Herberger Theater Center Art Gallery Cancels "Prime Example" Exhibition; Protest Planned
Mike Ford's The Dolls
You won't find "Prime Example" at Herberger Theater Center Steele Pavilion Art Gallery Thursday, September 5. Instead, expect angry members of the Phoenix arts community.
The gallery abruptly announced to the public via email the show's cancellation on Friday, August 30. That's less than a week before the exhibition, curated by New Times contributor Robrt Pela, was set to open. Pela calls it censorship; Herberger disagrees.
The Herberger's art gallery is guest curated by a new volunteer each year. In 2011, Pela agreed to curate during 2012 and reprise his curator role in September 2013. The contract he agreed to stated that the follow-up show in 2013 would include his personal works. However, in April 2013 Pela contacted Herberger's Laurene Austin saying that he planned to curate a group show instead of presenting his own artwork, which he's never shown in public. He says she didn't object and sent contracts to the artists Suzanne Falk, Mike Ford, Geoffrey Gersten, and Ronnie Ray Mendez.
Mike Ford's The Sodomite
According to Pela, all seemed in order to proceed until Thursday, August 29, when he emailed Austin the show's text cards (a rundown of the titles of the works that would be on display, their media, and cost) for the exhibition. Austin objected to the title of one of the listed pieces, Mike Ford's The Sodomite.
Pela says that he then sent images of all Ford's photographs that were set to be on display, and she replied that they could not be shown. He says he responded with a terse message about how it would be inappropriate to censor the art, let alone change an exhibition so close to its opening. She replied that the show was canceled. Pela says that he hadn't sent the gallery images of any of the other artists' work.
Calls and emails to Herberger regarding the cancellation of "Prime Example" were not returned. Update: We talked with Laurene Austin of Herberger.
None of Ford's works portray violence or sex. The Sodomite shows a man in kabuki makeup with the word "sodomite" written in red across his forehead. "The Dolls" shows Ford with his mother; both appear in the same white caked-on makeup with cupid's bow red lips and blond wigs. The Bird Bride portrays a bride with hair topped by a bird's nest. The Motel Room shows a person posing on a bed wearing a mask.