Phoenix critic confesses all

By GREG COOK  |  June 24, 2011

Of course, the guerrilla exhibit (and the title) was a joke. But at the same time the exhibit, irrespective of myself, rounded up some of the finest creative talent around — the sort of local talent that too frequently gets token acknowledgement (or overlooked or underplayed) by our local major museums, schools, and press. Many of our best and most ambitious artists get the message: opportunities are limited here. So they move away, which makes a duller community for all of us.

I entered the museum without incident and wandered the galleries for a bit. I stopped in a bathroom and adjusted the manila envelope, the top of which was creasing my suit coat in a suspicious manner. Then I headed to the new Shapiro Family Courtyard. As I met a reporter there to cover the shenanigans, someone I'd invited to see the show walked by, pretending not to know me. This was surely because the invites I'd sent out announcing the "secret, crazy, historic, renegade art event" warned "Please don't be the person who spoils the surprise."

The artists rendezvoused at 6:45 pm at a pair of bathrooms on a landing off a stairway down from the courtyard. Some artists brought their own art (Alexander secreted her sculpture in a large purse), while I carried pieces from the rest. Guillemin, in a wheel chair, taped a copy of the Mona Lisa that he'd drawn on a paper towel to the wall opposite the men's room sinks. Sloat carefully placed his skull cast from an MFA shop bag at the sinks. Moynahan distributed his "Cat Smiles" comics among the stalls. Curcio hung his embroidery. Wheeler taped her cyanotype on a bathroom wall opposite the door. Rachelle Beaudoin, Amber Day, and James Manning of the Institute for Infinitely Small Things put up metal plaques honoring transgender people who had been attacked in bathrooms. The plaques so accurately matched the décor that I didn't spot them until someone pointed them out.

An MFA custodian was in the women's room when the artists began hanging art in there — Molteni's hand-knit basketball net, Morin's nighttime photo of Gloucester, Chasman's gouache homage to one of the MFA's Sargent paintings, and Sandman's prints of ghostly heads. At one point the bathroom lights flickered as if security had arrived, but it was a false alarm.

The atmosphere was festive as around 100 people toured the men's and women's rooms. Some people who happened upon the exhibition as they tried to use the bathrooms were bewildered and annoyed, but an equal number seemed amused.

At around 7:15, I spoke to the crowd in the narrow hall outside the bathrooms to explain why I'd guest curated the show. Three gentlemen in suits from MFA security arrived, but generously let me say my piece. Then they asked the crowd to move along because we were apparently creating a fire hazard. MFA staff quickly took down the art from the bathroom walls. One artist saw an MFA staffer crumpling up some of the works; others saw MFA folks holding nice stacks of the art. An MFA spokesperson subsequently e-mailed that the pieces "have been retained in the MFA's archives for historical purposes."

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