Best Cards 2008 | five15 Gallery | People & Places | Phoenix

We can always count on the folks at the artist-run gallery 515 to come up with the best ideas, and the latest — a series of trading cards featuring the work of the collective's members — didn't disappoint. Each set included a card featuring the work of an artist, along with each member's "stats," suitable for framing or fanning out on the coffee table (as long as you don't have young children or particularly sloppy guests). It's hard to pick a favorite — they're "all stars" — but we are partial to Mary Shindell's cactus, Nathan Feller's creepy bunny-eared lady, and Kenneth Richardson's sausage-loving senior citizens. Mark our words, someday these will go for a fortune on eBay.

From Scottsdale to Glendale, festival-goers wore their hearts on their shirts this year, in the form of Gregory Sale's Love Buttons. The interactive art project pinned thousands of people with the simple-looking white and green buttons. There is nothing simple, however, about the wording, including "RADIATE," "beauti-fully our favorite," and "you under-punctuate m.e."

The buttons provoked both thought and discussion, as participants swapped, added and talked. Lisa Sette included the buttons in the summer group show at her gallery. We can't wait to see what Sale pins his hopes to next.

There are scene bars, restaurants, and music clubs. Imagine if all three, ahem, scenes could unite into one super-fun scenester extravaganza. Well, thanks to Henri Benard from psychedelic jam band Rocketline, there's one place that folks can hang. Held on the Third Friday of each month, the Theonix Arts Showcase ("Theonix" coming from an amalgamation of Tempe and Phoenix) features artists assaulting live canvasses, local bands such as Princess LadyFriend and Brewed to Perfection rocking out, and Hip Cat the Personal Chef dishing out free hors d'oeuvres. See and be scene.

In February, as we slinked through the galleries on Marshall Way, we came across something particularly spectacular. Walking through the doors, we were suddenly surrounded by dark, gnarling papier-mâché creatures that personified any and all emotional pain we've felt in our lives. This grab-you-by-the-throat-and-make-you-choke show was by a Tucson artist, Michael Cajero. But, much to our surprise, we weren't at one of the area's established galleries.

Instead, we were at the new kid's house: Eric Firestone.

Since then, we've been sure to check out every show and this has become one of our favorite stops. Owner Eric Firestone runs a sister gallery in downtown Tucson and is committed to bringing 20th-century American masters who worked, lived or were connected to the West to his galleries. Modernism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Minimalism, and any other art movement your grandparents may have lived through explode on the walls on a monthly basis. With such a killer first year, we look forward to 2009.

Art Detour celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, so it's only fitting that the coolest part of the annual weekend-long tour of downtown Phoenix studios and galleries was at the old-school art venue known as the Icehouse. There was plenty to see and do at the beyond-spacious former warehouse, which was opened in the early '90s by art maven Helen Hestenes and which was dominated by the edgy and abstract "Post-West" showcase of more than 20 sculptures, installations, and video art pieces, created primarily by ASU students and faculty members.

Our favorite works from the exhibition, which re-interpreted the realities and myths of life in the desert Southwest, had to be Nan Vaughn's water gauge made from The Icehouse's old steel crossbeams and melting ice blocks and Melissa Lewis' imaginative works involving concrete. During the weekend, the Icehouse complex also hosted avant-garde performance artists and dancers, as well as the talented musicians of the Downtown Chamber Series (who busted out with symphonic selections of Dmitri Shostakovich, Igor Stravinsky, and other composers). Outside the venue, artist Ariel Bittner and friends constructed a clunky hut (dubbed the "temple of light") from a colorful collection of hundreds of old glass bottles, encouraging visitors to hang out and relax inside the structure. Don't we feel foolish for throwing away all our empties over the years.

On First or Third Fridays past, we always made sure to hike up to .anti_space on Fourth Street and McKinley. One, because we love trying that damn tightrope walk whenever possible, and two, because it used to be the home of one of our favorite art spots, Pravus Gallery. Headed by local art gurus like Kenneth Richardson, Mike Goodwin, Amy Young, and Douglas Grant, Pravus held a reputation for consistently throwing down some slam-dunk exhibitions. The only flaw was its location — not everyone is willing to step off the main drag of Roosevelt. That's why when Pravus decided to make its move to the corner of Fifth Street and Roosevelt in early 2008, we started a slow clap that is now group applause among downtown art seekers. Replacing the space that used to be Fleure•ish boutique, Pravus can now stretch its legs between two large galleries and even has room for Synthetic Compound, a designer toy store formerly part of the nearby Firehouse.

Pravus, way to make your move.

Once upon a time, the only thing you'd find on Madison (our street, not NYC's avenue) were the occasional lost ravers, homeless folks, and the unfortunate ubiquitous neighborhood crackhead. Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Lisa and Shawn Hardegree, feel free to add art gallery to that list, and a darn good one at that. The Hardegrees bring a much-needed shot of culture and beauty to a neighborhood pulling itself up by its bootstraps and hoping for a little gentrification.

Lisa and Shawn both have graduate degrees in art, and their studied approach has helped kick the level of talent in the First Friday scene up a notch. And these two are expanding their fine art empire as we write this. When you're ready to explore your inner printmaking artiste, sign up for one of the classes in their Fine Arts Education Series. Bring in your fabu art finds, and they'll frame it, for a fee, beautifully. That's reason enough to find yourself on Madison Street. On purpose, even.

Best Downtown Arts Venue That's Not Downtown

Chyro Arts Venue

Four artists. One dream. No money. Yeah, right.

But when the foursome of Joy Leveen, Amanda Nichols, Michael Peck, and Tom Leveen decided to pool their meager resources and invest in this bootstrap arts project, something strange happened. It worked.

Chyro is an organic outgrowth of Is What It Is Theatre, the entity that utilized this space in south Scottsdale's Papago Plaza before Chyro's opening in the summer of '07. Is What It Is was successful enough by grassroots-theater standards, but opening the space 30 to 35 times a year for performances just didn't cut it for the artistic do-gooders (who all work full-time gigs in addition to whatever hours they put in at Chyro).

To better serve an art-starved constituency, they now prop the doors open about four days a week, on average, and take a kitchen-sink approach to programming. (Think Trunk Space, but less kooky and more earnest.) The Is What It Is troupe has morphed into Voice Theatre, which mounts four full-scale productions every year, complementing other fare such as the Microcinema Mondays series (which features non-mainstream screeners drawn from a collaboration with the Phoenix Film Festival), art exhibits, poetry readings and slams, and a hardcore commitment to showcasing local music at least two nights a week.

Ugh, the weekday commute: same freeway, same strip malls, same billboards, and same homeless guy on the corner talking to Jesus. After looking at identical crap for days in a row, we don't even see it anymore. It's just part of the dull blur of repeated images — and it's the bane of routine living. By midweek, our eyes are thirsty for something new and juicy to suck in. And having to muscle through the monotony until the weekend just won't cut it.

Head down to the First Wednesday Downtown Chandler Art Walk to enjoy hump-day with stimulating paintings, sculpture, and photography. Walk along Arizona Avenue, just south of Chandler Boulevard, and pop into galleries like Art on Boston and Vision Gallery to get your fill of contemporary local and international art. After you've got an eyeful, get a belly full at any one of the swanky restaurants on the drag to make a night of it.

First Friday art walks led to Third Friday art openings. Soon, a veritable calendar soup of days were devoted to exploration of our fair city. We think the only night we're not booked is the second Tuesday of next August.

One event we've penned on the calendar is the Melrose Crawl, a chance to shop our favorite Seventh Avenue shops after dark. From 6 to 9 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month (with events booked for October 18, November 20, and December 18), shops like Hollywood Regency, Paris Envy, and Rust and Roses will open their vintage doors to the neighborhood. One word of advice: With so many of these stores offering amazing deals on new and antique furnishings, we plan to drive, not crawl.

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