Douglas Miles' "APACHE X" Is the Best Show in a While for Phoenix's MonOrchid
Douglas Miles doesn't need your praise.
John Carbis Douglas Miles presents 25 years of work at MonOrchid.
The artist, who's affiliated with the Apache and Akimel O'odham tribes and hails from the San Carlos Apache reservation just east of Globe, seeks to reinvent contemporary Native American iconography, challenging mainstream imagery associated with the native experience. It's no small feat, to be sure. But as much as his art has the power to shift outside perspectives of native culture, he works first and foremost from a desire to empower native peoples. In 2002, Miles founded Apache Skateboards, where he builds and designs skate gear, with a similar goal in mind: to inspire local youth on the reservation.
His latest show, currently on view at MonOrchid in downtown Phoenix, offers a survey of the artwork he has created both with Apache Skateboards and as an individual over the past 25 years. The retrospective "APACHE X: 10 Years of Douglas Miles & Apache Skateboards," put together by MonOrchid's assistant curator Nicole Royse, brings together a wide variety of pop-art-style stencil work and paintings from the artist, who leaves his mark on skateboards, found objects, walls, and the occasional canvas.
I went into the exhibition feeling skeptical. This isn't the first time I've encountered a collection of Miles' work billed as a retrospective -- Por Vida Gallery hosted a similar show under the title "Apacheria" in March 2012. Some of the same artwork from that exhibition is included in "APACHE X" but it's been given a second life in spacious MonOrchid. The gallery is a perfect fit for the show and not just because that curved wall that sits between MonOrchid and Songbird Coffee is reminiscent of a skate ramp (though that certainly doesn't hurt).
Miles' work on found objects looks right at home in the architecturally raw space. The painted 3-D objects -- including old luggage, oil cans, and a car hood -- break up the cavernous room nicely, while showcasing the artist's proclivity to work in non-traditional methods.
The gallery, owned by local art titan Wayne Rainey, has had what I will kindly call a spotty exhibition record over the past few years. But despite the long string of mediocre shows exhibited by MonOrchid in recent history, I still find myself coming back every month hoping the ideal space will have been put to good use for a change. The tall ceilings and exposed materials of the building are begging for large-scale contemporary work. With MonOrchid's location on Roosevelt, the gallery is perfectly poised to fill a particular void in the downtown arts scene. And with her first foray into solo curation for the gallery, Royse has impressively managed to do just that.