Herberger Theater Center Art Gallery Cancels "Prime Example" Exhibition; Protest Planned

Categories: News, Visual Art

mike-ford-the-dolls.jpg
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.

See also: "The Joe and Jan Show" Canceled by Owner of Willo North Gallery in Phoenix

mike-ford-sodomite.jpg
Mike Ford's The Sodomite
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.

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.

Location Info

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R. Pela Contemporary Art

335 W. McDowell Road, Phoenix, AZ

Category: General


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20 comments
Room10
Room10

Censorship...

Rears its so-called ugly head again, or is it? Or is it exactly what at least one of these artists wanted. You don't take a photograph with "sodomite" scrawled across the forehead, that "in your face" shock art so popular amongst angrier artists. If it had merely hung quietly in a niche upstairs in Herberger the whole point would have been lost. By inadvertently playing its part to the hue and cry of "Censorship" it has given this artist and even the other 3 far more. The whirligig of media attention and sympathy is Gold. You can't buy this kind of press. Certainly New Times never gave much unless it could stir the pot!

Rather than excoriate Herberger they should be saying thanks that they got exactly what that artist put out there. You don't "piss" on the venue that followed through its proper role.

Patrick Wasbotten
Patrick Wasbotten

the petty decision on the part of the gallery admin to screw Pela out of his curatorship and show... weak, small minded, reactionary, bullshit... censorship? I'm not giving them that power and glory

Pete Petrisko
Pete Petrisko

My reaction? YOU are the PRIME EXAMPLE, Phoenix... In October 2012, the local arts community went into an online "Censorship!" outrage after Legend City gallery cut two "objectionable" works (by Eric Cox & Suzanne Falk, respectively) from its Chaos Theory 13 group show just days prior to the opening. Curator Randy Slack was quoted as saying their pieces were "inappropriate for the all-ages audience that usually floods the huge studio/gallery space on Van Buren Street," adding, "The only thing I can control now is to make it happy for the masses." [1] There were calls for protest at that opening but the only one to follow through in protest was me. When the in-depth report "Dissent or Terror" was released in June 2013, it revealed that Cindy Dach, owner of MADE Art Boutique on Roosevelt Row, had sent an e-mail to police in 2011 informing them about an upcoming Occupy meeting at (the now-defunct) Conspire coffeeshop. The local arts community went into a social media frenzy, calling for a protest at MADE on the next First Friday. When that date came, one only person - artist Kathleen Cone - actually showed with sign in hand to object. Dach later told New Times that she did not intend to share information with police to hamper protesters' efforts, and was quoted as saying "There were huge safety concerns. People forget that, at the time, sidewalks were not yet expanded, and police were working with a lot of residents and business owners to keep [First Fridays] a safe event." [2] On a personal note, in late 2012, I proposed a performance art piece I wanted to perform at the monthly music & performance Firestage event. Long story short, it was a dance-centric piece (in drag) with an anti-patriarchal theme. My proposed piece resulted in a lengthy behind-the-scenes discussion with both the organizer and the bookstore owner (where the event was being held at the time) and it was ultimately decided what I wanted to do wouldn't be "appropriate" because it might upset the "sensitive young ladies" in the audience (did I mention the irony of it being an ANTI-patriarchal piece?), so simply wasn't welcome - and I haven't been welcomed back since. There was no protest, and those I told later just accepted it, saying"that's the way our art scene is" nowadays. Those are but three examples. As for the cancellation of "Prime Example", I find it rich that Herberger's Laurene Austin stated, "We're an arts venue with a diverse audience... And we really have to respect the patrons that come in and the resident theater companies that come in and rent our space." [3] Does the thrust of that quote sound vaguely familar? It should, looking at the cited examples, because she's borrowed a page from the playbook previously written by the downtown arts community: dumb it down, keep the art safer than safe, make it less diverse for the sake of audience diversity, and hide your censoring ways under mommy's skirt. The best of luck protesting the horse's escape after you yourselves left the barn door open, downtown Phoenix arts community. I might stop by to say hello to Travis Fields because I hate to see somebody protesting alone. And if any artist wants to truly protest, don't be reactive exclusively. Instead, do it by proactively making art that challenges, and then TRY to get it into a gallery or on stage in downtown Phoenix. If and when you're turned away, then you'll have something worth protesting - and if enough artists do that consistently, it might actually amount to something -- a little something called CHANGE.

travisfields
travisfields

I hope everyone will turn out for this protest against censorship on Thursday, September 5th, 5:30 PM - 7:30 PM in front of the Herberger Theater.

suzannefalk
suzannefalk

i had an individual contract with the herberger just like all the artists in the show. they also included us in the mass email blast inviting people to come two weeks ago listing all of our names. it was not a mystery this was a group show or who was participating. 

suzannne falk

noartfagsallowed
noartfagsallowed

Thanks to the herberger, we've avoided another embarrassingly bad exhibition of what passes for art in phoenix, arizona.

TaxpayingVoter
TaxpayingVoter

What the hell?  This is just not right.


What I've seen here in these little graphics is gorgeous!

priceitbythesquarein
priceitbythesquarein

@Pete Petrisko so, you're saying that you all are just a bunch of drama queens? and that you should create even more shit that nobody wants to see? great thought, peter. you guys are used to rejection, so this plan of yours should be easily carried out by the people who call themselves artists in phoenix, arizona.

borntoprotestall
borntoprotestall

@travisfieldsI want to protest with you guys, I love to carry signs and scream. Is this protest exclusively against the herberger's "censorship?" The signs that I made are protesting their "dissociation" from this wonderfully fantastic exhibition which I haven't seen (I made a couple of obligatory anti-joe arpaio signs as well, you know, in case anybody needs two of those). I'm not sure why people are using the word censorship as the basis for their protest, because this exhibition of masterworks can and will hang anywhere the organizers can find a willing wall. I'm upset that this herberger joint has the audacity to think that they have any say in what they display. Who do these people think they are? Well, I don't know who they are, but I know who they're not: they are not people who are allowed to dissociate from anybody! 

darkreich
darkreich

@noartfagsallowed And thanks to social media, we get to see why you're their target audience. Classy avatar, BTW- nothing says "brave" like hiding under the Internet's bed.

Get back to your trailer park, you cretin.

darkreich
darkreich

Seriously?

As an Artist myself, why would I support the Herberger, Suffering?
My name is out there for all to read, contained within the reply to "No".

And yes, Im angry- they had PLENTY of time to reveiw the work, and they didnt. And their press release/justification is laughable at best.

Censorship is both unprofessional and cowardly, and as so far as Im concerned, the Herberger can go get their future art at WalMart.


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