Visual Arts

Artlink Needs to Rethink Art Detour

The 24th annual Art Detour went down during the third weekend of March, and the fact that it happened at all is perhaps its greatest accomplishment. Something needs to change. A lot of things, actually.

Our impressions from the weekend: A lot of artists have given up on the annual event. And perhaps it's time for Artlink to either seriously rethink the purpose of the weekend or toss in the towel.

True, there were a couple of great exhibitions. James Angel, David Dauncey, and Randy Slack of 3CarPileUp put up a killer show at Legend City Studios.

On Roosevelt, Eye Lounge housed a buzz-worthy 6x6 fundraiser (more on that later) and the collective put together a strong showcase of their latest works. From Melissa Martinez's glowing tulle cloud with blown-glass rain drops to Sarah Hurwitz's invitation to peer through her kaleidoscope lenses for a gem show, "Fresh" had whimsy, cohesion, and a skill level that was unmatched by the scores of other group shows that had been tossed together or decided upon by an arts community popularity contest.

Grand Avenue was its usual quirky self. The Mutant Piñata Show at Bragg's Pie Factory wasn't the strongest example of local art, but it was exactly what it promised: fun. And the politically charged lotería cards and canvas work by El Moises and local tattoo artists were a strong addition to the usual from Steve Gompf, Annie Lopez, and Jeff Falk at Deus Ex Machina in La Melgosa.

There were a lot of exhibitions and shows to see — Artlink's map included 52 locations, and ours included about 25 "must-sees."

While we shuffled up, down, and around during Third Friday and the official Detour Saturday and Sunday, we were baffled at Icehouse's decision to schedule two weddings during that weekend — weddings that we inadvertently crashed by sneaking behind the buffet table and up the stairs to the newly opened, though largely disappointing, gallery shows. And we nearly attempted a break-in to see Peter Bugg and DOSE's show at Willo North after arriving to the gallery at 3 p.m. on Sunday and seeing the red sign: "closed." (Thankfully, that show's up through April's First Friday.)

More disappointing than poor organization and hours that weren't exactly "by the map," though, was noticing that the small crowds of attendees were the same crews we usually see during any other art event. In fact, most of the "Detourers" were artists.

Many of the Detour's discussions centered on the 24-year-old event's relevance, given that it follows a Third Friday artwalk and reaches mainly the same audience.

The conclusion was simple: If it decides to carry on, Artlink must rethink Detour.

During Art Detour, Artlink spends most of its small budget on producing a map (that's carried in the Downtown Phoenix Journal), creating and hanging banners and yard signs, and hiring trolleys and buses to get people from one art area to the next.

But what if the organization refocused and used those funds to support art shows throughout the year with small grants that could cover postcard costs or art supplies? What if instead of banners and signs that signified one weekend in March, the organization made larger efforts to educate the city that art exists downtown year-round (and that maybe the best shows can't be crammed, forced, and slapped into one weekend)?

Perhaps instead of gathering monthly to bicker about Art Detour details, deadlines, and membership fees, Artlink could help provide a volunteer base to assist gallery owners in staying open during business hours.

We've said it before and we'll say again: In its current state, Art Detour exists as a sore reminder that perhaps it's time for Artlink to recognize the achievements of the arts community throughout the past 24 years, to celebrate the success of each arts neighborhood (Roosevelt, Grand Ave., 16th Street, Melrose), and to take a much-needed curtain call.

There's nothing harder than volunteering, and there's a recognized challenge in attempting to herd a slew of artists and gallery owners into the stables to put their newest, best work on the walls for an annual event.

But if only five or so of the 52 shows were standouts, and that's what the organization will continue drawing maps, hanging banners, and calling for the community members to see, then it will be a disservice to its community and to its artists.

If you didn't make it out to Art Detour, most of our favorite shows will be up through April's First Friday. Rest assured, the 3CarPileUp guys will still be at Legend City Studios, you can still take a peek at Hurwitz's gem show, and the Mutant Pinata Show will be open at Bragg's Pie Factory.

Perhaps the only real Detour drama you missed happened on March's Third Friday — a night before Detour even officially started.

On the opening night of Eye Lounge's annual fundraiser show, members of the art community mingled and snatched up small-scale works donated by local artists.

The show's an opportunity for Eye Lounge to raise money, for collectors to snatch up pieces they recognize (each is signed by the artist on the back and is left unlabeled), and for artists to experiment with size, medium, and — in photographer Tony Zeh's case — message.

But Zeh's message didn't last long, he says, before it was defaced by the executive director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Bob Booker.

Zeh's photo was a self-portrait on matte paper that had a red circle and line through it: "Arizona Commission on the Arts: Visual Artists Need Not Apply," the piece read.

It was Zeh's reaction to the commission's project grant, for which he applied last year and was turned down. He says he feels the process was unfair and based on a skewed panel. (The majority of the jury was from a literary background, and the majority of the grants were given to local writers.)

"I decided to make a piece in response to that," Zeh says. "I went ahead and made variations to the image, and put it in the show as a commentary piece. I just wanted to poke fun at the situation and have a conversation."

On Friday night, Zeh was talking to someone at Eye Lounge when, he says, he turned around and saw Booker writing on his photograph. Booker wrote "BULLSHIT" over the red circle before signing his name and putting the piece back on the wall.

Both Zeh and Booker admit the atmosphere was a little crazy.

Booker says he had talked to Zeh a few times before writing on the photograph at Eye Lounge. Zeh says he had no idea it was going to happen. He was asked to pose for a picture with Booker in front of the picture afterward right after the incident occurred.

"I thought it was a hoot," says Booker. "Tony had two pieces in the show; I purchased one, re-appropriated it, and put it back up for sale. And then it resold, so essentially [Eye Lounge] got double the price . . . The message here is that Arts Commission is here for all artists in all parts of the state in all media."

Booker argues he was acting as an artist that night — not as a representative of the commission. He says it was his right to make a commentary on a piece of work and that while this kind of "discussion" between artists happens all the time in public spaces through street art (even on the west-facing exterior wall of Eye Lounge), the discussion between artists in the gallery also has had a large part of art history.

"Look at the work of Andy Warhol, who often appropriated images like the soup cans or the image of the Kennedy assassination," says Booker. "When an artist appropriates the work of another artist, it becomes collaboration . . . The Eye Lounge piece sold twice, and an artist bought the final product. Maybe my mark made the piece more valuable."

Though Zeh disagrees that the piece was a collaboration, he says that his photograph ultimately served its purpose.

"I'm not going to get bent out of shape over it," Zeh says. "It raised money for Eye Lounge. And I'm not totally pissed off, but I would never do that to someone else's work. There are a lot of conceptual artists out there who will take a piece that an artist worked hard on and took time to build, scribble on it, and take credit. I'm just not that kind of person."

The piece continued to hang at Eye Lounge all weekend, causing buzz about the place it has in the gallery and the precedent it sets for gallery behavior.

"I think for [Booker], being a part of the commission, to respond that way has a bad light," says Zeh. "I don't think it speaks too highly of the commission, and I know I'll never apply through the commission again."

Ultimately, Booker asserts that his actions did not deface the piece.

"As an artist, I purchased that work; I made a change," says Booker. "I have that right. I'm acting as an artist . . . I re-appropriated the piece, which appeared to have no copyright. I had a little fun, and I'm sorry that maybe Tony didn't. Life's too short to not have fun."

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Claire Lawton
Contact: Claire Lawton