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April 18, 2014


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PAM is better than Phoenix the city really deserves. If it's not quite a great museum, it does surprise with a collection that is as good as Denver's and much better than Vancouver's. Among its peers, Seattle's and San Diego's have greater depth. San Diego also has the stand-alone Timken Art Museum, which is small but a must-see.

When I travel, I make a point to check out the loot in the local art museums. What treasures were the local grandees able to smuggle out of Europe? What indigenous and contemporary art has been curated? You can tell something of a city's story by the greatness of its art and buildings. Cleveland and Detroit are examples of older cities with sterling legacies.

When PAM first opened, it was a small collection with some very nice works. True, Phoenix was not some rich city but it had patrons who made significant donations. PAM's most famous piece of art is The Suicide of Dorothy Hale [shown above], which was donated by Clare Booth Luce. She commissioned a painting as a memorial to her late friend and nearly destroyed it when she saw Frida Kahlo's depiction. Clare and husband Henry overwintered at the Biltmore back in the 50s and early 60s, we're lucky for their choice. Fun factoid: they dropped LSD together at the Biltmore. They were doyens of American conservatism who loved right-wing dictators but they had an edge.

PAM also has some great art from local artists made good like Eric Fischl. There's also some modern Mexican work that is delightful. Among American museums I've visited, only the LACMA has better examples. The western art is very good although I wish Wells Fargo would move their downtown treasure trove to PAM if only so more people could see it.

The architecture of the new addition by Billie Tsien and Tod Williams is not universally loved. It seems Phoenix's fate to be a city of blank walls, so the Central Avenue side is an unwelcome reminder of that tendency. The entrance on the north side is quite beautiful but it fronts a parking lot. Maybe the architects thought, well, it is Phoenix.

I heard a rumor that the homebuilder Lennar is going to put some quasi-suburban apartments across the street on that perpetually empty four acres. It would be five stories of apartments, gated, with a six story (!) parking garage in the middle. The description really dismays. Tsien and Williams' work deserve a better neighbor than something more suitable for Scottsdale.

@Soleri: Thanks buddy. For the rest of my life I’ll probably be looking at things through the lens of how institutionalized is this facet of our lives?

The “arts” have to a large degree escaped Institutional capture. If anything the establishment, for lack of a better word, lives a hand-to-mouth existence. In almost all cities, higher arts struggle to survive. (painting) museums generally doing OK, but symphonies, ballets, opera, etc. struggle just to hang on. Let’s face it, the audience for such is naturally quite limited. I don’t think all the outreach in the world is going to create much of a “market” for the classical arts.

This is not to say that the arts (using a very wide interpretation of the word) are struggling. Sticking just to painting, prints, photography, etc. Even in Birmingham during the nicer parts of the year there must be an arts festival every weekend somewhere. There must be at least a hundred places that sell original art or its derivatives – admittedly most of these are up-scale home décor stores. I don’t know how many people paint as a hobby, but it’s a lot; and some of it is actually pretty good. Everyone thinks of themselves as being a really good photographer – and with electronic cameras and pretty high quality printers at a very affordable price – almost anybody can come up with (by accident) a really neat, frame worthy print. But this area of the arts remains a largely amateur/semi-professional undertaking. I’d like to think that the one-in-million art genius would not slip through the cracks.

I think we’re better off with the arts being a grass roots, non-institutional, self-directed undertaking.

I remember what PAM was before Ballinger. Coming from Detroit and its famous (and currently in peril) Institute of the Arts, PAM in 1981 seemed more like a lobby in a nice hotel than anything else. It is now a cultural point of pride in a city that has far too few of them. It provided countless wonderful afternoons for this Zonie expat. It is much loved. Thank you, Mr. Ballinger.

We all love and respect Jim very much. I first knew him when I was a security guard at the Museum in the early 1980s and Jim was a young curator there. Unlike some of the Museum heads and docents at that time, Jim was friendly and willing to chat with anyone. He remains that same nice and down to earth person to this day.

wkg, I'm going to disagree with you about the market for classical art. It's huge. Good museums, in fact, are strong economic engines for their cities. Traveling exhibitions, like the Monet waterlilies show, drew enormous crowds. Art walks have transformed neighborhoods, including Phoenix's pathetic Roosevelt Row, into lively places. Single mixers at art museums are some of the most popular ways for people to meet.

This is perplexing when you think how ignorant most of us are about art. What is going on here? Self-improvement? Curiosity? A dearth of other things to do and see? I don't really know. But if there's an economic multiplier for art, it's got to be extraordinary. Cities with great art and lots of galleries are guaranteed to be very prosperous and huge tourist magnets.

I've been banging this drum forever. My first contact with Jon (via e-mail) was to argue that building a downtown football stadium would be terrible for downtown Phoenix, that it would create this massive dead zone that even on game days would be boring. Why? Because sports is boring even to its own fans. Why else do you think they have to get drunk? Art, by contrast, is cool. It's suggestive and playful in ways that a sports bar could never be. It engages life instead of escaping it in a mass spectacle. Art doesn't overpower us. It invites us to simply be with life instead of tribalizing around false constructs like "teams".

The saddest thing to see in any city is a huge behemoth of a sport complex snuffing out the life of the city its occupying. We see this curse almost everywhere we go. The best sports venues are like Wrigley Field that enhance their neighborhoods and the worst are like the Glendale monstrosities which are insanely expensive and soul-killing.

I agree with you about the institutionalization of art sucking out the natural creativity of people. But it's not really either/or. You can have great museums that inspire instead of deaden. One of the pleasures of living in a city with truly great museums (New York, Paris, Berlin, London, Vienna, e.g.) is that you can never see it all. Great cities are great for a reason. You're never done with them.

It has been my honor and pleasure to work with Jim Ballinger for 14 years. Not only is he a visionary leader, but he allows his staff to be visionaries as well. As the main art museum in town, Phoenix Art Museum offers art from many places and times. Art allows us think and feel, or as Jim would say "to touch our souls." Through art, we can experience the myriad interpretations of what it means to be human; in our own time and place or that of other times and places. As members of the 21st global society, it is ever more imperative that we learn to understand one another. If you visit museums in Asian countries, mostly what you see is art from that culture. Many Americans fail to appreciate that in this nation, we can go to a museum like Phoenix Art Museum and learn to understand and appreciate the richness and beauty of many cultures from across the world and throughout human history. It is through careful planning and cultivation of many donors that this occurs, not through sheer happenstance. We may all be grateful for the gift that Phoenix Art Museum has given the community through the hard work and dedication of Jim Ballinger's leadership.

@Soleri: “wkg, I'm going to disagree with you about the market for classical art.” I agree with you. The visual arts (painting, photography, prints, etc.) are thriving – even in a backwater place like B’ham.

It’s the other high-art institutions that seem to be struggling. Many cities are struggling to keep their symphonies functioning. How many cities have a full-time opera company?

Re sports: I only kind of agree. There are certain events that I find to be tremendously amusing. One was last weekend: the Masters. I like the U.S. Open too. I find the World Cup soccer tournament to be very engaging. Short track NASCAR racing is a hoot. We have a great road course here (Barber’s) and I find the Grand Am series race every spring to be a must-go event. But for the most part I’m with you: If you don’t care who wins it’s really kind of boring. The biggest snoozer of all has to be the Olympics. If I’m ever in Chicago in the summer attending a game at Wrigley is a definite must do.

Back to PAM and Mr. Ballinger. I’m sure that Mr. Ballinger is a “player” in the high-brow segment of the Phoenix art scene. But this is just in niche. As long as you have people you’re going to have art. The expression of that natural urge will vary for place to place and time to time. The nice thing is that PAM/Ballinger do not have the hegemonic to decide what’s art and that isn’t.

About great cities and great art: I think the great art cities are great is because they are (1) Big (2)Old and (3) Rich. I think in thirty years people will be talking about what great art towns Atlanta and Houston are. Maybe Phoenix too if it can keep from imploding.

Thanks for sharing about your friend, Jon. Janet Baker's contribution was a sweet addendum.

First, I thank Mr. Ballinger for his time and contribution to the Phoenix Art Museum. Ditto Petro’s remark regarding Janet Baker and also James Melikian.

I would say that Monet’s Water Lilies exhibit was good and I am glad that the show had as much success as it did; but to see the best traveling Impressionist show, here in the west, you had to go to De Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco (1986). That is because insurance is expensive to travel an excellent fine art show and Phoenix does not have the major corporate sponsors that are required to fund those rare experiences.

On the other hand, some cities will do anything to bring art to the museum. I am thinking of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the movie ‘The Art of the Steal’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMe3r9PLtpI). This is a story of the city of Philadelphia deciding that it was time to make some money by moving the Barnes Foundation collection downtown. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4rMN1hqSac#t=146
This is an exhibit I will see one day.

Confucianism’s advocacy of practicing the arts, for such practice is seen as essential for the self-cultivation process and more generally for cultivating an awareness of one’s place within a tradition and culture.

I thank Mr. Ballinger for his time and contribution to the Phoenix Art Museum.

My companion in life has a degree in fine arts from NYU, so we visit everything that says “art”. I am intellectually ignorant of how about art but I do know what I like and I have seen many works including MOMA. However I am a fan of Bansky and of course the greatest artist of all times, nature.
From the mountain. cal lash and his phantom hologram dog Spot in the great Sonoran desert, what’s left of it.

wkg, you're right about symphonic music struggling. In Phoenix, it was depressing to see a good orchestra playing in a largely empty hall. I don't think it's too difficult to figure what the problem is, either. If you have a decent sound system at home, you can enjoy the same experience for a fraction of the cost. Ballet and opera are different, however. A fully dimensional visual experience cannot be replicated on a large screen TV. Those audiences, therefore are still strong. Interestingly, I remember a Stravinsky program a few years ago where the Phoenix Symphony enlisted a noted puppeteer to enact Petrushka to an enthusiastic audience. Give our eyes something to feast on!

The Arizona Opera does reasonably well and often sells out performances. They frequently showcase first-rate singers, too. This is, I must admit, an aspect of population growth that is good. Small cities seldom have great opera (unless they're tourist meccas like Santa Fe). Arizona Opera has gone from provincial to very good in the space of four decades because of this growth. You don't go to Scottsdale to see opera, by the way. You go to Phoenix. If and when Scottsdale finally figures out how to loot that civic asset, a tactical nuclear strike might be in order.

Cal's mention of Bansky reminds me of the faux-documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, which I highly recommend since it touches on the subject of art and commercialization. Yes, art is big business and it's hostile to genuine creativity even as it embraces anarchists like Bansky. There's no solution to the paradox of valorizing the ineffable with boatloads of money. As always, it's worth thinking about the many greats who died penniless and starving and whose works now sell for millions. Can a decadent society redeem itself with art? No, but it can improve the moral tone of our necessary protests.

Money for the arts in Arizona? Not Likely!
Money for mental health and family assistance. Not likely!
Ironically Arizonans will not even save themselves a dollar as they prefer locking up "criminals" and spending 40 grand a year keeping them locked up.


But Maricopa county officials, some of whom believe cruelty to animals is as serious as cruelty to humans didn't say a thing when a local theater owner got a slap on the hand for leaving his dog in his car in 100 degree weather.
Money talks, poor people walk to prisons, many ran by profiteers.

Sadly, Phoenix has the lowest per-capita giving for the arts among major cities. An organization was formed to try to change this, specifically to gain support for legislative authority to have sales-tax support. Alas, they made their first mistake by naming it "Maricopa," instead of Phoenix. Then the kooks just got stronger after the Brown Panic of the late 2000s.

@Soleri: our symphony struggles for the same reason. It shows in the number “pops” performances and the ever expanding number of dates that are devoted to the Christmas program. I can easily devolving into a semi-professional organization. But I’m confident we’ll always have a symphony – even if it were a totally amateur outfit. The depth of the musical talent in the area is amazing. And this would be across all genres: classical, pop, rock, country, jazz and hip-hop. We’ve had two winners and runner up on American Idol. There’s a reason for this. Church is a big deal here in the South. Even a moderate sized church will have a full time music director. Most of our talent is developed through the church music route.

If a small place, backwoods place like Birmingham can have all of this; It stagers the mind to think of how much talent that must exist in Phoenix, a place that’s five times bigger.

Oh, one other thing. We have three universities and a college in town, all with music departments. They have symphonies that are not bad.

To conclude, I not worried about losing classical music at all. If even a small place like B’ham can support a lot of it (albeit on an amateur basis) I’ve got to think that in Phoenix you can find a classical program somewhere virtually every night of the week. You might be able to do that in Portland too.

The current Dale Chihully glass art installation at the PHx Botonical Gardens is a knockout. And, very well attended by the locals, I might add.

I believe it closes in mid-May after a six-month run.

the cactus in daylight are great.
Chihully in the dark is excellent.

Help me out here. I thought I just saw this web site on this blog, maybe front pages. maybe not http://www.azcentral.com/story/money/business/2014/04/03/desoto-building-downtown-phoenix-become-market/7256869/

Any way about 1956 I worked out at American health Studios on Central just south of Roosevelt, east side of street. The building on the Corner was The Gus Stallings Mercedes dealership not the Desoto building?

In 1960 or 61 I recall driving my 59 Chevy Belair, with a 348 HP engine and a four on the floor at about 90 mph from The top of the mountain at Sunset Point towards Black Canyon City. About 3/4 of the way down Gus with his white hat and gloves in his 1957 Gullwing went by me so quietly I did not hear him coming. He was gone in a nano second. At the bottom of the hill I blew the right rear recapped tire. And lived.

Aint technology great? Some call it progress?
a Piece from Atalanta Arts community.


Chihully is truly remarkable. BMA has five or six of his “objects”. I don’t know how to better describe them. BMA is really proud of theirs. They are on permanent display in probably the most prominent location in the building. If you’re in the (PAM) area, you really need to get down and look at them. Not only are they pretty, but you look at these things and go “how the hell did he do that?”

"How the hell did he do that?" i ll give u but "pretty"?
in my humble opinion pretty ugly.
aint nuttn beats a huge green Sahuaro.

As Soleri touched on, an art museum is much more than a place to display art. It’s a social nexus. I worked downtown and my route home took me past the BMA. Once a month there was some event along the lines of “Evening at the BMA” where all the fashionable twenty-somethings all decked out in their party duds were flocking in. There is a very fashionable café off the main lobby that is quite the place for the society ladies in town. It wasn’t all that expensive, but I never ate there. It served what I call “chick food”: salads, soups and artsy sandwiches. I did eat there for two catered lunches that had real food; one in a roped off area of the lobby and another in a meeting room. I’m told the facility is frequently used for after-hours business meetings, wedding receptions, and other smallish type of events. There is a lobby gift shop that always seemed to be doing a good business. Most of the “staff” are volunteers. What I’m trying to get at is that the routine day-to-day operations of museum are probably easily covered by ancillary operations. In all the times I’ve been to BMA – like maybe fifty times – I’ve never been solicited to become a “friend of the museum”. It’s the only place I know of downtown where you can park for free. There’s a tip jar at the entrance, but otherwise it’s free except for special touring shows. I think the only time a museum gets into fund raising in a big way is for expansions, major redo, or an aggressive acquisition program.

An interesting series of guest-posts would be for Mr. Ballinger to write about “My Life as a Museum Director”.

Just got back from a Seattle Symphony concert at beautiful Benaroya Hall downtown (five blocks from the condo). The hall was 98-percent full, all ages. Across the street is the famous Triple Door.

Seattle is blessed with an amazing arts scene, including very distinguished institutions, edgy ones, everything one could want. This comes from having such a deep economy, a tradition of stewardship, and one of the most literate populations in America (Seattle No. 2; Phoenix No. 59). As I recall, the MPAC study showing such low per-capita support for the arts in Phoenix also showed Seattle near the top.

My point is not to be mean to Phoenix but provide a little context of the headwinds Ballinger faced. That PAM is as good as it is, it testimony to his vision and hard work, and that of his colleagues.

Jesus Cal. As a human being about the best thing I can do is just go kill myself. But I’m not going to do that. I like being alive; at least under my circumstances.

Re: “aint nuttn beats a huge green Sahuaro”. I don’t know what you’re talking about but assume it’s some kind of cactus. I’m with you there. I like trees; any kind of tree. When you come down to it, there isn’t much of anything that grows that isn’t likeable in some way.

Why do people buy flowers? It’s like going out to buy trash. Just stick a pair of nippers in your back pocket and take a walk. So much the better if you have a yard and can grow stuff on purpose. But if you don’t you can always walk through the woods and find something very pretty. You really need to spray it with an insecticide of some sort keep you place from becoming “buggy”.

I think Chihully’s work is whimsical.
Saguaros are efficient water storage systems (Bowden). They are statuesque, unusual and prickly, reminds me of cal sometimes.
The Atlantic piece with the oil slicks, the beautiful but deadly fluorescent ripples across the ocean home of so much life, is just sad. I am glad someone is showing it.

Well thank you Suzanne. I am Unusual in that I yearn to be a Sajuaro. Prickly only when I dont shave. But statuesque, well maybe along time ago (at 16) now I just another stooped old humanoid.

On a positive note in keeping with the easter tradition I took time to hang with The Last of the Shepherd's. Manuel Caballero, De Espana and I broke bread and talked of the old days. Manuel a good man and the last of the real sheepherders. I got him the book The Last Shepherd's. It was a defining moment.
Two men one from a Catholic country one from a Calvinist setting, both not big fans of the god people.


I just wanted to say that there's a way to get in here. But it would be pointless to go into how - given that anyone who can read this has already figured it out.

Cheers. ;)

Hi, Petro. Your suggestion works. But this basic set-up lacks the bells and whistles that make Rogue's blog more interesting.
However, its good for now.

After I turned off and turned back on my computer your suggestion word Petro.

Now you all know and I know that the NSA knows who's doing this.

What, they don't use their powers for good?

Glad to see the site back up again. Need my dose of Cal or Soleria or Reb. Missed you'all.

wkg the site was swarmed possibly by some mad moronized fanatics or an evil version of the spawn of Hal and David.

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