Longform

Randy Slack's Art Show Chaos Theory Grows Up

Hundreds of artists and art fans made their way to downtown's Legend City Studios on a cool Friday night in October for Randy Slack's 13th annual art exhibition known as Chaos Theory. In years past, the event was as much about the after-hours party in the parking lot as the creative gathering inside the gallery, but this year, guests showed up earlier, there was less booze on the tables, and the hottest fashion accessory was a baby (and maybe a toddler or two).

Artists brought their families, their kids met and ran around large sculptures in the middle of the gallery, and a few commented on how "everybody's getting older" — a fact and sentiment that affected one of the biggest decisions Randy Slack's had to make in the 13 years of Chaos Theory.

The event has grown bigger and faster than Slack ever imagined, and this year, 60 artists were on the bill for the one-night show at the studio/gallery space painter Slack owns with three photographers, Jason Grubb, John Balinkie, and Brandon Sullivan.

Though Chaos Theory is known to showcase all levels of work by artists in all formats, Slack has always kept a close eye on what goes up on the walls and what doesn't make the cut — including pieces of his own and one by a close friend. This week, he learned the hard way that curatorial decisions can cause quite the ripple, thanks to social media.

Chaos Theory, as Slack explains, never has a theme. He invites a large number of artists to participate, including art community anchors, emerging artists, and some creatives who ask to be involved and show Slack a few pieces of their work. The actual works shown are all chosen by the artists and hastily dropped off the week of the show (often hours before he opens the doors). The chaos, he says, begins with the installation.

Over the phone on the Thursday evening before Chaos Theory 13, local painter Suzanne Falk described what happened when she tried to drop off her piece.

Falk grew up in Phoenix and is known for her hyper-realistic still-lifes of cartoon animals with innocent expressions and sugarcoated environments. She's been invited to showcase her work each year since the event's inception. But this year, things were a little different.

"I went and dropped off my painting," she says. "And I'm not naive. I assumed there was going to be a little bit of a fuss, but I never imagined that the delivery of the piece would be the issue."

Falk describes her piece as a reaction to a critique of last year's show by New Times art critic Kathleen Vanesian, who reviewed the show in the October 20, 2011, issue of the paper and wrote, in part:

"The same funky formlessness that's become a predictable part of this annual art exhibition is still the controlling factor in Chaos Theory XII — only I now appreciate why the term "chaos" is more than just theory in this show . . .

While Suzanne Meow Meow Falk's The Defenders of Sweet Dreams displays the artist's usual mastery of her medium, I just wish she would venture out of her comfort zone and mix a little acid with the sweetness of her nostalgic still-lifes."

Some artists would welcome a comment like that as constructive criticism. Indeed, with so many participating in Chaos Theory 12, Vanesian didn't write about each piece in the show. At the time, some were angry over being omitted from her review, saying they would have preferred a negative comment to nothing. Falk is not one of those artists.

"I took it hard," says Falk. "I spent months on that piece . . . So this year, I wanted to be a little campy, to call out some of the misogyny I've seen in other pieces in the show. I wanted to kick the box a little."

The piece she brought to Slack was a 5-by-7-inch oil on canvas titled in heaven, everything is fine.

The artist describes the painting, which depicts a number of young men in a circle jerk, or group masturbation, as something she's been interested in doing for a while. "I'm working on this body of work while I'm doing my other stuff," she says. "I thought it'd be a good opportunity to get some feedback from people who know me and know what I normally do."

Slack didn't bite. He says that though the piece didn't offend him personally, it didn't fit with the mission of the show, that Chaos Theory wasn't the venue in which to hang Falk's "fuck you to New Times" and was inappropriate for the all-ages audience that usually floods the huge studio/gallery space on Van Buren Street.

"It's a great painting," says Slack. "And if she'd approached me earlier, we could have made a booth or something."

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Claire Lawton
Contact: Claire Lawton