AZ/88 Removes Bill Tonnesen Artwork After Sexual Misconduct Allegations

The patio at AZ/88 overlooks the Scottsdale Civic Plaza greenbelt.
The patio at AZ/88 overlooks the Scottsdale Civic Plaza greenbelt. Patricia Escarcega
The upscale AZ/88 eatery in Scottsdale has removed a pair of sculptures by Bill Tonnesen following Phoenix New Times’ reporting on numerous sexual misconduct allegations against the Tempe artist.

The restaurant purchased the sculptures back in 2010, according to manager Paul Martinez. “We’ve already removed both statues, and we’re in the process of making more changes,” Martinez told New Times by phone on September 9.

“We’re obviously considering the allegations,” he says. “We’re being proactive; it’s very important to us.”

One sculpture was mounted atop a pedestal at the entrance to the AZ/88 patio. The other was installed inside the restaurant. Both depict human figures with a creative twist.

In one, a woman wears a paintbrush headpiece. The other piece, titled Paint, features a woman pouring a can of paint over her body. It was commissioned by AZ/88 owner Karl Kopp and inspired by the 20th-century artist Jackson Pollock, according to Tonnesen's website.

After New Times published its story on September 6, calls to remove the art began appearing on the AZ/88 Facebook page.

New Times has not been able to reach Tonnesen for comment. He has not been charged in criminal or civil court in relation to the allegations.

AZ/88 also purchased five photographs from Tonnesen in 2004, according to Martinez. The photos were taken at the renowned Burning Man gathering in the Nevada desert. They were installed on August 15, according to an update on The Lavatory that Tonnesen sent to New Times that day. The update also noted Tonnesen's plans to relocate the sculpture with the paintbrush headpiece to the Sugar Room inside the immersive arts venue he's temporarily shuttered.

The images were still there Monday night. But not for long, according to Martinez.

The photographs have large wooden frames, and they’re bolted to the wall, he says. Removing them without damaging the wall or wiping out a huge number of liquor bottles will be harder than taking out the sculptures.

How long it takes to remove the photographs over the bar remains to be seen.

But Martinez says they’re eager to make it happen.

“We don’t want to alienate people by accident,” he says. “We’re in the business of selling good times.”
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble