Executive Director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts Writes "Bullshit" on a Photograph by Tony Zeh

Categories: News, Visual Art

bullshit.jpg
Courtesy of Tony Zeh
​On the opening night of Eye Lounge's annual fundraiser show, art community members mingled and snatched up small-scale works donated by local artists.

The show's an opportunity for the Eye Lounge to raise money, for collectors to snatch up pieces they recognize (each is signed by the artist on the back and is left unlabeled) and for artists to experiment with size and medium -- and in photographer Tony Zeh's case, message.

But Zeh's message didn't last long before he says it was defaced by the Executive Director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Bob Booker.

Zeh's photo was a self portrait on matte paper that had a large red circle and line through it: "Arizona Commission on the Arts: Visual Artists Need Not Apply," the piece read.

It was Zeh's reaction to the commission's project grant, which he applied for last year and was turned down for. He says he feels the process was unfair and based on a skewed panel. (The majority of the jury was of a literary background, and the majority of the grants given were to local writers.)

"I decided to make a piece in response to that," Zeh says. "I went ahead and made variations to the image, and put it in the show as a commentary piece. I just wanted to poke fun at the situation and have a conversation."

On Friday night, Zeh was talking to someone at Eye Lounge when he says  he turned around and saw Booker writing on his photograph -- "BULLSHIT" Booker wrote over the red circle before signing his name and putting the piece back on the wall.

Both Zeh and Booker admit the atmosphere was a little crazy. Booker says he had talked to Zeh a few times before writing on the photograph at Eye Lounge. And Zeh says he had no idea it was going to happen and was pulled in for a photo in front of the picture with Booker right afterward.

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56 comments
D.A. Therrien
D.A. Therrien

This seems par for the course in Arizona, which might be explained away as sheer stupidity, ignorance or arrogance (it's multiple choice Bob, and you can't get it wrong). I write this as someone that has received numerous grants from the AZ
Commission on the Arts (ACA), including artist fellowship and project grants. I’ve
twice been nominated for the Governor’s Arts Award (which, of course, doesn’t
mean much in Arizona, or anywhere else). As an Arizona artist (a native even), with one exception (SPA), my biggest
grants/commissions have all come from foreign organizations that actively understand and support the arts – not from ACA.

 

I don’t know Bob Booker or Anthony Zeh, and it’s obvious Bob
doesn’t know much about the rights of artists – unless he just chooses to
ignore them. Maybe the executive director of the Arts Commission should be
required to know something about artists rights – rights HE should be defending
in his role as a professional arts administrator. We deserve better of our arts leadership.

Whether or not Mr. Zeh was correct in his criticism is
irrelevant. It has nothing to do with the actions or appropriateness of Mr.
Booker’s art defacement. If he disagreed with the message of Mr. Zeh’s work,
Mr. Booker should have responded with an artwork of his own, or – perhaps in
keeping in line with recent ACA artist grant funding, a written commentary –
that doesn’t involve vandalizing someone else’s artwork. (special note: there is plenty of art by Phoenix artists that I'd like to add a well crafted and visually placed comment, but I just don't have the time, even for 4 letter words, my artistic specialty.)

 

VARA The Visual Artists Rights Act, is a landmark Federal law that protects artists’ work from destruction, defacement and misappropriation (thank you so much, Sen. Kennedy). Due to the U.S. signing the Berne Convention in 1988, this is an international right for US and other artists in signatory states (thank you, Victor Hugo). Either in ignorance or arrogance, Mr.
Booker clearly violated this law. For that, he is a bit of an asshole, isn't he? I might expect
that from an art hater in the legislature – but not from the executive
director of the ACA.

 

Purchasers of art do not have the same rights as other
purchasers of property. They simply cannot destroy or deface artwork. If they do, they
can be sued and are subject to civil penalties. Big ones. 

 

Bob, get out your checkbook.

 

Check it out for yourself.

http://www.law.cornell.edu/usc...

 

BTW, full disclosure. I applied this past session for a
project grant as well. They didn’t even look at my application, turning it down before the committee even saw it because of an inconsequential procedural discrepancy on work samples submitted. (and I was already counting the cash - studio rent for April - AZ grants don't go far.) Most
organizations would have overlooked this and seen it as a non issue, as
ACA has in the past. I wonder if they will also overlook the stupidity of their
director in defacing an artist’s work. Using the same “most organizations”
scenario – most would fire him.

 

Maybe a more appropriate penalty for Mr. Booker would be to
have him personally fund a couple of artist workshops on VARA and the Bern Convention, bring in some
experts, and educate us all. It seems a lot of local artists don’t even realize
what rights they have to protect their work, or that they have any rights at all.

 

AS a footnote – I support the ACA wholeheartedly. I do wish
they were a bit more responsive to the local visual art community, had separate visual, literary, performing and composing grants – and had financially realistic
grant awards, but then again, this is Arizona and I am surprised ACA still
exists (my project grant in 86/87 was also $5000, the same amount as this
year’s award. It hasn’t grown in 26 years, while the budget on my last artwork
cost nearly $600,000 to stage). I also wish that ACA had more support in the
legislature, with legislators that understood that arts spending, like
education, pays back in high multiples, unlike spending on prisons,
professional sports, corporate tax breaks and other industry sponsored
legislation. Arts spending, whether visual, literature, dramatic or music, has
great bang for the buck.and btw, NT aka VVM. I consider my words artwork. do not deface.

 

pk
pk

Maybe if Warhol had been the one who wrote 'bullsh*t' on someone's artwork, and it was fifty years ago, it would have been excepted as art.  But when a person, who is in a position of power, responds to criticism of that power by writing 'bullsh*t' on someone's artwork, and then claims to an artist is one red flag after another.  Mr. Booker should resign!

We are not amused.
We are not amused.

If you look at Zeh's artwork, you'll see he misspelled the word "Commission." (If I had been there, I would have been tempted to correct the spelling on his art.) Wonder how strong his project grant proposal really was?

New Times reader
New Times reader

Lawton missed the real story here. A visual artist complains that visual art (especially his art) doesn't get a fair evaluation in the project grant competition. The director calls bullshit. Who is correct here? An arts writer wouldn't take Zeh at his word but would instead examine the facts. She might ask who are the project grant recipients over the years (available on their website), learn about the grants process, ask how panelists are chosen and funds awarded.  Let me save Ms Lawton the trouble. You'll find that the project grants historically have supported plenty of visual artists. New Times takes great pleasure in calling bullshit on lies and incorrect statements. Why not call Tony Zeh out on his pity party?

Know one when I see one
Know one when I see one

New Times reader, like most of those posting here miss the point of the real problem with what Booker did. Meticulous and even-handed journalism is not the stock in trade of the New Times, especially when it can sensationalize an incident as it has here. Debate artistic merit all you want. Debate the record of the Arts Commission all you want. The problem here is that the guy who is the head of the Commission acted implusively and stupidly -- thereby allowing the New Times to raise a stink. Do you really think this would have made news if it had been just any old partier at the Eye Lounge? Of course not. It made the news cuz it was Booker and his big fat ego. Booker's been around long enough to be smarter than this. Dumb move on his part.

RShurtz57
RShurtz57

My last comment here will be to say that this art, and 'the action upon that art' have created a dialogue that really should go on every day. If I am correct, Booker is a theatre man, (I could be wrong about this) and I don't think his action was a conscious one, I think he probably reacted exactly as we all may have reacted, protecting and making a statement against something he truly believed in. For the most part, art is a lifestyle and a life time pursuit, those who understand this will find themselves rolling with the good times and the bad. Bitterness and contempt is the enemy of creativity, and I'm not talking about conflict, living is conflict. This was a great dialogue, created by two people who had and opposite reaction. This is a passionate subject for me, because I am older now and 'art' is the only thing I've really learned to do. If I offended you here, I apologize for my choice of words, but not for the thought in the matter. This is really what art is, and its had me fired up all morning, perhaps I can write now...

Gusto
Gusto

Be thankful that everyone now knows what an asshat Booker is. And that YOUR tax dollars are paying this freak.

He's a big fish in a little pond throwing his weight around. Might get him some press here but it also exposes the fact that he is extremely thin-skinned and most assuredly sways grants away from artists etc. who don't worship at his feet. Petty, petty, petty. Just perfect for Phoenix and despite his best 'efforts,' he's reached the level of his incompetence.

Concerned Art Fan
Concerned Art Fan

Everyone involved with this sounds really douchey..

RShurtz57
RShurtz57

I really agree with concerned art fan, this is why artists don't get along, because art has become so damn precious. When you've done it for thirty or forty years, (and you haven't depended on government subsidies,) then it won't be an issue. This is not a new argument, and its not going to change, EVER. Get used to it and find other ways to fund your art. And trust me, I didn't come up  with a silver spoon, I started with nothing. Once you figure out that these people will demean you by the hoops you must jump through for their money, it certainly is not worth it. Further, my inflammatory remarks are exactly why I don't hang out but with a very few close artists, because the only other place I see this kind of self-righteousness is when I was MADE to go to church. Get over yourselves, do the work, shut up and except the life that you have chosen. 

Primitivepottery
Primitivepottery

Booker defaced someone else's work and then bought it and put a spin on the situation. He is not a Warhol type figure and he is should not be viewed that way. He is an ass who made an incredibly rude, graceless and inconsiderate action and after this one might should to wonder about his judgement, competency and professionalism in his job. 

Xelalunatic
Xelalunatic

The photo above is almost unreal in its trippiness

Noztradumbass
Noztradumbass

Ok.. I just have to say it. What is up with his chin? or lack there of?

Gusto
Gusto

I'm hoping against hope that since Tony gave the New Times the photo that perhaps he 'collaberated' in making Booker look like an ass in the photo.

Otherwise, Booker looks ripe and ready for a 'come to Jesus' stroke or heart attack.

Tony
Tony

Really the sad thing about all this is, I applied for the grant to work on the 100 Arizona Artist Portrait Project, whose goal was to bring attention to the great artists in the Phoenix community. Out of all this dialog, the portion of the artist's are getting lost to a small 6x6 print. I have had very positive response to the project, with little actual representation from any press. Sad, that a project that has so far taken 6 months to get half way completed,with 50 artist so far, is trumped by a 6" by 6" work I did in 4 hours of work. Less time than it takes to create one of my artists portraits.

Concerned Art Fan
Concerned Art Fan

So, instead you're trying to milk a toss-off work you spent very little time on, just because you very lamely "protested" a rejection..

Jester Jackson
Jester Jackson

Looking at the bright side at least he didn't burn it or ban it

Wayne Michael Reich
Wayne Michael Reich

He couldn't have anyway- someone else would have had to strike the match for him first, and only then would he call himself a "collaborator arsonist".

I still say we spray paint his office. ;D

Dain Quentin Gore
Dain Quentin Gore

Honestly, this whole "appropriation" thing is what gets us into these Byzantine intrigues and logical rabbit holes to begin with. Authenticity has been questioned and ousted by appropriation, now maybe it's time for a bit of a return to authenticity.

RShurtz57
RShurtz57

Sorry, Tony, I think Booker 'out arted' you on this one. He's actually a very smart man in my estimation, If you made the piece about me, and hung it in a gallery, I wouldn't have been so mild, I would have probably punched you squarely in your smug face, and I've been scrapping in the art world for one hell of a long time. Everyone is entitled to react at an offense, because you are an artist, it doesn't make you untouchable, it just makes you pretentious...

Tony
Tony

For the record, I did not make a piece about Bob, it was a commentary on the ACA organization. If he takes it personally then that is something that was not intentioned. I never stated the piece was about Bob. The fact that Bob marked on the piece before purchasing it actually makes it vandalism and not art. Purchasing after the fact, was a way to avoid any issue. And art as a commentary is nothing new. I expressed something many people have felt. Nothing new there. I never blamed Bob for anything in the piece I made. So before you start punching people, you should take more time to get the facts straight. I personally do think I am pretentious for trying to create a dialog, which has happened and has been escalated, not by my piece as much as Bob's playful reaction to the piece.

Concerned Food Fan
Concerned Food Fan

Right, you specifically targeted an organization, headed by a certain person, but you didn't make a piece about that person at all.  Douche..

RShurtz57
RShurtz57

The facts I was responding to Tony, were the ones I read in this article and the picture that spoke a thousand words. I know your work, and I respect it. I've been through this argument all before-- And, they will either fear you at this point, or they will ignore you, I'm not sure what is best. I'm sorry that I used 'arrogant ass' and pretentious as a point. I'm sure you are a very sincere and wonderful man. My point is that those who work at there art over a long period of years know that some of it is good and some of it is not. When you are a young artist, EVERY THING you do is a masterpiece. So, I do get the passion. I've long since any belief in convincing these people to help me. Hell, Claire West used to fall asleep in the first five minutes of every play she came to see, and she doled out the money to the performing artists. It's just people being people. Sorry if I offended you...

Laraeplecas
Laraeplecas

Let it be known that Bob purchased the piece before he wrote upon it, and left it to be purchased again, which it was.... It was all in good fun, if it's intent was ill willed we wouldn't have allowed someone to "deface" someone's art. It was a dialog...

D.A. Therrien
D.A. Therrien

Before or after the purchase, still a federal civil offense to deface an artist's work, whether it's great or it sucks. Eye Lounge can't give someone else that right. see VARA. Get out your checkbook Bob. and Lara, you have just made Eye Lounge complicit in the act with this statement. 

a good thing Tony supports you. 

Wayne Michael Reich
Wayne Michael Reich

 A dialog doesn't involve defacement, and a man in his position knows that.

It wasn't a "collaboration" or "good fun" nor is it any of the other terms Creatives use to cover a misguided intention.

His (Booker) response was immature, asinine and a perfect example of why the Arts are stagnating within PHX.

If I vandalized his office, would that be an artistic endeavor? I think not. The fact that he bought it before screwing it up cuts zero ice with me, as it does with the several people here on his page.

Booker's acted like a jerk. And he should publicly apologize for his stupidity.
(And no, I've never applied for a grant, so my comment comes from the heart.)

respectfully,
Wayne Michael Reich
[http://www.wayneMichaelReich.B...]

David Dauncey
David Dauncey

Even intelligent people do dumb stuff,rshurtz,and I think this is the case here,personally.
I do not think you are being pretentious,Tony,but certainly the piece was provocative,and you got a reaction,albeit a poor one I think....time to go to bed and move on,eh?

Dain Quentin Gore
Dain Quentin Gore

"Everyone is entitled to react at an offense "

I wouldn't consider "punching people in the face" for your feelings getting hurt as legitimate self-defense.

RShurtz57
RShurtz57

Well, I respectively disagree, so what you are saying is that ALL artists should be pacifists because you are? Its true that it is a stereo type, but it isn't true in the world, some artists had to grow up fighting, does that mean they shouldn't anymore because art is a pacifist sport? What bullshit. 

RShurtz57
RShurtz57

My comments were meant as a 'metaphorical' punch, does that ease your fear? However, there is a contingency of artists that don't work within the confounds of 'the law', and we have never learned how because we came up in a lawless part of society. I used to call up critics who had given me a bad review at 3 o'clock in the morning and threaten them--does that make me lawless? Listen, the thing that makes art a worth pursuit is that we are all different. When we start finding the definitive area where we work within the law, we will have nothing to say... conflict is the marrow of any artistic endeavor. I am a writer, I read what is hear and I respond. I am not new to any of this, I've been through it, ALL of it. Years ago I pinned the Executive Director of the Arts Commission against the wall in his own office because he was working his condescending bullshit on me. I really do empathize with Tony, and I'm far to old to be throwing punches, but conflict, I'm still very much unafraid of... 

Dain Q. Gore
Dain Q. Gore

No, I speak only for myself. And in the law, there's a difference between defending yourself and assault.

Wayne Michael Reich
Wayne Michael Reich

And your comment makes you a jackass- cause nothing says maturity like punching somone in the face over a mild slight.

RShurtz57
RShurtz57

So, Mr. Wayne Michael Reich, you are like the guy driving the car while I'm walking along, and decide to call me a jack-ass and then drive your car away. In reading your comments, I would bet that either you are a critic--or are you a defender of the precious artist. Listen, as I said, this is not a new argument, but I don't believe calling someone an dickhead is the apex of maturity. In the real world, when someone 'buys' something, they can do what ever the hell they want with it. And as far as 'the punch' I mentioned, old school artists punched each other all the time, read your history. Now days, its not considered 'mature'. But there are a contingency who will throw a punch here and there in defense of art. And to Tony, I'm sure you are a very nice guy, I used you as an arrogant ass to make a point. I have certainly seen your work and appreciate it...so sorry if I offended you, but don't worry, it sounds like you have your fans that would write thousands of empty words on your behalf...

RShurtz57
RShurtz57

Wayne, I sincerely apologize for my arrogant and insensitive comments, and after several hours of contemplation, I realize many of my comments were out of line. I think I was just over stimulated at all of this conversation and have been starved for interaction between artists. I've been doing that lately, and for what its worth, to all of you, in the end, it was I who came off as an arrogant 'ass'. I hope you can forgive me...And Tony, I am very aware of your impact on the artistic community, and have a deep respect for your work, I didn't articulate my points well, and as I said, perhaps my comments were geared mostly with my own bitter experiences with the Arts Commission. You were very gracious and kind in your response to me, as it only furthers the respect. Wayne, I went and perused your blog, and have to admit, I really enjoyed it. So, to all of you, it was the fava beans and the chianti. cheers. 

RShurtz57
RShurtz57

No, really. I think we should meet for coffee. I've been fairly harsh, I admit. But in light of all this, I think it would be interesting. No judgement, I've checked you out, you seem like and an interesting person. You can check on my credentials. google Bohemian Cowboy. 

Wayne Michael Reich
Wayne Michael Reich

Thanks for checking out my bio, but I don't date bitter wannabes.
However, I am flattered you stalked my FB page.

Now I feel all pretty inside. :D

Wayne Michael Reich
Wayne Michael Reich

Nah. I like coffee talk, to be intellectually stimulating, and since I can already tell that I'd get a better conversation out of the non-dairy creamer, I'll pass.

But thanks for the invite nonetheless.
And you don't need to be scared... after all, we're not afraid of you..

Amused by, yes.
Afraid? Not so much.

RShurtz57
RShurtz57

(Since you asked) Well let's see...I'm an artist & photographer living and working in Phoenix, I spend way too much time working on my career, and way too little in regards to my life and health. I'm egotistical, opinionated, talented, intelligent, sarcastically witty,  self absorbed and should never be looked directly in the eyes, so beware!
This tells me everything I need to know. 

RShurtz57
RShurtz57

We, my friend, should have some coffee. I've dealt with guys like you all my life, and oooh, you really gave it to me...and frankly, in the art world, its guys like you that I am really scared of. 

Wayne Michael Reich
Wayne Michael Reich

 I stand corrected, you're not a jackass, you're more like Cliff from Cheers who knows it all and yet- is still as dense as Teakwood.

"you are like the guy driving the car while I'm walking along, and decide to call me a jack-ass and then drive your car away."

This from a wannbe writer/thug. who hides under the Internets bed and hisses like a neutered cat? Ooh- you're all shades of sassy fierce, princess.

I'd pay good money to see how you handle a wrong order at Taco Bell- you must be all shades of epic fail when you're not getting your way.

And as an aside, I didn't call Bob a dickhead, I said what he did was a dick move, something I'm quite sure you're overly familiar with.

Anyone can be a bad ass in cyberspace, my little Cindy Candypants... well- that is, everybody except you.

respectfully,
Wayne Michael Reich
[http://www.WayneMichaelReich.B...]

charlie blonkenfeld
charlie blonkenfeld

Maybe Mr Booker will use modern dance the next time he feels the need to react to another artists work  

charlie blonkenfeld
charlie blonkenfeld

 or he could of smeared the painting with actual bull's shit, "that would of been artistic"

David Dauncey
David Dauncey

That may have to be recorded and played at next years Art Detour.........I smell a new project Tony Zeh!

know one when I see one
know one when I see one

Booker is an arrogant jackass. He says he was acting as an "artist." But the fact of the matter is that if everyone in that place hadn't know he was the director of the arts commission that controls the purse strings that give them money, they would have kicked his you know what. What a jerk!

C
C

Alright -- maybe Booker the artist is not an arrogant jackass, but you've got to question the good judgment of Booker the Executive Director and representative of the state arts agency. The privilege being the big arts cheese brings a few responsibilities. One of them is restraint in the face of criticism.   

RShurtz57
RShurtz57

Is that to say that the artist is not an 'arrogant ass'? Listen, the artist shot the first bullet, and if it were me, (maybe I wouldn't have made Booker's choice) but he didn't draw first blood, the artist did. So, artists are allowed that privilege under the guise of art? Now that is bullshit. and, further, perhaps there is much more to this story than what is written here. It sounds to me like there was indeed 'a collaboration', and if it was in the spirit of conflict, then let it be. The fact of the matter is that 'as an artist' and one who has made my living this way for a very long time I find artists to be far more pretentious and 'arrogant' than the bureaucrats. If someone wants to put up an art piece that attacks said, bureaucrats, then why can they not fight back? Is it because we have made art so precious? I assure you, it isn't. We need it to enrich our lives but it isn't the precious and sanctimonious pursuit that so many artists make it out to be. This is not a new fight for me, I went through it fifteen years ago, but most artists need to place their hands firmly upon the stove, again, again, and again. 

know one when I see one
know one when I see one

Alright maybe Booker the artist is not an arrogant jackass, but you've got to question the judgment of Booker the executive director of the arts agency. The privilege of being the big arts cheese brings some responsibilities. One of them is restraint in the face of criticism.

Dain Quentin Gore
Dain Quentin Gore

"And while Zeh disagrees -- the piece was definitely not a collaboration -- he says that his photograph ultimately served its purpose. 

"I'm not going to get bent out of shape over it," Zeh says. "It raised money for Eye Lounge. And I'm not totally pissed off, but I would never do to someone else's work. 
There are a lot of conceptual artists out there that will take a piece that an artist worked hard on and took time to build, scribble on it, and take credit. I'm just not that kind of person." 

I'm going with the artist on this one. It's kind of up to him how he interprets the act of his art taken off the wall and scribbled on.  At the very least, it's an act of escalation, not defense.

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