Visual Arts

Tour de Force

Used to be Art Detour was a depressing event -- a benchmark of just how far the downtown Phoenix arts scene hadn't come.

The three-day tour of Phoenix art venues was held at the end of March, always landing, it seemed, on the first uncomfortably warm day of the year. The art itself wasn't so bad, there was just so little of it, and so few people devoting themselves to the cause.

Inevitably, Art Detourists would return to the suburbs as quickly as possible, wilted.

That has changed. It's changed so much that you can't get a peek at the art on a First Friday in downtown Phoenix; literally thousands of people are in the way. And luckily, this year organizers planned the event for the beginning of March -- the 5th through the 7th -- which promises much better weather for traipsing around downtown Phoenix.

Art Detour is a three-day First Friday, and then some -- an opportunity to poke around studios that some artists open just once a year. This year's 60-page Art Detour brochure is so thick it won't lie flat, and all over town, art lovers are trying to figure out how to make it to 79 (as of press time) galleries, studios and exhibitions.

John Spiak, curator at the Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe, plans to hit the "standards" this weekend, like Modified Arts and the Icehouse (sculptor Pete Deise's amazing, forestlike sculptures will be on display there), and he also intends to see several of the mystery galleries that have become an Art Detour mainstay.

Christa Cloutier, director of Segura Publishing Company in Mesa, recommends a stop at Jackson Street Studios, specifically to see the work of Michael Marlowe, whose day job is as a film set designer. Cloutier will also be stopping by Studio LoDo, the large, beautiful space near Bank One Ballpark.

This year, there is as much excitement about new spaces as there is about the art inside them. Spiak, Cloutier and Susan Crane, director of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, all recommend a stop at Bentley Projects, the big new space opened recently by Bentley Gallery in Scottsdale.

Paper Heart, a performance/arts venue, has moved from a small building to grander studio and gallery space on Grand Avenue. The Paper Heart's new home is a former car dealership -- two stories, all windows, now featuring a full bar.

And Randy Slack and Sara Abbott have moved 3carpileup to a 7,000-square-foot warehouse on West Van Buren, which they've nostalgically dubbed "Legend City," after the long-defunct amusement park on East Van Buren. Slack, a longtime Phoenician, and his friend, artist Steve Yazzie, came up with the idea because it celebrates cowboys and Indians -- just like them, Slack says. Slack is hoping to have the gallery/studio space pulled together for Art Detour.

Crane recommends a visit to another noteworthy space, the AIA Architecture Gallery, housed in the historic, renovated Walker Building, which used to be the city's power and light office -- and this weekend will feature an exhibition by ASU architecture professor Max Underwood.

If you don't have much time, and you're daunted by all the choices, here are a few more suggestions for stops along the Detour route.

At the Burton Barr Central Library, you can catch the Art Detour shuttle -- as well as a glimpse of Richard Herrman's Tim Burtonesque 10-foot red vinyl llama, near the children's section on the main floor. Herrman's piece is one of several temporary installations you'll see around town during Art Detour and, in some cases, beyond. Other participating artists include Gregory Sale, Sloane McFarland and Sue Chenoweth, who is "decorating" the city with 60 doors in unexpected places. The biggest impact, likely, will come from a project by Lew Alquist, whose video projection "Citizen Eyes" (actually, they're the eyes of local artist Annie Lopez) will look down from the top of the Wells Fargo building.

If you can only visit one artist studio, make it Weird Garden. Beatrice Moore's packed space features enormous, wacky wedding cakes from previous exhibitions, adorned with devil rubber ducks and enough fake frosting to ruin any low-carb diet. Contrast the cakes with Moore's intricate, vibrant paintings -- and the proximity to the Bikini Lounge next door -- and you've got the perfect Saturday afternoon.

And what better on a weekend afternoon -- or morning -- than a garage sale? Garage S is a show/sale that will even include a garage band performance. The Haystacks are scheduled to play at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. Traditional work will be for sale, along with bags by local artists Sherrie Medina and Carrie Bloomston.

For the non-traditionalists, a late addition to Art Detour is Tonatierra, the indigenous community development organization, which is opening its doors to the public this weekend.

One Block South will feature artists you don't necessarily see on First Friday. And if you've been having trouble catching a glimpse of the art during the First Friday crush, this weekend will be a great time to catch up with the entire memberships of the collectives eye lounge and 515. Both are featuring group shows. Keep an eye out for work by 515 artists Mike Goodwin and Gretchen Schermerhorn, who each had remarkable individual shows in the past few months.

If there is a criticism to be made of Art Detour, it is that much of the art is very young -- which, frankly, in a lot of cases means not very good. And sometimes, very bad. For some, the idea that just about anybody can be an artist during Art Detour -- or, for that matter, any day of the year in Phoenix -- is the beauty of the experience. The juried show at MetroArts charter high school will likely feature some of the best art out there this weekend.

But the truth is that if Phoenix is ever going to truly grow as an arts community, the city must move beyond the beginnings. SMoCA's Susan Crane is looking forward to the better, more experienced work she hopes to see this weekend at places like 515, eye lounge and Wayne Rainey's space, monOrchid.

monOrchid promises one of the most evolved shows of Art Detour, curated by Ted Decker -- formerly of SMoCA, now at ASU and working for Rainey's Shade Projects. "Respite," which opens this Friday at monOrchid, features never-seen work paintings, photography and other work by artists from all over the country, as well as local artists like Colin Chillag, Beatrice Moore, Heidi Hesse and Jon Haddock.

Above all, ASU's John Spiak says, "Art Detour is the time for surprises. . . . It's fun to see all the chaos down there."

If recent First Fridays are any indication, chaos will not be in short supply this weekend.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at