SmoCA Showcases Amateur Art

Written by Dolores Tropiano Category: Arts Issue: October 2011
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James Grosbach, a retired English teacher from Buckeye who lives in Phoenix, used modeling clay to create an intricate culture (complete with a constitution, history and, of course, a community newspaper).

And Gary Freitas, a Phoenix forensic psychologist, has made beautiful sculpture from circuit boards.

These local artists and 29 others from across the country (including several from the Valley) are featured in People’s Biennial, which opens October 15 at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA).

The show explores some of the great ponderables of the art process, including what makes an artist and what constitutes an exhibition. None of the under-appreciated participants have ever considered themselves artists, shown in galleries or been a part of the mainstream art world.   

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People’s Biennial was produced by Independent Curators International (iCI) and organized by Harrell Fletcher, a professor of art at Portland State University, and Jens Hoffmann, director and curator of the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco.

“They were looking at creative activity through a certain lens that could be thought of as art, but some of these people didn’t necessarily consider themselves artists. There is so much about contemporary art and museums that carries so much baggage,” says Cassandra Coblentz, a former curator at SMoCA, who helped implement the show in Scottsdale. “What Harrell and Jens are doing is letting go of labels that we put on artists and celebrating it for what it is and not worrying about traditional ideas of art making and what a museum exhibition is suppose to be.”  

The result is truly local art from the neighborhood level. Scottsdale is one of the final stops the People’s Biennial makes as it travels to institutions with robust art communities outside of traditional art hubs such as Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. The show was in Portland, Oregon; Rapid City, South Dakota; and Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Its final stop will be Haverford, Pennsylvania. Five people have been chosen from each city to display their work.

Beyond showcasing the work of its participants, the show speaks to the often exclusive and isolating nature of the art world, with biennials repeatedly taking place in the same large cities and the art detached from the realities of everyday life.

It’s also inspiring. There’s the possibility that perhaps we all have the potential to come out of the artistic closet with some form of quirky creativity.

“Everyone has the ability to be creative, and I think it’s important to question who decides what’s creative and how that decision-making process works,” Coblentz says.

The show runs through January 15, 2012, at SMoCA (7374 E. Second St., Scottsdale, 480-874-4666,

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Photos - From left: James Grosbach, Cathedral in the City-A Work in Plasticine • Gary Freitas, Singularity 4.0