Herberger Protest Today; Artist and Curator Withdraw from Exhibitions

Categories: News, Visual Art

ford-hunting.jpg
Mike Ford's Daddy's Gone A-Hunting
Late last week Herberger Theater Center's art gallery canceled the opening of the exhibition "Prime Example," curated by New Times contributor Robrt Pela. Since then, the Phoenix arts community has tried to make sense of how exactly a show that had been on the books for two years could be axed so abruptly. Allegations of censorship have circulated, Herberger has offered changing explanations, and local artists have organized a protest for this evening.

After Jackalope Ranch caught up with Laurene Austin, the marketing and development director for Herberger and manager of the art gallery space, earlier this week about the controversy, Pela released to us email correspondence between Pela and Austin. Then Austin sent us her email correspondence between Austin and the artists. Now that we've looked through it all, it's clear that communication was lacking between all parties involved.

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

Although Herberger initially announced via Facebook that "Prime Example" was canceled because Pela had altered the show too close to the opening date, later Austin told us otherwise. She said the group show featuring work from Mike Ford, Suzanne Falk, Ronnie Ray Mendez, and Geoffrey Gersten had been agreed upon with plenty of notice -- which was obvious to those who had seen the show announced on Herberger's website.

Austin said that when she found out that one work by artist Mike Ford was titled The Sodomite it raised a question of subject matter. She had not seen the work when she expressed concern. Her concern was that Herberger has a diverse audience, with many families and children expected to come to the venue in September and early October for children's theater events and the Herberger Festival of the Arts, scheduled for Saturday, October 5. According to a press release Pela sent out, "Prime Example" was slated to run through Sunday, October 6.

She wrote in an email to Pela that she was concerned about The Sodomite and Mike Ford's other works and she wasn't sure what to expect because she hadn't seen images of all the works. She wrote that they may need to pull The Sodomite and other works depending on their subject matter. She asked if Pela had suggestions.

Pela had sent Austin four images, one from each artist, for the Herberger to use on its website and for promotional postcards. One of them was a piece by Mike Ford titled Daddy's Gone A-Hunting, which portrays a masked, armed person holding up three baby dolls tied at their feet like they're game. Austin did not object to this image. The Sodomite is an image of a man wearing caked-on white makeup with the word "sodomite" written in red across his forehead.

Pela responded to her request for suggestions with this message: "I suggest that censorship is never right, and now is not the time to tell me that you may be pulling artwork from a show I've already promised my artist and the audience that they'll be seeing."

Austin replied that Herberger could not display Mike Ford's The Sodomite, The Dolls, an image of the artist Ford and his mother in blond wigs, kabuki-style makeup, and red lipstick, or The Motel Room, which shows a person posed on a bed wearing a mask. At the end of her message, she added that she had been asking for images and information since April, which the correspondence we have does not show.

Pela replied that she hadn't been asking him for all of the images, just one per artist. The correspondence we have supports this assertion.

Then Austin wrote, "Unfortunately, we must cancel the Prime Example exhibit.  It may well be a provocative and impactful exhibit in another space but it does not align with the balance of art forms we must achieve at the Herberger Theater."


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R. Pela Contemporary Art

335 W. McDowell Road, Phoenix, AZ

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32 comments
GAH-FFS
GAH-FFS

"Herberger"? More like the "Harbinger" of censorship. What an ugly and unimaginative building, so blocky and square. It's apparent there is little in the way of creativity there. Ah well typical Arizona I guess.

totallymiffedatmike
totallymiffedatmike

I'm so mad at mike ford for ruining the whole show for everybody. He had to be all edgy and shocky and shit and all the other artists, the curator, the venue and the art-loving public have to suffer for it. thanks a lot mike.

Room10
Room10

Censorship...

As i said before it is what at least one of these artists wanted. You don't take a photograph with "sodomite" scrawled across the forehead, without expecting a shock reaction. You got it in aces. So be happy, everyone got more press from New Times than most arts organizations see in their life. Travis, there could be 40 nude people in Hair, so what, people pay for the privilege to watch so your analogy is fallacious. See "no true Scotsman" argument. As for 'those statues", they're by John Waddell--that's important. And he went through more than enough controversy getting his work in public places. And it's not just nudity, people objected to Luis Jimenez' "Vaquero", the freeway pots and even the cutesy child added to the giant jackrabbits in downtown Tempe...oh...maybe they were right on the last. And it's not just Phoenix. Read your history books, of course you know people objected to the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower. Where ya gonna move now (as if that were a solution). Stop the name calling and figure it out. Public venues are subject to narrower guidelines. Use courtesy and common sense and choose a private venue to show your sodomites.

Justin Heer
Justin Heer

What do u expect it's creepy, yea I get the freedom of speech expression thing , but this day and age the last thing we need is dark images man... I think it would send a lot better message making art that makes people happy not art that disturbs people...just one mans / artists opinion...

David Stevenson
David Stevenson

If they are intelligent they will realize that there is such a thing as inappropriate.

David Stevenson
David Stevenson

I fully support the Herberger's decision to approve of the artwork hanging on the walls of their theater. If you are an artist that creates this kind of artwork, bravo to you. But the curator has every right to approve of the artwork they hang in their gallery. If they find it inappropriate then grow some thick skin and show at a different gallery. The artwork at the Herberger has always been high quality family appropriate pieces. They are a class act in every sense of the word. We should be applauding them for creating a space to exhibit up and coming artists. BRAVA Herberger Theatre Center!!!

burt
burt

If art makes children ask parents uncomfortable questions, I'd say it's succeeded.

travisfields
travisfields

Herberger Theater has also hosted the play "Hair" which features nude actors on stage.


Marco Cruz
Marco Cruz

Parents can do as they wish but like i said, maybe some parents who visit the herberger with children dont want to explain what a sodomite is to their 6 or 12 year old. Theyre playing it safe to please everyone but it does suck if would censor or pull certain pieces to completely appease on side of the argument.

Laura Linger
Laura Linger

Please leave parenting to the parents. What about those who were looking forward to that exhibit because they have intelligence and open minds?

Laura Ory
Laura Ory

Sounds like Herberger could have handled that better. Definitely rude to the artists who were going to participate.

Marco Cruz
Marco Cruz

I have an open mind when it comes to art and have studied it but i kind of understand herberger not wanting to possibly expose children to certain imagery they may not comprehend. Youd figure theyd have better scheduling management when it comes opening certain venues.

michele9
michele9

A privately-owned gallery has every right to determine the content that fits within their gallery. It isn't censorship, it is a business decision. Ultimately it may or may not hurt Herberger, but they had every right to make a decision that they believed was right for them. This is a familiar story for Mr. Pela, as he's cried censorship before then capitalized on that to undoubtedly boost sales for his shows. Moving this show to his own gallery, after stirring up as much controversy and publicity as possible, and no longer having to share a percentage of sales with another gallery owner is quite savvy.

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

Perla's opinion that " ... censorship is never right ..."  is a bit of a reach.  When children are involved, censorship (or at least common sense) is indeed warranted.  A child's innocence is certainly more important than the delicate sensibilities of the artist.  If it is an "R" rated exhibit, it should be sectioned off accordingly.    

sodomizemeplz
sodomizemeplz

@burt wow, that's deep, man. You can't see it, but I'm snapping my fingers in applause and solidarity with you. mind=blown that a philosopher of your caliber exists in this shithole called phoenix.

valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@burt  

It's rather arrogant to suggest that the artist knows what's best for the children.

Being a professional artist does NOT make one an authority on developmental psychology.

The parents of those children would disagree, and they're the people the venue is trying to please.

valleynative
valleynative topcommenter

@travisfields  

What's nudity got to do with it?

The sight of a nude human is about as natural as you can get and isn't likely to cause any psychic trauma or nightmares, as some of these images might.

travisfields
travisfields

@michele9 Herberger Theater is a public entity supported by the city of Phoenix. It is not a private gallery.

travisfields
travisfields

@fishingblues Herberger Theater is surrounded on it's exterior by about two dozen statues that are nude including those of children.  The images that they objected to had no nudity whatsoever. 

dain.gore
dain.gore

@fishingblues 
Consider the venue when making that assumption that "for the children" applies to everything. It should be safe to assume it's generally "we're all adults here" in places that serve wine and have performances that depict murder (among many other things) on stage, unless explicitly stated being "kid friendly," such as having a family day or kid's day. Anything beyond that is a bit of a bad faith reach, as well.

kathleenengstrom
kathleenengstrom

@fishingblues Mr. Pela, is referring to art.  If a child watches television he is no longer innocent.  Artists are not delicate, they are warriors.  


ridingcoattails
ridingcoattails

@valleynative @travisfields nudity? I want to know what travis has to do with this! he's shrieking louder than the people who tried to foist the bad art on us and who were subsequently denied.

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@travisfields @fishingblues    In my not so humble opinion, there is a vast difference between real art and displays that depend on shock value to attract attention.  I don't believe "nudity" has anything to do with it.


fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@dain.gore From the text of the article:   {Her concern was that Herberger has a diverse audience, with many families and children expected to come to the venue...} 

All I did was read the article.  And you.........?

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@kathleenengstrom @fishingblues    "Artists ... are warriors."  Come on, you'll have  everyone in tears.   Warriors- what a freaking joke.  

I'm not sure why you tried the television dodge, that was weak.

It is quite obvious that you are not rational.  Emotional,sure, but not rational.  

Now, if we were talking about real artists ........

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