Contemporary Art Institute

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Passionate art collectors have created a mobile art institute to showcase under-appreciated local and international talent.

The idea for the Phoenix Institute of Contemporary Art (phICA) came up one afternoon when Phoenix art collector Ted Decker was eating beef tacos with his art-loving pals Eddie Shea and Greg Esser outside of Rito’s Mexican Food restaurant in Downtown Phoenix.


“We had all been thinking about it for a long time when we realized that many of the people we collected and whose careers we followed simply were not represented by the community or elsewhere,” says Decker by phone, while driving to check out an artist’s studio in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

They launched the institute last October with an exhibition at Modified Arts in Phoenix, but phICA is not housed in a specific space. Instead, it collaborates with other regional cultural institutions to initiate, fund, curate and market contemporary art projects. The nonprofit hopes to encourage understanding and enjoyment of modern art through artist residencies, arts-incubation activities and exhibitions such as Declaring Independence, on view October 3-27 at the Eric Fischl Gallery at Phoenix College.

The exhibition, the second since the institute was established, features 20 artists, including Sam Chung (Tempe), Christian Curiel (New York), David Dauncey (Phoenix), Paulo Santos (Rio de Janeiro) and John Haddock (Tempe). It brings together exceptional artists with varying aesthetics who are highly respected but not necessarily represented by commercial art galleries.

For example, Haddock, 50, is a longtime comic fan who created a large sculpture for the exhibition “about being an artist and the art community in Phoenix,” he says. The Arizona State University drawing graduate’s work is influenced by contemporary and pop culture. He has come up with everything from mice porn comics to hand-cranked automated art and has been featured everywhere from the prestigious Whitney Museum of American Art in New York to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. (He’s the guy who donned an alter ego bear suit for a solo show at SMoCA in June.) But he’s not represented by a gallery.  

Decker says the lack of gallery representation in Phoenix and around the world is a reflection of the art market, not the ability of the artist. “This is inherent in the art market since the first commercial galleries were established in the late 19th century, a function of the market forces of supply (many artists) and fewer galleries,” he says.

Not everyone “gets” contemporary art, but Decker believes its benefits are bountiful. He says it ultimately helps us develop thinking skills and better understand the world around us. It’s enough to make you want to pause to ponder a Jackson Pollock – or a John Haddock.

“Viewing, understanding, reflecting upon, and enjoying contemporary art promotes the examination of personal issues and belief systems as well as important contemporary issues such as globalization, political and social issues,” Decker explains. “Contemporary art encourages critical thinking and creative problem solving. We need more citizens who have these capabilities. These skills are necessary in all facets of life and work.”

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“Mark Newport – Call Him Destiny!,” by John Haddock