Shemer Art Center's Eye Lounge Show Lacks Collaboration in Phoenix

The artists of Eye Lounge are anything but confined to their collective's Roosevelt Row gallery space.

More than 60 artists affiliated with the Eye Lounge artist collective during its 15-year history were featured earlier this year in a retrospective at Vision Gallery in Chandler, which highlighted the marvelous diversity of work that’s been generated by these artists through the years.

Established in 1999, the collective has called its current gallery space in Roosevelt Row home since 2001, but works by Eye Lounge members are shown with relative frequency at other venues — which have also included Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum.

The latest setting for a group show featuring works by current Eye Lounge artists is Shemer Art Center & Museum, a historic house that’s been converted into a three-gallery exhibition space. Called “Eye 2 Eye – Eye Lounge Collaborates,” the exhibition continues through August 6.

While it’s a cool approach in theory, they didn’t exactly run with it. Individual works outnumber collaborations, and most of the works created in pairs resulted in pretty predictable offerings.

Ten of the collective’s 12 current artists have works in the show — some created individually and others in collaboration with another member of the collective. Pairings include Cherie Buck-Hutchison and Keith Laber, Turner G. Davis and John Randall Nelson, Mimi Jardine and Merkel McLendon, Constance McBride and Ellen Nemetz, and Abbey Messmer and Christina You-sun Park.

Several of the single-artist works have been previously exhibited beyond Eye Lounge, so folks who follow the metro Phoenix art circuit will likely feel a bit of déjà vu.

One artist, John Randall Nelson, is represented by Gebert Contemporary in Scottsdale, which presented a solo exhibition of his works earlier this year. For this exhibition, he’s paired with Turner G. Davis.

Their mixed media Profiles, featuring the black silhouetted profile of a man’s face punctuated by the image of his brain and its thought contents, delivers the work of one artist created atop the work of another. It’s a missed opportunity to push the boundaries of collaboration beyond a mere 1 + 1 = 2 mentality.

The best collaborative works in “Eye 2 Eye” are e55 by Jardine and McLendon, and Transport by Messmer and Park. Each dances beyond the boundaries of the artists’ current practice, delivering unexpected works tinged with a delightful sense of whimsy.

Most powerful is Constance McBride’s ceramic with graphite work titled Whisperers, in which she layers three hollow heads. Lying atop a metal pedestal in the center of a small gallery, its haunting effect is magnified by its placement — which conjures the sense of isolation one can’t escape even when encircled by others.

It shares a gallery with some other intriguing works, including Messmer's Passage, an acrylic-mounted photograph of a woman whose face is concealed by water as it begins to envelope her. But also Jardine’s Untitled: series of three “drawings” created with found wire and silk thread on rag paper, which reflects both the ancient recognition of the significance of line and contemporary concerns about responsible reuse.

Several pieces created as part of Jardine’s Office of Environmental Responsibility project are exhibited inside a Shemer hallway, as are several archival photographs by Cherie Buck-Hutchison. It’s a wonderful use of space, and setting these works apart from others amplifies their impact.

We love the conceptual basis for this show, but hope future iterations will demonstrate deeper collaborations. We’d love to see each artist participate in more than one pairing, or collaborate with artists not affiliated with the Eye Lounge collective.

Let's hope next time they truly run with it.

"Eye 2 Eye" continues through August 6. For more information, visit the Eye Lounge website.