Visual Arts

Star Struck

Hector Ruiz is one of the most talented artists in the city. His visceral woodblock prints, woodcarvings and papier-mâch&ecute; installations show what life in America in 2005 is like for anyone who isn't a white male. He also runs a gallery in an old auto repair shop on Grand Avenue, where he shows his work and that of talented and relatively unknown comers. It's Phoenix art at its edgiest and most independent.

So it's a surprise -- on a number of levels -- to see Ruiz's Chocolate Factory showing work by big-deal New York artists like Jeff Koons and Julian Schnabel. They're part of an exhibition called "The Secret Show," and they suck.

Koons and Schnabel are widely regarded as the incarnation of 1980s New York art-world excess. Koons makes meaningless art out of blatantly kitschy material. He once made a life-size ceramic sculpture of Michael Jackson and his pet chimp, Bubbles. Schnabel is known for gluing broken plates to monstrous canvases or pieces of wood. Both sell their work to people with more money than taste.

At the Chocolate Factory, there's a print by Schnabel from a later, non-broken-crockery phase, and one of Koons' Balloon Dogs shrunk to the size of a dinner plate.

Both are awful.

Ruiz is far more talented than either of these poseurs, so what's he doing showing their work? Is this what happens when you get a show at the Heard Museum (currently, Ruiz's work is on display there)? You think you have to kiss up to superstar artists who aren't fit to clean your paintbrushes? Say it isn't so, Hector. We like you just the way you are, an unaffected homie on the PHX art scene.

This is probably a simple matter of money.

Ruiz has bills to pay like the rest of us, and for all the attention paid to First Friday, most of the people making the scene are not buying art. This means gallery owners have to hustle to keep the doors open, the lights on and the Two-Buck Chuck flowing.

A Schnabel sold for a quarter of a million dollars at an art auction a few weeks ago, and a Koons went for a cool million. That tacky Michael Jackson ceramic? It went for $5.6 million back in 1991.

If Ruiz could sell a Koons or a Schnabel to some clueless richie, he could afford to install an air conditioner at his gallery. He could stop worrying about paying his bills and focus on continuing to show some of the best work in the city.

Go see the show. You can see fine work by famed German expressionist George Baselitz and the cool, graffiti-influenced work of Barry McGee. Both work as a chaser to the schlock of Koons and Schnabel. You've seen bad art before, I know, but this is bad art that costs more than a three-bedroom house in Buckeye.

Then buy something from Ruiz, anything, so he won't have to stoop to this swill.

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Leanne Potts