Gianfranco Ferré, Sailor Glam shirt, S/S 1982, prêt á porter, look 84. Silk organza, honeycomb patterned cotton pique. X-Ray simulation image by Leonardo Salvini. Courtesy of Gianfranco Ferré Foundation.

Gianfranco Ferré, Sailor Glam shirt, S/S 1982, prêt á porter, look 84. Silk organza, honeycomb patterned cotton pique. X-Ray simulation image by Leonardo Salvini. Courtesy of Gianfranco Ferré Foundation.

A few years ago, I moderated a Law Day event that was filled with high school students. I encouraged them to chat up the lawyers after the festivities. And I told them a sure-fire way to spot the attorneys: They’d be in a blue or gray suit.

(I was in an Abraham Lincoln outfit at the time, so I felt entitled to be pretty cocky.)

But thinking back on it, I should have mentioned the eternal whiteness of their shirts. Blazingly white.

Well, for those of you who consider a white shirt a wardrobe staple, I urge you to visit the Phoenix Art Museum to see how one designer understood the white shirt for the blank canvas it is and transformed it into something remarkable.

The amazing show opens tomorrow, November 4 (and runs through March 6, 2016), and it presents the work of designer Gianfranco Ferré. You can read more about it here.

Gianfranco Ferré, Scomposta shirt, F/W 1994, prêt á porter, look 96. Nylon tulle, silk taffetta. Photo by Luca Stoppini. Courtesy of Gianfranco Ferré Foundation.

Gianfranco Ferré, Scomposta shirt, F/W 1994, prêt á porter, look 96. Nylon tulle, silk taffetta. Photo by Luca Stoppini. Courtesy of Gianfranco Ferré Foundation.

I had the opportunity to attend a show preview, and I strongly recommend it to you. (After all, as I told fellow attendees, if I can’t sell a show about white shirts to lawyers, I should hang up my notepad!) It is visually compelling, and its depth of research offers a glimpse into more than 30 years of history, fashion and otherwise.

The works in the show were all lent by the Gianfranco Ferré Foundation in Italy:

The White Shirt According to Me: Gianfranco Ferré includes a selection of 27 of Ferré’s most significant white shirts created over the course of his career (1982-2006). Sketches, technical designs, photographs and videos from the archives of the Gianfranco Ferré Foundation will offer visitors the chance to go beyond the confines of fashion and examine the methods, techniques and precision Ferré applied to each of his designs.

The Phoenix Art Museum is the exclusive North American venue for this show (confirming, if we didn’t already know it, that this museum’s Fashion Department, led by Dennita Sewell, is one of the finest in the country).

As you stroll the show, the craftsmanship reminds you that Ferré’s first vocation was as an architect. They are arresting pieces of clothing, and artworks as well.

The showstopper, of course, are the 27 shirts held aloft and lit beautifully. Arranged chronologically, they allow a viewer to stroll through the decades with the designer. Though his methods of experimentation and available materials changed over time, amazingly any of the pieces could be donned today (by a beautiful person, of course!) and would turn heads. Most all the pieces fall in the category of “timeless.”

27 remarkable Gianfranco Ferré shirts on display at the Phoenix Art Museum.

27 remarkable Gianfranco Ferré shirts on display at the Phoenix Art Museum.

As you end your visit to the main show, be sure to:

  • Enjoy at a slow pace the room displaying photos of modern models wearing Ferré’s historic pieces, and
  • Head upstairs to the Fashion space, where you can see Ferré’s work beyond the white shirt. Think couture, Oscar red carpet, complex and striking gowns.

And worth noting: One of my favorite parts of the show was the use of large and small spaces.

For example, visitors enter by passing through a scrim of suspended material, suggesting the diaphanous raw materials that Ferré worked with. Before you enter the large and jaw-dropping space where the shirts are displayed, you’re funneled through a narrow walkway. If you happen to be behind other attendees, you’ll see, above their heads, a portion of the spotlighted shirts beckoning to you in the grand space beyond. Seeing a glimpse of those sirens with a collar, you feel a sense of urgency to draw closer. That is smart museum design.

A similar sensation is provided as you stroll the final hallway exiting the main show. On the black wall are ghostly images of some of Ferré’s most complex pieces. They hover, larger than life, demonstrating his architectural prowess and so much more. As you move toward the exit, the already-intimate space narrows, bringing you closer and closer to exemplars of the man’s vision. At the moment you exit the hallway and return to the brighter lights outside the show, you feel closest to the ghost behind the machine that was Ferré’s vision. Superb!

Exit hallway at the Gianfranco Ferré show at Phoenix Art Museum.

Exit hallway at the Gianfranco Ferré show at Phoenix Art Museum.

More photos are below (click to enlarge). I wish upon you a new and vibrant take on your closet of white shirts!

AZ Black Bar logoLast fall, I attended and wrote about the annual banquet of the Arizona Black Bar. Held at the Phoenix Art Museum, it included well-deserved awards as well as a timely and compelling keynote speaker. (I wrote about the evening here.)

Memories of that event lead me to happily share the Black Bar’s announcement regarding this fall’s annual event. Thus, the 2015 Hayzel B. Daniels Scholarship Award Dinner will be held on Thursday, October 22, from 5:30 to 9:00 pm, once again at the Phoenix Art Museum.

I’ll share more detail in a minute, but note first that the ABB is seeking nominations for its prestigious awards. As the ABB says, it created the ABB Excellence in Diversity Awards “to recognize attorneys, law firms, corporations, academic institutions and other agencies which have gone above and beyond the call of duty to promote, implement, and advance diversity and inclusion in the Arizona legal profession.”

Ignore the fact that the submission deadline appears to be September 1; I’ve learned that the ABB has moved the deadline back to September 15. So send some nominations their way.

Aiming for timely topics again, the theme of this year’s program is “Changing the Game: Sustainability in the Legal Profession.” That matches the keynote speaker, Rose McKinney-James, “one of the nation’s foremost experts on solar energy.” The ABB describes her in detail here:

“Ms. McKinney-James served as a member of the Obama-Biden Transition Team with responsibility for the U.S. Department of Energy and served as Team Lead for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Ms. McKinney-James was the first African-American to win a statewide primary in Nevada during an earlier candidacy for Lieutenant Governor. She is currently the managing principal at McKinney-James & Associates and Energy Works Consulting, LLC of Las Vegas.”

Rose McKinney-James

Rose McKinney-James

To learn more of McKinney-James, view or download the PDF announcement and attend the 2015 Hayzel B. Daniels Scholarship Award Dinner.

Tickets and the sponsorship form are here.

American Modernism is featured at the Phoenix Art Museum, June 7 to September 7, 2015.

American Modernism is featured at the Phoenix Art Museum, June 7 to September 7, 2015.

A new show at the Phoenix Art Museum has at its heart 65 stunning works on loan from the Vilcek Foundation. As beautiful as they are in a gallery, the mind races at how they must have been displayed in the New York apartment of the very generous Jan and Marica Vilcek.

Here are the happy couple, as seen in the Phoenix Art Museum’s Twitter feed:



Originally staged at the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the show is described fully here. It opened on June 7 and will close on September 7.

(My original plan was to hold this post until Change of Venue Friday. But then it occurred to me you’d like to save on museum admission, and tonight’s a reduced-price night at the Museum. You’re welcome.)

Hearing from the collector-couple at a media preview was almost as illuminating as seeing their collection. (His career was as a biomedical scientist; hers was as a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

New Mexico Recollection #14 by Marsden Hartley

New Mexico Recollection #14 by Marsden Hartley

As Marica Vilcek describes it, the couple never intended to amass a collection. Instead, “collecting happened,” and it happened “slowly, organically.” It was “a tremendous surprise,” she told event attendees, to see the family’s works in a gallery.

“It was almost schizophrenic for me,” she said, “because I know these pieces. I wasn’t even entirely conscious that there were ‘themes’ in our collection. They have assumed a new life.”

Placita Sanctuario by Andrew Dasburg

Placita Sanctuario by Andrew Dasburg

Her words reverberate in a viewer’s mind as he strolls through the show. Attendees will be confronted by a wide variety of diverse works. Many are familiar and represent some of the leading lights of the genre. But as Marica Vilcek suggests, collections are never just one thing; they always are in the process of becoming, every time they are re-hung, re-aggregated with other works, re-seen by a new audience.

Indian Corn by Stuart Davis

Indian Corn by Stuart Davis

Present at the morning tour in May was Philbrook curator Catherine Whitney. After looking at the impressive array of works, all by artists who bent away from or toward their European influences, I asked her what was distinctly American about these pieces. What did the Americans take from Europe, and what did they reshape into their own?

Ever an educator, Whitney offered that it can be a struggle to determine what distinctly comprises “American Modernism.” Showing rather than telling, she walked me toward work by Alfred Stieglitz, explaining how he wanted American artists to tap into the “native soil, the intuitive, the spiritual.”

In fact, she said, it was Georgia O’Keeffe’s spiritual vision, Whitney said, that most attracted Stieglitz. He felt that her vision had not been watered down in any way.

From NY to NM: American Modernism at the Phoenix Art Museum

From NY to NM: American Modernism at the Phoenix Art Museum

Whatever the subject matter, works on display by Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, George Ault, and others express what may have been an American crisis of confidence. Whitney pointed out that when there are massive technological breakthroughs—as there were in the United States in the first half of the last century—artists may exhibit a concern over the loss of spirituality, an erasure of vision.

Stroll through the museum show and you’ll see that the artists’ crises might manifest themselves in striking representations of American manufacturing or gleaming U.S. cities, or in its opposite, a reversion to subjects of nature, like Dove’s thundering streams, and even of Native American scenes. What to a modern eye may be a hint of “cultural tourism” traipsing through Native villages, was a yearning toward a center, a core of the genuine among the noise of American ingenuity.

Curators amidst their works: Jerry Smith (Phoenix Art Museum) and Catherine Whitney (Philbrook Museum),

Curators amidst their works: Jerry Smith (Phoenix Art Museum) and Catherine Whitney (Philbrook Museum),

As viewers look at works with fresh eyes, they recall Marica Vilcek’s voicing a question she and her husband often heard: “Why collect American art?” Hailing from a nation—Czechoslovakia—that no longer exists, they may have been expected to indulge in pieces from the Continent. Her response, though, is a poignant one: “This collecting is the last stage of my immigration to this country.”

Native-born or not, as we stride into a gallery, these galleries, we’re all immigrants to art. Each piece is a new shore, ever being created and destroyed by the waves of the arrivals of new eyes, critical artists, competing visions. We channel that immigrant—and Georgia O’Keeffe—every time we view an art piece with an open spirit.

As noted above, the museum is reduced-price on Wednesdays; more detail is here.

A cow and a queen came to an art museum. Much to the dismay of royalty-lovers everywhere, the venue displayed portraits of the Mum and the moo in equally beautiful ways. And that decision—and other choices made by artist Andy Warhol—either transformed or destroyed art, depending on whom you ask.

Andy Warhol: Portraits” opens this Wednesday, March 4, at the Phoenix Art Museum, and the show’s vibrant, warm embrace confirms that the PAM curators are firmly in the “transform” camp. Warhol’s work and his influence are stunningly explored. And though Warhol had a gaze and an aesthetic that was famously straightforward and that kept viewers at a remove, the Phoenix show manages to humanize him in multiple ways.

(Before I get started: If you’re wishing this post had some legal-ish content, simply recall that Warhol’s work and legacy have been marked by litigiousness. The lawsuits have ranged among the authenticity of his prints; to whether a Farrah Fawcett print over a bed belonged to her ex-lover Ryan O’Neal, who slept in that same bed (or belonged to the University of Texas, which never slept with her but was bequeathed her possessions); to the slippery topic of trademark ownership in the iconic banana design on the 1967 album cover of the band The Velvet Underground and Nico. Enjoy your tangential reading, if you must. But the rest of you? Let’s get back to the terrific show at the Phoenix Art Museum.)

Almost all the works on display come from The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh (one beautiful exception on display from the Phoenix Art Museum’s own collection is a series of 100 multicolored silkscreens in cube form, all gathered in a box). At a February 27 media tour, Amada Cruz, the recently arrived Sybil Harrington Director at Phoenix Art Museum, describes the artist’s significance. A widely talented individual, Warhol used painting, photography, filmmaking, magazine publishing, music producing, and even the artistic “event” as moments of cultural inspiration. He also was the first modern artist “to embrace commerce and meld the high and the low effortlessly.” Hence, the queen and the cow.

Andy Warhol, Portraits of the Artists from the Portfolio Ten From Leo Castelli, 1967.

Andy Warhol, Portraits of the Artists from the Portfolio Ten From Leo Castelli, 1967.

“It’s a portraiture show,” Cruz reminds us, “but not in the mold that you traditionally think.”

The museum’s Dr. Jerry Smith, curator of American and European art to 1950 and art of the American West (could museum titles get longer, please?), describes the path Warhol took, as well as his early-onset nervous system disorder that kept him inside and drawn to a lifelong love of movies. Later in life, the commercial illustrator became highly attuned to what customers wanted. Where other artists might disdain a focus on “brand,” he welcomed it. Intrigued by celebrity, he forged an identity marked as much by his circle of “superstars” as by his own wry involvement in that very circle.

Curator Dr. Jerry Smith in front of a self-portrait of Andy Warhol.

Curator Dr. Jerry Smith in front of a self-portrait of Andy Warhol.

To see more images of works that appear in the show, go to the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page here.

Warhol’s charming persona is everywhere in this show. It’s visible in an early letter the young Andy Warhola (his original family name) received from Shirley Temple in response to his request for an autograph. It’s present in the affection he clearly felt for those who were his subjects, whether Marilyn Monroe, Joan Crawford, or more minor figures lost to the sands of time. And his own personality is with us when we read the image captions, wisely leavened with quotations from Warhol’s own daily journal.

A display of photos of Andy Warhol as a boy and young man.

A display of photos of Andy Warhol as a boy and young man.

The artist’s own life is also present in a display of photos of him as a boy and young man. Gathered together in a glass-covered table in the exhibit’s heart, they are worth seeking out.

Andy Warhol, Jackie, 1964.

Andy Warhol, Jackie, 1964.

As Dr. Smith speaks, the mind drifts, Warhol-like, to recent Web events (the newest frontier). What would the bewigged artist have thought of a battle over a dress color, or a nation transfixed by video of escaping llamas?

Smith beams and muses that Warhol would have loved the week’s llama news.

“He would have eaten it up,” Smith says. “There is so much in today’s culture that speaks to who Andy Warhol was.”

(Unsure? Head over to this Slate story that Warhol himself would have appreciated: No, culture-warriors, two llamas and a dress don’t indicate a media #fail. Quite the opposite.)

Smith even offers that Warhol “would have invented Perez Hilton,” if he could have.

That playful attitude clearly informed the gallery’s design, which includes large and eye-catching color-blocks. The placement of artworks on the wall, says Smith, is meant to communicate with the artist. Just as Warhol was unconcerned about perfect color registration in the development of his photographs, museum staff did not seek to align pieces exactly along the color-blocks’ edges. The result is a comfortable irregularity, which leads viewers to pause and reassess as colors mix and separate.

One piece that benefits from darkness rather than color is Warhol’s 15-foot-long Last Supper image. It is set off via blacklight in its own light-emptied space. Stroll in and let your eyes adjust to see what Warhol intended.

Andy Warhol, The Last Supper, 1986

Andy Warhol, The Last Supper, 1986

A room with three Warhol videos will attract most viewers for a few moments. (True-believers will linger longer.)

Another room demands viewer interaction. “Silver Clouds” offers inflated Mylar rectangles that attendees are free to send soaring (but be assured that “spiking” the clouds will get you a museum-guard reprimand). That installation is bound to become an exhibit favorite.

Andy Warhol, Silver Clouds installation, 1994 (Museum staffer Chelsea Ellsworth demonstrates)

Andy Warhol, Silver Clouds installation, 1994 (Museum staffer Chelsea Ellsworth demonstrates)

In the same way, a few elements toward the end of the exhibit prod us toward participation.

A “screen test” area provides a camera and a backdrop for your own four-minute silent movie. You can opt to have a link of your work emailed to you, which you can share with all of your circles (including, perhaps, Perez Hilton).

Next to the screen test is a test of your willingness to engage the macabre. A wall-mounted monitor streams the 24-hour webcam trained on Warhol’s Pittsburgh grave. Not much may occur there, but I’ve been told that his birth and death days may offer must-see TV (picture soup-can stacks, etc.). I leave you to research that. (You can see the grave-cam here; it looks cold.)

Keep an eye on Warhol's grave 24/7.

Keep an eye on Warhol’s grave 24/7.

Near the screen test area, a wallpaper-adorned selfie station offers the one place in the exhibit that such a thing is permitted. Of course, selfies are matched perfectly with the self-referential artist. As Smith said with a smile, if Warhol were alive today, they’d probably be called “Andys.”

I must admit that a selfie hadn’t occurred to me, but the written prohibition that the media received (and that applies to the public) made me chuckle. To its credit, the Phoenix Art Museum did not devise this rule; it was crafted by the Warhol Museum itself. I watched the cemetery monitor closely to see if the artist was turning over in his grave at such a non-Warhol requirement. (Perhaps we can be hopeful that the Warhol Museum folks are not tone-deaf but are simply punking us. In either case, Warhol is laughing somewhere.)

No selfies in much of the Warhol exhibit (even if you look fabulous!).

No selfies in much of the Warhol exhibit (even if you look fabulous!).

A final element of the show requires mention. Although most all museum shows these days have a requisite joined-at-the-hip gift shop with related and unmemorable items, the Warhol shop is brilliantly and artistically perfect in its placement and item selection (“curation,” could we say?).

I have seen and strolled the museum’s Warhol gift shop. My uneducated opinion? They’re gonna make bank.

Warhol, of course, loved to explore the intersection of art and commerce. So the museum’s having the show flow into the store surprises and pleases rather than disturbs the viewer. And the bald greeting—“SHOP”—makes the Warhol-lover smile.

Dr. Smith told me that the museum sought to purchase the rights to an image of the artist actually shopping. Unable to secure those rights, they opted instead for the mannequin-cum-wig and the simple word.

As a public service (in this entirely noncommercial story), I share with you the great artist strolling an aisle, a superstar in a supermarket.

Yes, Andy Warhol shopped too (even for soon-to-be-iconic Brillo pads).

Yes, Andy Warhol shopped too (even for soon-to-be-iconic Brillo pads).

The show opens Wednesday, March 4, and runs through June 21, 2015. You will want to spend far longer than the Warhol-famous 15 minutes to commune with his pieces.

If you have a few more seconds, my Vines from the media tour are here, here and here.

Exhibits related to the Warhol show include films and installations, some with Arizona ties (and some are Rated X). Read about them here.

To see more images of works that appear in the show, go to the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page here.

Poster for Any Warhol: Portraits

Two pages from Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Leicester, displayed at the Phoenix Art Museum from Jan. 24, 2015, through April 12, 2015.

Two pages from Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester, displayed at the Phoenix Art Museum from Jan. 24, 2015, through April 12, 2015.

Here is a list of people who would enjoy the remarkable Phoenix Art Museum show of works by Leonardo da Vinci:

  1. Lawyers who work in water resources
  2. Lawyers who work with science-based clients
  3. Lawyers who appreciate amazing art
  4. Everyone else

Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester and the Power of Observation” opened last Saturday and will remain open through April 12. If you or out-of-town guests happen to want to avoid a certain football game this weekend, this museum could be the place to be.

(More images from the show and the media tour are available here at the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.)

Way back in 1994, Bill Gates of Microsoft fame bought the Codex—a manuscript that is filled with writing and images—for more than $30 million. The Codex was created by Leonardo between 1508 and 1510, and Museum Director Jim Ballinger told us that this is the first work by the creative genius to be displayed in Arizona.

Ballinger, who is retiring from his longtime position at the end of January, is clearly pleased to have brought the master to PAM. Among other great elements of the show, he said, viewers will be amazed to see Leonardo’s work “from his own hand.”

“In my 40 years at the Phoenix Art Museum, this is the kind of thing you dream about.”

Two pages from Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Leicester, displayed at the Phoenix Art Museum from Jan. 24, 2015, through April 12, 2015.

Two pages from Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester, displayed at the Phoenix Art Museum from Jan. 24, 2015, through April 12, 2015.

The U.S. journey of the Codex is circumscribed: If you miss it here, you’ll have to go to either the Minneapolis Institute of Art or the North Carolina Museum of Art, each of which will include the manuscript in their own shows.

Among the impressive aspects of this show are the strategic moves that made it possible. The day before the show opened, Ballinger told assembled press that donors based in Arizona engaged in what turned out to be a two-year project to get the master’s work to the state. And “the easiest ask I ever made,” says Ballinger, was to the utility SRP, which was impressed by Leonardo’s commitment to assessing water use and its effect on civilizations.

“If we didn’t have water in Arizona,” he added, “the museum and we all wouldn’t be here. Leonardo thought deeply about water’s many uses, for power, agriculture, and even defense. The Codex serves as a platform for a community dialogue and discussion” about this valuable resource.

Ballinger mentioned another seminal aspect to the Codex: Leonardo’s interest in astronomy—a favorite topic for a state that is a global leader in examining the heavens.

Curator Dr. Jerry Smith, leading a tour of the Codex and the surrounding works, called the document “the earliest known scientific notebook that exists.”

Dr. Jerry Smith leads a tour of the Leonardo show at Phoenix Art Museum, Jan.. 23, 2015.

Dr. Jerry Smith leads a tour of the Leonardo show at Phoenix Art Museum, Jan.. 23, 2015.

The display of that notebook is stunning and evocative. Individual pages are suspended upright behind glass in black obelisks, allowing viewers to stand as close as Leonardo did to the sheets of paper—and to view both sides of each sheet, covered in the genius’s handwriting. Easy-to-read captions translate his notorious reverse-writing Italian. They also describe the science represented.

Phoenix Art Museum staffer Chelsea Ellsworth explains the Codascope's functioning, Jan. 23, 2015.

Phoenix Art Museum staffer Chelsea Ellsworth explains the Codascope’s functioning, Jan. 23, 2015. (click to enlarge)

A technological element that could have been unnecessary overkill turns out to be one of the most addictive parts of the show: A “Codascope” (two, actually) allows viewers to pull up digital versions of every page and to read and see the written and visual annotations that describe multiple elements. As time-risky as surfing the Web, the ’scope quickly draws viewers into Leonardo’s world, where every element suggests another.

If Leonardo’s own work were all that was displayed, the show would be a noteworthy success. But the creative minds at the Museum thought that the “conversation” could go far beyond that. And so Dr. Jerry Smith and his team took on their task: “to put the Codex in broader context.”

Dr. Jerry Smith leads a tour of the Leonardo show at Phoenix Art Museum, Jan.. 23, 2015.

Dr. Jerry Smith leads a tour of the Leonardo show at Phoenix Art Museum, Jan.. 23, 2015.

That context is why viewers will see 30 other compelling works by many other artists represented in this show. The works, whose creation ranged over 500 years, include “The Raft” video by Bill Viola (along with Viola’s own Notebook regarding the creation of his digital work), a stunning 1500’s-era woodcut print of Venice from above created by Jacopo de Barbari, modern moon images by Kiki Smith, the strobe-light “splash” photos of Harold Edgerton, the repeated-imagery photos of Eadweard Muybridge, “After the Mona Lisa 8” by Devorah Sperber, paintings by Claude Monet, and more.

The patient stroller may discern the connection between these works and that of Leonardo: Many have to do with water and the nighttime sky, agrees Smith. But, more important, they have to do with “curiosity, observation, and thinking on paper.”

“What if Leonardo had had a camera?” Smith asks. That and similar questions, magnified to multiple genres, occupies the viewer in profitable ways. Moving from the Codex to these works and back suggests multiple ways that Leonardo influenced those who created centuries later. And it hints at the ways those later artists—whether through stop-action photography, or moonscapes that are analogues for the human body, or video showing water’s sometimes-violent effect on humans—forever have altered the way we can see Leonardo.

Sometimes, we are reminded by the smart folks at the Phoenix Art Museum, conversations can span centuries.

The show runs through April 12. More detail is here.

And for even more background, here is an article by reporter Kellie Hwang in the Arizona Republic.

(Remember: More images from the show and the media tour are available here at the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.)

“After the Mona Lisa 8” by Devorah Sperber.

“After the Mona Lisa 8” by Devorah Sperber.

Four Chambers Press logo/header

As we head into the annual arts competition for Arizona Attorney Magazine, I hear from many lawyers who express “I wish I were as talented as an artist.”

Well, you never know until you try (I respond), but I understand how many folks are nervous about taking that leap.

The next month may provide you an opportunity to take a hop, if not a leap. A joint initiative of a small press and an art museum has put out a call for work. And what they seek are creative viewer responses to something (anything; your choice) in the Phoenix Art Museum.

The great publication is Four Chambers Press. And you can read all the details of the project here.

As you’ll see, the result of the initiative will be “to assemble a small collection of poetry and prose responding to exhibits and collections within the Phoenix Art Museum towards the release of a chapbook and a live performance during Art Detour on First Friday March 6, 2015.”

What if you can’t get to the museum in person? No problem; you can view its collection online (and then write and submit your piece online too).

Before you avert your arts-nervous gaze, read the whole set of guidelines. They include this gem:

“RESPONDING TO ART: As one of the goals of this project is to provide a formal space for collaboration between different art forms here in Phoenix (thereby increasing the cohesiveness in our city’s cultural scene, we might be looking for a new insight or avenue of meaning into the work at hand–an explication of the process behind it, an exploration of it’s social or cultural context, etc etc.”

That “etc etc” and the examples they offer mean that they are completely open to new ways of seeing and expressing. You can’t do it wrong, you won’t break anything by trying. And if your work is selected, it will be immortalized in a marvelous printed book.

Limits? They have a few: A poem cannot exceed 200 lines; prose should be no longer than 3,000 words. (And I suspect it would break no one’s heart if they were even briefer.)

The deadline for submissions is Sunday, February 1st at 11:59 PM MST. (Yes, they mean it.)

Come on; you got this! And as an added benefit, I may even submit something myself. When it’s all done, whether my piece gets in or not, I’ll share it with you.

Will you share back? See you at the museum.

Artist Don Coen speaks before the opening of his "Migrant Series," Phoenix Art Museum, Oct. 17, 2014.

Artist Don Coen speaks before the opening of his “Migrant Series,” Phoenix Art Museum, Oct. 17, 2014.

An impressive show has launched at the Phoenix Art Museum that forces viewers to take a closer look at people and products they may take for granted. “The Migrant Series” by Don Coen is composed of arresting portraits of the migrant workers who bring much of the food to American tables. It opened on October 18 and runs through February 1, 2015.

Just a few days ago, I recommended an art-related event. I hadn’t planned to offer another so soon, but last night’s address by President Obama explaining his sweeping move to overhaul the nation’s immigration system got me thinking that this Change of Venue Friday should also head down the migrant path.

Understand, Don Coen’s remarkable artwork is not about undocumented workers or illegal immigration—though its appearance at the museum was affected by both of those things. Instead, his pieces are about the people themselves, most often workers who are here legally.

A media preview of the show on October 17 gave the opportunity to hear from the Colorado artist and some museum officials.

Ten years’ work went into the show, Coen said. And it was our relationship with our dining-room table that drove him.

“At Whole Foods, we pick up food, but we usually have no idea where it comes from,” Coen told attendees.

Perhaps best known for his previous work called the Lamar Series, Coen hopes viewers focus on the workers who bring that food to most Americans.

“I don’t think anyone will walk into the show and leave without knowing these people.”

Aiding in that result will be the near-photo-realism of the works, their close-up nature, and their massive scale.

Coen was accompanied at the media tour by his two grown sons. Shane Coen said, “Don saw the workers as friends, humans. He wanted to tell the human stories, show their faces.

Museum Director Jim Ballinger said how impressed he is by Coen’s work, including how its “luminosity is built up through layers of paint”—60 to 120 layers of paint per painting.

“This shows the back-of-the-house of the agricultural economy,” Ballinger told me. “America is so urban that we don’t see the agricultural life.”

That is the show’s most important layer, Ballinger said. When pressed, though, he did discuss the show in relation to the immigration debate.

He said that the museum delayed the show for a few years to avoid getting swept up in the debate over SB1070. “Don Coen’s first interest was not immigration,” Ballinger said. After all, most if not all of the people in the paintings are either citizens or have green cards.

Cover card Don Coen show

But the topic cannot be entirely avoided, Ballinger acknowledged, and in the context of SB1070, there may be great value in helping people understand more about the individuals who work in the fields.

“It may change people’s minds about how we get the food that we get.”

Dr. Jerry Smith, curator of American and Western American Art at the museum, agreed.

“We didn’t want the heated debate of a few years ago to overwhelm the story” of Coen’s work, he said. “There are 1.3 million citizens who are migrant farmers; when those people can see themselves be self-represented, that’s good.”

Smith spoke with me about the paintings’ scale, “which is very important because it makes the point that you are looking at people who should not be ignored.”

“The takeaway is that you really don’t have to be a head of state to get a portrait.”

Son Shane Coen told me that the family originally wasn’t sure the project was a great idea—or how it would be received.

“In the beginning, we asked him, ‘What are you painting?’”

Don Coen, Phoenix Art Museum, Oct. 17, 2014.

Don Coen, Phoenix Art Museum, Oct. 17, 2014.

Ultimately, though, he saw that his father was able to “bring the workers’ voices to light.”

“Hopefully, it will bring more compassion.”

Cord Coen saw the show’s importance in its ability to reveal “a world that is often invisible to us.”

More photos can be found on the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.

(In case you wondered (as I did), Cord explained how Don Coen worked with such massive canvases: Not (as I had guessed) via scaffold, but by having the pieces raised and lowered into a gap in the floor. That allows Coen to stand on the floor and have the piece ride up and down on a track.)

Don Coen, Phoenix Art Museum, Oct. 17, 2014.

Don Coen, Phoenix Art Museum, Oct. 17, 2014.

Here is some more background from the Phoenix Art Museum:

Don Coen: The Migrant Series was organized by Phoenix Art Museum and opens there on October 18, 2014. The exhibition is comprised of a series of 15 large-scale, realistic portrait paintings of migrant farm laborers by the Colorado artist. The paintings are inspired by photographs of individuals that Coen took on farms across the U.S. over a decade. During the hundreds of hours he spent in the fields studying and taking photos of these farmers, Coen got to know each person’s story and it shows in these paintings. Over the past decade, he painted these works measuring almost 10 by 7 feet using dozens of layers of paint applied with a spray gun—then added the finishing details by hand with pencil. In these portrait paintings, the artist’s non-traditional approach of using airbrush is apparent.

I previously covered efforts by lawyers and law students to support the arts. Here are two items I’ve received in the past day or so from this dynamic group of people.

(Thank you for the information sharing to Megan Scott. Megan is a J.D. Candidate at the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law (2012), President of the Volunteer Legal Assistance for Artists, VP of the Entertainment, Sports and Entertainment Law Students Association, and Co-Founder and Senior Articles Editor of the Sports and Entertainment Law Journal.)

The Phoenix Art Museum, Volunteer Legal Assistance for Artists and the Arizona Commission on the Arts are partnering to present a three-part “know your rights” series for artists, collectors and patrons of the arts. The presentations are done by attorneys that specialize in the area discussed. This is an invaluable opportunity to make sure that you are protecting yourself, your art, and your rights as best as you can. We look forward to seeing you there!

The events are free; e-mail if you plan to attend.

  • January 19, 6pm: Contracts and Legal Forms: This session addresses common contract terms and concepts artists, museums and gallery owners might face.
  • February 2, 6pm: Copyrights and Fair Use: This session is an overview of copyright law, how it applies to artists and protects them, as well as the way to obtain a copyright.
  • February 16, 6pm: Tax Issues and Taxes: This session reviews issues that artists and art collectors should know when preparing their taxes.

All three seminars will be held at:

Phoenix Art Museum

1625 North Central Avenue (NE corner of Central and McDowell)

Phoenix, Arizona 85004

And here is an opportunity from the VSA—The International Organization on Arts and Disability. VSA is an organization dedicated to working with disabled artists. It is looking to expand its current board structure. If you are interested in joining the VSA, please e-mail Amara at by the end of January. Though they are looking for new board members in general, the specific areas that they are looking to develop are:

  • Disability Community
  • Artist Community
  • High Net Worth Community
  • Board Experience
  • Marketing Knowledge
  • Fundraising Experience
  • IT Profession
  • Gender Balance
  • Ethnicity Balance
  • Tucson Representation
  • Educator
  • Legislative Representation