We are here to play a more direct role in changing what is ignorable by whom.
--The Tears Of Things, cf. Daniel Dennett
by Jerome du Bois
On August 17th, we published a critical analysis of the Creative Capital State Research Initiative and the Arizona Partnership for Innovation. I sent an email alert to only one venue: email@example.com. I figured word would get around. Maybe I was wrong. Since then, nobody in any official position has replied, including nobody from the Arizona Commission on the Arts; all that happened was a little flurry of attack jabbering from some local jaybirds, who flittered off squeaking when we wouldn't let them nest in our blog, and Catherine scalded their feathers. We haven't heard a single note from them since, big surprise.
Being ignored, having people treat us as invisible --when they're not trashing us-- is certainly nothing new to us. But unlike the man upon the stair, where we are there's a lot of there there. So to let those Partners know I wasn't going to let this go, on Thursday, September 13th, at 11:08 AM, I sent an email to Dr. Dwight D. Walth, D.M.A. [it means Doctor of Musical Arts], a member of the Partnership for Innovation and the Director of Grants Programs and Community Initiatives for the Phoenix Office of Arts & Culture. The subject line of the email said: "Creative Capital Etc." The message read in toto:
This is just to confirm that you continue to ignore us.
Have a nice day.
Jerome du Bois
The Tears Of Things
Exactly forty minutes later, the good doctor replied:
Mr. Du Bois,
You initially contacted me requesting information about the Artist Storefront Program. I replied to your inquiry and explained that:
--the Artist Storefront program is not administered by the Office of Arts and Culture
--the program is administered by the Downtown Development Office
--you should review the resources on their webpage and contact them if you have any questions:
I cannot assist you any further in regards to questions about this program.
THE ARTS MEAN BUSINESS IN PHOENIX!
Dr. Dwight D. Walth, D.M.A.
Yes, my Thursday email was elliptical, but note again, please, that the subject line was "Creative Capital Etc." Nothing to do with the Artist Storefront Program. Was he really claiming that he knew nothing about our Partnership piece? Maybe he didn't. Maybe I'm just being prideful in thinking he should know about it, since it's a pretty small world, downtown arts Phoenix. Plus I've examined the sitemeter trends closely since we published that piece. The next day, Friday, September 14th, I wrote back:
Strictly speaking, you are correct. I have not emailed you since the now-languishing Storefront Program inquiry. So let's keep a straight face and run it back to zero and start over.
I would like to draw your attention to "The Arizona Partnership For Stagnation And Stifling Criticism," which we published on our blog The Tears Of Things on August 17, 2007, and which stimulated some comments and another posting.
Thank you for your time.
[I included the hyperlink here.]
That afternoon he replied this way:
Mr. du Bois,
The City's internet web policy does not permit access to blogs. Can you provide the article in another form?
Oh, man. He has no idea what I'm talking about? Never read it, never heard about it? Okay, fine, how can I argue? So that same Friday I copied the HTML and pasted it into an email message and sent it off with the note, "Let's see if this works, though the hyperlinks won't."
Nothing back from Dr. Walth that day, or Saturday, or Sunday. (He had access to the piece at home, unless he lives like a Luddite.)
On Monday, September 17th, I sent off this email to him:
Just so we're singing off the same page:
I am interested in your reaction to our article on the Partnership For Innovation, a rather evanescent organization, of which you are a member. I am going to assume that you have read it over the weekend.
Nothing back from Dr. Walth on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Of course he's under no obligation to acknowledge me in any way. It's a free country. But I don't like people shining me on, and I don't like people trying to take me over the hurdles.
Who is this guy? Boilerplate bio:
Dr. Dwight Walth, Director of Grants Services and Community Initiatives for the City of Phoenix’s Office of Arts and Culture, is responsible for administering a $1 million grant program in support of nonprofit arts and cultural activities. He also provides technical assistance and consulting services to nonprofit organizations in areas of governance and administration.
Dr. Walth is the Office of Arts and Culture’s liaison to capital construction projects funded through a 2006 City of Phoenix Cultural Bond issue. He also recently completed a year-long study of the economic impact of Phoenix arts and culture organizations and audiences that is part of a national study conducted by Americans for the Arts.
Dr. Walth graduated from Arizona State University with a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Vocal Performance (1994), and a Masters Degree in Choral Conducting (1985). He has served on the Music and Opera, Grants and Policy, Heritage and Preservation, and Education and Access panels for the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as panels for the Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Indianapolis Arts Council.
Dr. Walth is past founding Chair of the Town of Gilbert Arts Advisory Board, and is active as a conductor and soloist.
First thing that struck me after reading this was the lack of any kind of certificate or degree in public administration, budgeting, management, organizational consulting, or economics. They don't teach such subjects in the College of Musical Knowledge. In twelve years, since 1994, he does not report or claim any formal educational backgrounding in the public mechanisms he manages to panelize himself into.
Dwight Walth is a singer, and he's led choirs, and he occasionally wields a conductor's baton. I've heard about public servants having to sing to the legislature for their supper, but isn't this taking it one high note too far?
Seriously, the man may be a managerial wizard for all I know --both Catherine and I have autodidact degree-level knowledge in a couple of areas without the degrees, so we respect independent learning-- but so far it doesn't show. Two points:
1. He has occupied his current position for at least four years. On September 9, 2007, he basically admitted to an ongoing failure of mission in a panel (another panel!) in Philadelphia that said, in part (paraphrased by Russell Cooke),
As a result of anemic support from that sector [the local Valley "philanthropic community," whatever that is], Phoenix arts groups rely on the box office for up to 80 percent of their needs, said Dwight Walth, director of Grants Services & Community Initiatives at the Phoenix Office of Arts & Culture.
Box office means asses in seats and hips turning turnstiles, the most passive "arts participation" possible, much of it generated from out of town and out of state. Does "Community Initiatives" mean just more soft cattle prods for the proles and the boozhwhazee? In four years, Dwight Walth and Greg Esser and Kevin Vaughn-Brubaker and Robert Booker and Gregory Sale and all those bureaucrats did not succeed in wooing local money from a lot of local high-profile people. Why not? Could it have something to do with the quality of the so-called art on offer? And the money people have eyes to see and ears to hear and brains to think and hearts to feel? And they think that Bat Boy: The Musical might be stupid. Or yet another sadistic play by Martin McDonough. Or maybe they observed closely the behavior of the leaders of the downtown visual arts organizations for the last seven or eight years. And how they've driven standards well underground, to make room for all kinds of skankiness and misogyny. As well as the arts administrators, who smile through and over it all. Maybe the rich people see those bureaucrats giving money --taxpayer money-- away for crappy art like "Squeeze" (the pomegranate woman) and shake their heads and say, No way. No way is that art. No way is that worth my money. Who knows? And that's a topic for another posting. For now, I say it's a plausible scenario, and Dwight Walth and the rest of the crew have simply not got mojo enough to turn sows' ears into silk purses. Sows' ears are sows' ears.
It seems many of these arts bureaucrats' innovative ideas spring from the same gambit: tap easy public money sources to justify their jobs. Evidence: in Russell Cooke's blog piece, he lists these ideas, written by members of the arts-conscious audience in Philadelphia after a two-hour panel discussion among Walth and two other city arts experts:
Why not have an artist in residence in every city government department?
Hire artists as caretakers of abandoned buildings, with free rent as an incentive.
Devote 10 percent of the casino revenues to fund the arts.
Use lottery funds for the arts.
A portion or every cultural budget should be earmarked for bold, new works of art.
Create a multi-county cultural fund.
Create art incubators.
Gimme gimme gimme. I'm worth it because . . . because I am. And you gotta love me, too.
2. Back in 2001-2003, Dwight Walth was a founding member of the Gilbert Public Arts Advisory Board, a voluntary position (while still holding his paid position in Phoenix). Although it's now back in business --that is, with a budget-- the Arts Advisory Board had a rocky beginning, mainly because the citizens of Gilbert simply didn't want to fund public art. In fact, their first commission never materialized because their budget was taken away by the city about the same time the commissoned artist was rolling up her proposal drawings. Just after that, Gilbert City Councilman Dave Petersen sent a long email to Board Member Betsy Harfst detailing the reasons behind his main objection: abstract art is communistic. He quoted Marx and a list of forty-five Communist principles. An unusual man, and the exact opposite of the layman's cliché which says "I don't know much about art, but I know what I don't like." Mr. Petersen, bless his soul, had a lot to say. You can look it up here. And you should, because you'll see why Mr. Petersen's email was so powerfully telling; and I'll go into some detail about the behavior of Dr. Walth (and his colleagues), including the negative impressions left by what he didn't do. We'll see that, as Catherine pointed out to me, Dr. Walth wants to keep climbing the arts career ladder without burning any bridges or making any enemies. He wants to walk between the raindrops, to be blameless and unstained by controversy.
Not long after Mr. Petersen's email, and partly because of it --because of Petersen's attitude toward art-- Harfst resigned. And so did Dwight Walth, with no reasons cited in the article. There is one single reference to Walth in the whole piece:
Harfst later resigned from the board --in part, she says, because of Petersen's attitude toward Sheng's piece [a 20-foot glass ribbon, divided] and art in general. A second member, Dwight Walth, who is also director of grants services and community initiatives for the Phoenix Arts Commission, has resigned as well.
Notice how Walth drifted off in Harfst's wake, without comment. Just slid away back to his real job. He didn't fight for the Board he had helped to create. Neither did she. (Jose Benavides, the director at the time, stuck around, and he's still there, though not as director.)
Here's one of my points: these people are used to getting their way. To just pointing to the dotted line, sign there, thank you. They're not used to this kind of fundamental opposition. If someone objects to their projects --and objects with reasons-- they have nothing to fall back on, no set of principles and arguments to bring to bear. At least they didn't in Gilbert in 2003. The article says the Board members were "stunned" when their choice was denied. And then "their worst fears were realized" when all the money was taken away shortly thereafter. Boo-hoo. Welcome to the real world party, pals.
Then what? Harfst and Walth bagged ass out of there, instead of defending their positions.
Now, to make my point vivid, consider this imaginary scenario: After the money's gone, Harfst and Walth and the other Board members huddle, and then propose a public panel (!) discussion / debate between Dave Petersen and his supporters, and the Arts Board Members and their supporters, and let everyone have their say. Publicize the thing well in advance; invite everybody. The purpose, or the argument for the meeting, would be to make sure that the public record is as eloquent and complete as possible, so that when the city leaders reconsider funding, they have a firmer foundation on which to build. Everyone would feel better for having had their say. Such a physical record would be much more constructive than just leaving Jose Benavides et al hanging on the drop edge of yonder. Kinder and more respectful as well. And who knows? maybe they could have changed some minds, even back in 2003.
But Dwight Walth? He gone from Gilbert, with hardly a ripple, though he lists the Board job on his resumé. But I'm here to remind people that he didn't show much backbone back then. He folded when the money faded and a loud but reasonable man got in his face. And lo and behold Gilbert survived his skedaddling, and the Arts Board now has a budget, twelve members, and several active agendas. Dwight who? they say now. Aw, you know, the nonprofit Doctor Who, the Wizard of Initiative. The guy who just admitted he can't get high-profile community members to open their wallets for Phoenix art. The guy who, like Bartleby but with less reason, would rather not. Just not. Just not engage, confront, or argue.
Now it's late Thursday afternoon, September 20th. Nothing more from Dr. Walsh. It's a beautiful day, it's starting to cool into fall, and I'm standing in my big back yard, drinking a Red Stripe and gazing thoughtfully at the long shadow I'm casting across the lawn. I'm thin, but I'm there. Dwight? I don't know where he is.
Primavera Postmoderna (detail). Paper collage on foamcore mounted on masonite. 20" x 60". © 2007 Catherine King. Price $30,000. Here is the whole image.
by Jerome du Bois
Here I present a great work of art, and a major work of art of the 21st Century, both pinned to its time but pointing perenially backward and prophetically forward. It is as generous, turbulent, and encompassing as Life; it honors the shapes that emerge from the artisan's hand, and that hand itself: look at all those hands! And by interlayering images of grass and cut stone Catherine both pays tribute to Nature and binds Her to her beautiful purposes, making Art outlive Nature.
Perhaps I am expected to summon such superlatives, given that I'm married to the artist, but I make my case for them after the jump. Up here I'm showing the whole collage, the closeup above, and four more closeups, from left to right. Each is worth lingering over for a long time. Catherine King makes the most of Spring.
So much to say, since I watched Catherine patiently create Primavera Postmoderna from before its birth, through every choice torn from the pages of fashion magazines, through every curving cut of the X-acto blade to make how many thousands of elegant paper shapes? How many aesthetic choices, drawing on fifty-plus years of paying attention to beauty and form, half of them professionally? How many spiritual choices --what to say to the world?-- based on years of paying attention to the other side? How many discussions and explorations as we sat studying it propped on chairs during its many iterations? An uncountable number of bits of reason and ideas and imagination and spirit, matched with an uncountable number of blades of grass, crafted gems, woven surfaces, feather filaments, shaped metals, concentrated fabrics . . . Nature improved by human hands, shining forth in small, carefully-cut pieces of glossy magazine stock.
Catherine King draws proudly from her grounding and long career in graphic design and cut-and-paste advertising; she draws deeply from her American soul; and she emphasizes that this multilayered, intricate collage, overflowing with beauty, glamour, mystery, allegory, charisma --all the charmed fruit born from the circle of Nature meeting the spiral of Culture-- is at bottom a sign, an advertisement, inscribed on the orange megaphone:
The sign points to our weblog, which includes a gallery on the sidebar of Catherine's artworks, and which archives our lives as artists and writers, and as activists for human nobility, dignity, and respect --in art, in politics, in all the rooted sinews of American life. The sign points to our tears, our two hearts, our two souls, and our times.
This is Catherine's fifth and last fashion collage. You can follow the changes in technique, theme, and emphasis on the sidebar. Like the others, Primavera collects the best images from the cream of the fashion magazines of the season. Unlike the others, Catherine developed the idea of each of the letters of SPRING 2007 floating in a kind of low-walled, overgrown garden, with gates at front and back. Then she developed it further so that they represent graves as well. Also unlike the others, this fashion collage would feature jewelry and accessories rather than whole outfits. And Nature's green everywhere, bursting through in its superabundance. Finally, unique among the fashion collages, Catherine herself, the shaman who believe me went through hell to make this piece, appears twelve times, giving a nod to Andy Warhol while surpassing him by.
--But before I go on, I need to finish up with that sign --and its message-- above. This complex piece encompasses and springs from these times, after all. Catherine, working night and day with the television murmuring in the background, said that when she saw the news story about the New York-Arabic public school, "the spirits gave me the image of the megaphone." Then she saw, in an online article, a picture of the art critic Lucy Lippard --someone Catherine used to admire--dressed in a black t-shirt with two white inscriptions, one above the other, saying the same thing, the one on top in Arabic, the one below in English: "We Will Not Be Silenced."
Well, well, thought Catherine, Islamists and their apologists don't have a monopoly on that determination, and so she appropriated the sentence for her new megaphone. --
Note also that the woman is armed and charmed --daggers and pentacles-- and that some of her shields bear the Cross, including the Maltese Cross, symbolizing the island where the Muslim Shah's army was utterly defeated by the Knights of St. John. This is no accident. In this war against the Islamic fascists, wierd alliances are forged between pagans and Christians. As I said, this is a woman of her times --a true feminist, warrior, and freedom fighter. This is American Woman, striding forward, toward us and past us if necessary, striding into the future as the best --the prophetic-- example of what an American woman should be.
Catherine King has a long history with the technologies of graphic design and advertising, going back to hand-setting lead type and photofax-type copying machines. She kept pace with the technology. Here she exploits like no one else the resolution, the colorfastness, the durability of the new glossy papers, and the advances in cameras, inks, imaging software, and ease of printing. Talk about resolution! Walk up close to an Andreas Gursky and the thing falls apart into pixels. That's not the vivid illusion one has come to expect from a so-called photograph, and suffers from swollen ego too. Take also Sandow Berk, whose large urban apocalypse paintings we saw in Mesa. Step up closer than four feet and the clever multitudinous buildings become rectangular dabs of paint, pedestrian and pointless perceptual dead ends.
But step up close to Primavera Postmoderna and the ultrahigh resolution satisfies all the needs of the human eye. There is no disappointment. As far as the eye can see, these are faithful reflections of reality, in all its gleaming, shading, bevelling, curving, and graininess. And it is accomplished by the simplest technologies channelled through her talented hands: scissors, X-acto blades, paper shapes, and rubber cement. There is not a single eighth of an inch of this teeming, effervescent, overflowing piece which is not coherent and articulated down to the threshold of human visibility. That's one of the keys to its power and greatness, as Catherine exploited these facts to pack her masterpiece with the beautiful, actual shapes which master craftspeople have abstracted from Nature. She has coined the term "microcollage" for this work.
Is that what makes it great? No, what makes it great is its --her-- ambition, harnessing her encyclopedic knowledge of art history, the natural and supernatural worlds, and her mastery of graphic form into a triumphant portrait of Life, and Humanity, unstoppable Nature, and the unstoppable need of humans to make archetypal, beautiful, pleasing, spiritual physical forms from the throwaway jewelry of Nature. Primavera Postmoderna is a giant, generous embrace. In these times, that's both needed and unique. (And, too often, spurned.)
If anyone thinks, by the way, that Catherine King is just some cut-and-paster who can't wield a brush or pen, these two examples of a pastel still-life on pastel board, from 1979, should change their minds. She has worked in gouache, alkyd, oil, watercolor, and acrylic as well, with the same mastery.
As for influences and comparisons, Catherine tells me that although she wouldn't use the word "influence," "this work has a lot in common with Botticelli, the Unicorn Tapestries, and the work of Richard Dadd."
It also, in my opinion, far surpasses the work of Jess, Henry Darger, Bruce Conner, Fred Tomaselli, Tom Friedman, and Tim Hawkinson, to name only a few well-received artists.
Finally, so there are no mistakes about the price, let me spell it out: Thirty thousand dollars. If there are any questions about that price, see the list immediately above for comparisons. Catherine King is not some emerging artist.