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LOCATION: Phoenix, Arizona

If you haven’t yet, you really need to get over to the Eric Fischl Gallery at Phoenix College to see Declaring Independence. The show closes on October 27th, so hurry on down to see this terrific exhibition at this beautiful gallery space. It is only the second exhibition project for Phoenix Institute of Contemporary Art (phICA), and was curated by Ted Decker, one of the founders of this new organization. This show features 23 artists from the Phoenix area and beyond, that do not have art gallery representation.

We wanted to talk to Ted about phICA and this show.

Declaring Independence Participating Artists include: Bob Adams, Susan Beiner, Bruno Belo, Sue Chenoweth, Colin Chillag, Sam Chung, Christian Curiel,
David Dauncey, Andrea Sherrill Evans, Jon Haddock, Jerry Jacobson, Marlyne Jones, Carolyn Lavender, Michael Marlowe, Matias Mesquita,
Ann Morton, Paulo Santos, Mary Shindell, Randy Slack, Craig Smith, Karolina Sussland, Rubén Torres Llorca, and Yann Vadaru.

Can you tell me a little about this current exhibit?

Ted Decker: For quite some time now I have been curious about the fact that some of the artists producing the strongest work in Phoenix don’t have commercial gallery representation. In retrospect, when I was first thinking about this exhibition, I approached the idea from a position of weakness…what is wrong with these artists? What is wrong with the galleries here? However, during the time I was organizing the exhibit, I changed my focus to the idea that there is really nothing wrong, but that there are numerous reasons why this phenomenon occurs. Too many artists, too few galleries, some artists have decided to remain independent, some artists haven’t dedicated the time to search for representation, the right eyeballs have not seen the work of these artists, and, of course, the fact that good galleries are businesses. The gallerist makes decisions based on personal aesthetics in terms of what s/he can sell in the market.

While this was the original overarching idea, the exhibit also has become about bringing 23 artists’ work together to make a solid exhibit for the community to enjoy and, hopefully, learn something. My intention was to choose artists whose work would show well with others in the exhibit, whose work I felt would address my curatorial agenda, and who would be linked with one another because of this exhibit. My intention was not to rank artists or create some kind of exclusionary hierarchy of artists. I narrowed the list of artists down from over 60 to 23 during a period of 10 months and made numerous studio visits in Phoenix, Miami, and Rio de Janeiro where I recently have established an office.

The underlying theme of my curatorial activities is using art and culture to create bridges between people, to establish common ground.

Sue Chenoweth (lives, works in Phoenix)
Ziggurat with Chipmunk (Inn), 2009, Gouache, acrylic, graphite and Letraset on paper, 30 x 44″, Courtesy of the Artist

How did the idea for PhiCA start?

I started thinking about an institution like phICA in the mid-90s and had limited discussions with people about it at the time. But I saw it more as a traditional museum which would require tremendous financial, volunteer, staffing resources.

In the fall of 2007, four years ago now, Greg Esser, Eddie Shea, and I met for lunch at a favorite taco place. Each one of us had been thinking about a concept like this but approaching it from different directions. We decided it was a good idea, came up with a preliminary name, and Eddie went to work designing a logo. But then, other life issues came to the forefront for each of us. We met again in 2009 and talked about it again and agreed again that it was a good concept.

Finally, last fall (2010), an opportunity came our way. I was asked by colleagues in Brazil if I knew of an institution in the USA that would show the work of a young artist based in São Paulo who was getting a lot of critical attention from curators, galleries, and in the marketplace. Almost without thinking and without talking with Eddie and Greg, I said that sure, phICA could do that. Then I had to convince my cohorts. They were OK with it but a little surprised, and I imagine wondering what the hell we were getting ourselves into as I was. But we moved forward with it rapidly in order to show the work here in Phoenix during Art Detour (March, 2011). The exhibit was a critical success and the visitors to Modified Arts during the time Laerte Ramos: Arma Branca was installed remarked how much they enjoyed the exhibit. Recently, in fact, Modified Arts was selected by the New Times Phoenix“Best of Phoenix 2011” issue as the Best Gallery to Stop at During Art Detour.

How does PhiCA fit in the Phoenix community?

The need to start it was based on the fact that while we have good art institutions already existing in Phoenix, there was a need for a “lean and mean”, high impact, highly efficient, non-collecting institution whose focus would be on exhibition projects, artist residencies, and arts incubation activities. It is a hybrid and what we see as a new model for the future. Good programming, educational focus, providing a benefit to the creative community in Phoenix and the region. By design, we don’t  have a physical space but rather we build community collaborations with existing institutions.

Where do you see the organization going?

I foresee more exhibition projects, maybe like two per year. New ideas to explore. And we want to investigate the artist residency idea further. Our original idea was a residency program modeled after the one that the Port Authority of New York City did at the World Trade Center and other high-rise buildings with unleased office space. But I think we would customize it for Phoenix and what would work best here.

This is your second exhibit in Phoenix. What are you hoping for your next exhibit or event?

We have ideas, some proposals, but nothing really firm at this point. A key component of what we do is building the community collaborations like we have done with Modified Arts, Phoenix College, and the Shemer Art Center and Museum. So in addition to the curatorial work, we need to firm this aspect up. And there is the all-important fundraising component. We have successfully raised funds for our two exhibition projects both in cash and in-kind services. We will continue our efforts with this.

What are some exciting work or trends do you see in art?

Nice, juicy question! There are my macro and micro views all based on a variety of perspectives. For example, in Phoenix I have been looking at art, seeking artists out, collecting and showing work for the better part of 4 decades. The lens I use here is based on that longevity and continuity. Generally, I am impressed with how artists like in our exhibit now have continued to progress, refine, build technical skills, and work with solid ideas over time. I think we have some excellent painters in Arizona now along with artists working with fibers, technology, photography, and a variety of media and materials.

Then I think about how their work holds up in the larger sphere of global contemporary art that I constantly view or read about. While most of my research during the past 12 years has been in the Americas, first in Cuba and now in Brazil since 2004, I also see intriguing work coming out of India, the Middle East, Russia, and Africa. In some cases, the work of our Arizona-basedartists holds up well.

The growth of the art market in Brazil is mimicking the incredible growth that the nation is having now…from an economic nobody to an economic superpower. Last month (September), the first international art fair, ArtRio, was held in Rio de Janeiro. In 5 days, over $70 million of art was sold!! Some artists there, as in other countries of Latin America like Colombia, Argentina, Chile, and Peru are making strong work. Better materials are becoming available to them along with an interconnectedness provided by the Internet and social media. It is an exciting time to be looking at art from the region and to be connected with cultural communities there.

I see artists making good paintings, drawings, photos, and video installation work there. One reason for well executed drawings and paintings is that some of the educational systems are modeled after those of Europe, i.e. strong training in the fundamentals of art (drawing) and in art history. However, in some cases the view is a bit insulated from being somewhat isolated for centuries. However, this is rapidly changing.

In Rio, there are strong traditions of artists working in a variety of materials and in making performances, often what appear to be somewhat impromptu. I do like the concept of being a visual artist rather than classifying someone as a painter or photographer as we tend to do here.

Bruno Belo (Lives, works in Petrópolis, Brazil)
Pedalinhos, Vítimas das chuvas no Rio, [Pedal Boats, Victims of the Rains in Rio], 2011
Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 91” (diptych), Courtesy of the Artist


Jon Haddock (lives, works in Tempe)
Fear and the Other Self, 2011, Mixed media – (papier-mâché, extruded polystyrene, epoxy, wood, LEDs), 68″H x 12″W x 31”D, Courtesy of the Artist

  1. Ted Decker (Reply) on Thursday 13, 2011

    Very nice Christopher! Thanks so much for your response our second phICA exhibition and for sharing it here. People can learn more on our site: Regards, Ted