Best Stop on Art Detour 2011 | Modified Arts | People & Places | Phoenix
During the humid March weekend of Art Detour, Modified Arts was a pretty cool refuge. The gallery's main door led into the main room (containing two artist-made video games) and a smaller room, full of computer-created graphic images by Jon Haddock. Each of Haddock's pieces was unlabeled and left visitors guessing which important moments in contemporary world culture were featured. The back wall and main room showed ceramic casts of toy guns by phICA's Laerte Ramos, a Brazilian contemporary artist, and a pair of all-too realistic ceramic sneakers on the floor, which definitely garnered a few double-takes.
Oh, how great things happen when creative minds collide. In January, Alan Fitzgerald, with the help of local artists Carol Panaro-Smith and James Hajicek, transformed an enormous dance studio into a gallery/workspace in Gilbert. Yes, Gilbert.

They founded the 7,000-square-foot space on photography education and built a number of classrooms for creative workshops and public lab space for alternative and digital processes. And then they put artwork on the walls. Since its January opening, Panaro-Smith has curated shows that include daguerreotypes, platinum/palladium prints, photogravures, and gelatin silver prints from local emerging and established photographers. Shes also secured loans of heavy-hitting historic photography collections from around the state.

The space provides accessible explanations of the art forms history and process, though youd be hardpressed to not bump into an employee, artist, or photography nerd (or pherd, as Panaro-Smith says) who wouldnt mind giving you a tour.

Editor's note: The content of this Best of Phoenix award has changed since its original version.

There aren't too many places in town where you can see glow-in-the-dark bikinis and have your jeans splatter-painted and signed by a professional artist. That's the magic of Poolside Gallery, the new pop-up run by Phoenix artists Jenny Ignaszewski and Kyle Jordre. Located on the first floor of the gutted and soon-to-be-remodeled Lexington Hotel and facing the hotel's swimming pool, the gallery serves as a studio space for both artists, meaning you're likely to find Jordre flinging paint on sneakers, mannequins, or canvases, even if it's not First Friday. When the monthly arts showcase rolls around, the gallery gets even cheekier with clever marketing signs that say "Oprah Giveaway," pointing you toward funky and eclectic abstract and conceptual art that's (almost) as thrilling as scoring one of the talk show host's Favorite Things.
It was up for only six short months, but the caliber of artists who showed their contemporary, conceptually based art was high. There are very few galleries in town where artists who do not work in a commercially driven manner can show. So when a pop-up experience like InFlux happens in Scotts­dale, we have to stand up, applaud, and celebrate the support for artists who have very few locations in which to show the art world what they are made of.
The ASU Art Museum is hard to miss — and the architect meant it that way. Nestled in the middle of a sprawling, desert-pink complex, the museum was designed by Antoine Predock in 1989. You wouldn't know it from the outside, but the main floor of the museum is underground. Inspired by desert architecture such as the Egyptian Valley of the Kings, Predock set a lofty goal: to create an oasis of art. After the visitor descends several sloping levels of steps, he or she passes into a cavernous antechamber where fountains cool and humidify the air and invite him or her to discover the secrets within. The galleries of the museum are arranged in three levels, and the space is full of hidden rooms. Predock intended for the space to be mysterious and for the layout to be a little tricky to navigate; this way, the experience of the museum is truly a process of discovery. We can tell you firsthand that it worked. We've lost track of the number of times we've gotten lost in this museum. Bonus hidden treasure: the tucked-away Jules Heller Print Study Room, home of the museum's encyclopedic collection of prints, including works by Rembrandt, Goya, and Whistler.
As the story goes, when the family of fashion icon Ann Bonfoey Taylor called the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to try to donate pieces from Taylor's incredible wardrobe, the Taylors were sent packing. To Phoenix.

Phoenix? This place is hardly the fashion capital of anybody's world — here we glue crap to T-shirts and call it haute couture. Ah, but we've got Dennita Sewell, who has curated the Phoenix Art Museum's fashion collection since 2000.

And that's how scruffy Phoenix came to have one of the year's sleekest fashion-based art exhibits, lauded everywhere from Elle to the New York Times.

Born and raised on a farm in Missouri, Sewell developed a passion for clothing early on. Both her mother and grandmother were expert seamstresses, and she majored in textile management at the University of Missouri. After that, she headed to Yale University for an MFA in costume and set design and eventually became the Collections Manager at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

And then she came to Phoenix, whose namesake art museum has a 5,000-item fashion collection — one of the best in the country, thanks to donations over the years from rich and famous vacationers.

Talk your way into a tour of the museum's underground, and you'll see a original 1966 Yves Saint Laurent Le Smoking suit, a handmade footman's livery (circa 1830s), and flashy platform boots formerly belonging to the band Steppenwolf.

Items are chosen for "how they're important for telling the fashion story of the era," Sewell says.

The vault is temperature- and humidity-controlled — and under tight security. No mothballs or chemicals are used to preserve the materials. Twentieth-century items are arranged alphabetically by designer, and everything before that is stored in chronological order. Accessories are grouped by type.

"Storage is a big undertaking and a huge endeavor, and it's very time-consuming and expensive," Sewell says, picking her way amongst tall columns of shelves stacked with long, flat boxes, each labeled with a picture of the garment within.

Inside the boxes, clothes are wrapped and stuffed with tissue paper to protect their form and thwart dust. Shoes are carefully arranged on shelves. Clothing made of heavy textiles rests on hangers in closets. Repairs and cleaning are kept to a minimum and only happen after a consultation with a local conservator in order to keep the items as true as possible to their original forms.

Turns out modern textiles are the hardest to keep. While their 18th- and 19th-century predecessors were made of pure, natural fibers that tend to be highly durable, the plastics and chemicals introduced in the 20th century have proved to be a challenge to preserve. Some items, like vinyl shoes, are essentially self-destructing — becoming brittle and losing their color over time.

"There's nothing you can put on them to preserve them; consistent temperature and humidity is the only thing that helps them survive," says Sewell, who refuses to name a favorite piece — even when pressed.

Times are tough for the fashion industry; the mass production of clothing has made couture less and less accessible to regular people and has put a strain on designers competing for an ever-limited clientele. Nevertheless, Sewell remains optimistic about the perseverance of the industry. "The wealthy will always seek ways to define themselves from other people," she says. "Couture is never going to die."

To see more photos of the Phoenix Art Museum's fashion collection, visit

It's tough to spend a lot of time in any of the galleries along Roosevelt Road or Grand Avenue on any given First Friday — and that's no fault of the artwork. Thousands of Phoenicians travel downtown for the monthly artwalk, and they move quickly through the galleries and streets. If you're looking to find a spot to discuss the work on the wall with a few local artists (or just a couple friends), try Bragg's Pie Factory. The space is huge, the artwork is always surprising, and there's usually a spot to park in the back alley. Bragg's typically opens its month-long shows on First Fridays (while more and more galleries now opt for Third Fridays) and it welcomes all media — from installations, sculptures, and design conferences to paintings, protest art, and piñatas. You might catch a few funny stories from the venue's owner and arts maven Beatrice Moore, and you're guaranteed to find yourself in the company of dozens of art fans and artists (some of whom have studios down the hall) who are more than happy to hang out.
The world may not be a black-and-white place, but when it comes to photography either you've got skills or you're no better than a 5-year-old with a cheap, disposable plastic camera. All the artists at Tilt Gallery fall into the former category. We love that owners Melanie and Michelle Craven (twins who graduated from ASU's fine art program) focus on vintage, hands-on techniques such a Victorian ambrotyping and hand-tinted sepia printing rather than the flashy digital media that's saturated the market. Guest artists also host classes on everything from portraiture to infrared photography — so even if your Facebook pics are all missing heads and you think that bichromate has something to do with hermaphrodites, there's still hope for you at Tilt.
So, you've got an hour or three to kill at the damn airport and you're sick of people-watching and drinking yet another cup of coffee. You've hit all the stores in Terminal 4, but you're not quite ready to go toe-to-toe with the TSA. We've got the solution, and it's art. The folks at Sky Harbor really have it going on culturally, especially in sprawling Terminal 4, where the 24/7 galleries always have something for the most discriminating and the simply bored to enjoy. In the past year, we checked out a photographic exhibit of our state's magnificent saguaros, as well as atmospheric landscapes by Ellen Wagener and a trippy exhibit of outstanding artists who work with fiber in various ways. But our recent favorite was a multi-media tribute to baseball's spring training in the Valley. The black-and-white photos of the San Francisco Giants (with the Hall of Fame Willies — Mays and McCovey) working out in Casa Grande in the early 1960s were priceless and helped us lose ourselves for a few moments without reaching for our wallets. Art for the masses, indeed.

Who doesn't have a picture of themselves in front of the Love sculpture on the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall? Visitors to Scottsdale flock to the sculpture because it is one of only a handful of them in the country. It is large and, unlike most pieces of art, you can touch it and climb on it. This makes for a perfect picture-taking opportunity. We can't wait to see your Valentines.

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