Image: Vince Larue
(At this event, Vince Larue will have copies of Dark Heat for sale.)
In March, curator Robrt Pela will present The Joe and Jan Show, a group exhibition of artwork from 11 different artists, all of it in homage to Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Governor Jan Brewer. The exhibit will be open on First Friday, as well as during Art Detour weekend (March 2 and 3) and again on Third Friday in March.
Much of the work, which includes both portraits of these infamous public servants as well as pieces inspired by their more notorious antics, was commissioned by Pela. Among the artists who’ve created new work for the exhibit are Jeff Falk, Annie Lopez, Peter Bugg, and Cuban painter Chary Castro-Marin. French comic artist Vince LaRue has created six color-drenched drawings, inspired by American rock concert posters of the 1960s. Irma Sanchez has produced a welcome mat with Sheriff Joe’s face on it that everyone will step on as they come through the door. Other work is more neutral, like a flattering textile portrait of Brewer knitted by Phoenix artist Todd Daniel Grossman. Also participating in the show are artists Chris Swanberg, Paul Wilson, Eric Cox, and Melissa McGurgan.
The Joe and Jan Show will open on First Friday, March 1 at 6 p.m. with an artist reception, and will remain on exhibit through March 29 at 335 West McDowell Road. The gallery is otherwise open by appointment only, by calling 602-320-8445.
Kristin Shears, owner of Willo North Gallery, isn’t content just to lie to an incompetent reporter about why she canceled the Joe and Jan show. She got her attorney, Jason Kelly, to send a letter, with more lies, to the artists who were to be in the show. The letter says:
In an unfortunate turn of events, Robrt Pela decided to resign from his position at Willo North Gallery. The management of the Willlo North Gallery immediately accepted his resignation. As of January 28, 2013, Mr. Pela was no longer associated with the Willo North Gallery.
As a result of his abrupt decision to resign, the planning for several exhibitions and the upcoming First Friday event were disrupted. It is Willo North’s understanding that Mr. Pela plans to go forward with the previously-planned exhibitions through a different gallery. We regret any inconvenience caused by Mr. Pela’s resignation. We wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.
Pela’s resignation was not “abrupt.” He gave eight weeks’ notice, and said he would complete the few remaining details of its installation, manage its opening and closing, and provide all work necessary for its success. He said he would remain at Willo North through March 31.
He had previously been unwilling to release his letter of resignation to the media, not wishing to embarrass Shears by going public about incompetence and disrespect he and his interns (who, like him, were working for free, and at least one of whom had just quit in disgust) had endured from her, but, tired of being lied about, he gave me a copy. After explaining his reasons for resigning, he wrote:
It would be best if we made this show my last for you. Perhaps some of the interns will stay, and the work I’ve done to create an audience for Willo North is one you can continue to build on, for sure. But I’m tired of showing up to find my work undone, or re-done, and I’m embarrassed to have to keep asking that you communicate with me about what’s going on, when clearly you don’t wish to.
I’ve finished installing this show, with one small exception, and I will be professional and courteous on Friday night. Next week, I’ll send out a press release to colleagues explaining that this is my last show with Willo North, which wanted something I could not provide. I’ve hung on as long as I can, but it’s clear I’m not giving you what you want. And, in the bargain, I’m beginning to feel like a real chump.
In response, he received the following email from Kristin Shears :
I consider our working relationship severed as of today January 28, 2013. There will be no need to finish installing the show as I am canceling all shows until further notice. Please email me and let me know a convenient time for you to pick up all of your personal property.
I asked Pela to comment, and he told me:
I remain sorry for the artists who created work especially for this show. Willo North’s disregard for these artists is representative of the reasons I left the gallery, after two-and-a-half years. The gallery owners’ assertion that I left abruptly is absurd; I gave eight weeks’ notice. I made it clear that I would stay through the two months the “Joe and Jan” exhibit would be up, and offered them both my volunteer staff and my collateral materials (mailing lists and so on) for any exhibits they did after March 31. I received a reply telling me to go now, and informing me that they were going to cancel the show, which I’d already installed and which was ready to open.
The response from the arts community has stunned me. As of this evening, I have been offered 16 different spaces for the “Joe and Jan” exhibit. I will consider each offer and look forward to opening this show in March.
Never try to teach a pig to sing.
Before Pela began curating shows at Willo North, the gallery averaged 10 visitors at a First Friday opening. Pela’s shows brought in 700 people. Kristin Shears has said that Willo North will close. This is no loss to the Phoenix arts community, as long as Robrt Pela continues to curate at other venues.
I haven’t heard from Shears’ lawyer in response to my questions, but Shears has been talking to Dennis Welch, who writes:
Kristen [sic] Shears says she shut down the show after Pela resigned from the gallery on Monday.
“After that I really felt that I couldn’t hang the show and get it ready in time,” Shears said Tuesday. “I take full responsibility for this.”
Shears is lying.
She claims that there wasn’t enough time to hang the show. The fact is that, with four days to go, all the work was already hung, with the exception of Vince Larue’s drawings. He brought his work from France, is in Phoenix, and it wouldn’t have taken four days to hang his work.
Also, Robrt Pela’s resignation would not have affected this show. In his letter, he told Shears that he would leave AFTER this show.
“The show is already up… and ready to go,” Pela says.
Shears herself isn’t talking. In response to my questions, she gave me her lawyer’s contact info and told me to ask him. I did, but haven’t heard back yet.
Pela himself doesn’t know if she canceled in retaliation or to censor the show. “I wish I could say, conclusively, what happened. I turned in my resignation yesterday, with a standard and very gentle letter informing them that I would be leaving the gallery effective March 31, and planned to see the Joe and Jan exhibit through to its closing date, with all work completed. I got a reply saying, ‘Just go now, we’re canceling the show.’”
Phoenix artist Kim Blake (not one of the artists in the show) declared my reporting “creating a scandal,” and said that I “don’t know the entire story.” The latter is certainly true. I asked Blake, who declares herself a friend of Shears, if that means she does know the entire story. She admitted that she doesn’t. I don’t either, but will keep reporting as I find out.
Updated to add: Kim Blake claims I didn’t have permission to quote her. She says she didn’t know what “on the record” meant.
Image: Vince Larue
This Friday, Willo North Gallery in Phoenix was to open its latest show curated by Robrt Pela, featuring new work by Vince Larue (who traveled from France for the opening), Peter Bugg, Jeff Falk, Annie Lopez and others.
This morning, galley owner Kristin Shears informed Pela that the show was canceled.
Pela had just informed Shears that he intended to resign from his role as curator after this show.
“Needless to say, I’m horrified,” Pela told the artists. “Most of you spent weeks of your time creating new work especially for this show, and one of you is traveling here from France to deliver your artwork and be at the exhibit. Four days before our opening is no time for a gallery owner to cancel a show, but the fact that she has done so is beyond my control.”
Pela intends to hold the show at another venue next month, and has already had offers from other galleries.
I don’t know if this canceling was meant to hurt Robrt Pela personally, or if Kristin Shears got cold feet over a potentially controversial show (its subject was Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Governor Jan Brewer), so I just sent Shears the following email:
Dear Ms. Shears,
I’m working on an article about the cancelation of the Joe and Jan show. Why was it canceled? Was it because of the content of the show, or personal retaliation against Robrt Pela for resigning? How do you feel about the effect on the artists, one of whom traveled from France for the show?
I’ll post her response if there is one. I’ll be writing more about this in any case.