), to whom an entire room has been dedicated at PAM, Larkin dug up work by other artists working here and in Scottsdale between the 30s and 60s, like wood sculptor R. Phillips Sanderson (1908-1987) (two of his bizarre satyr bas reliefs on display were rescued from the doors of the Dionysus Lounge at downtown's now defunct Old Adams Hotel), and painter/printmaker Lew Davis (1910-1979). Abstract expressionist Dorothy Fratt, who along with Curtis later worked with local master printmaker John Armstrong of Armstrong-Prior atelier, is included, as well as an early work by Beth Ames Swartz, who founded an all-female art co-op in the 60s, a time when feminism was just beginning to flower (who knew?). And, of course, no local history would be complete without a Fritz Scholder, the Scottsdale artist who single-handedly started the whole Southwestern art craze of the 1980s.

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Assemblage artists Janet De Berge Lange and Sean O'Donnell (1948-2004) are well represented in "Looking Back on the Future," as is Bob Adams, who was part of the whole hoppin' Jackson Street Studios live/work scene in the 1990s and showed at now defunct Radix Gallery (he also designed the billboard and poster for downtown's very first Art Detour, which was founded by artist Beatrice Moore, who is also a part of the show). The cast of characters continues with husband and wife team, Jeff Falk and Annie Lopez, who were a dynamic part of Movimiento Artistico del Rio Salado (MARS) and other spaces that were to follow through the years, as well as original members of 3-Car Pile Up, Randy Slack, James Angel and David Dauncey.

Three major gallery players are also saluted in Modified's show, including Alwun House (Kim Moody and Dana Johnson), Crasharts at the Icehouse (now the Icehouse) (David Therrien and Helen Hestenes) and deCompression Gallery (Michael Levine). All three were going full throttle when I first came to the Valley and gave me confidence that this place, artistically speaking, actually had a vital pulse. Also of note is the video art on display, which Larkin says will soon be posted on Modified's as yet unveiled website.

The list is too long to include everything here, but check out the slide show we've posted containing most of the works in this seminal historical exhibition. For further information, contact Kim Larkin at Modified Arts (801) 201-12111 (a local number is coming soon)


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