By Alexis Macklin, On Friday, March 8th, 2013
With the addition of proper gallery lighting and a sign, the R. Pela Contemporary Art Gallery will be opening between Fifth and Third avenues on McDowell Road in May.
Robrt Pela is well known in the Phoenix art scene as the former curator of Willo North Gallery and a columnist for the Phoenix New Times. He also is an essayist forNational Public Radio’s “Morning Edition.”
“I opened a gallery because I wanted to continue to curate and it just seemed like a natural progression,” Pela said. “I am not a great collaborator. I made my living as a writer for the last 30 years so I have grown accustomed to working on my own. It is a very solitary profession.”
Whitney Espinosa was an intern for Pela when he first started to curate for the Willo North Gallery. She now helps Pela as a volunteer.
“A thing that stood out to me from the beginning was that he is really willing to give you a shot, to hear your opinion,” she said. “He was always very open and let us be very hands on and do whatever we wanted to do.”
The gallery was opened for a preview during Art Detour, featuring the Jan and Joe Show, a compilation of surreal, politically motivated art portraying Governor Jan Brewer and Sheriff Joe Arpaio. More than 400 people came to the show.
Artist Paul Wilson participated in the show and has known Pela for many years. He said he is looking forward to the opening of the gallery and that “it will be significant and very smart in every way.”
“I did a show with him last summer and it was an excellent experience,” Wilson said. “I am very thankful for what he has done for me and validating my art.”
Pela said he will feature work by Janet de Berge Lange in October. He is also interested in showing art by Hank Fries, Jake Fisher and Peter Bugg in the future.
Bugg, who also participated in the Jan and Joe Show, said he would be interested in working with Pela again.
“The thing I like most about Robrt as a curator is that he is always looking for new art and new artists, and he does a lot of research and that is part of the job, but he is not letting the art come to him, he is going out there and looking for it,” Bugg said. “He is doing it locally and trying to make the Valley a more artistic, vibrant place because of that.”
Wilson said Pela is very savvy and will bring value to the downtown art scene.
“He recognizes what’s new or good from what’s old and been done and is tired and bad because heaven knows the downtown scene for the last several years has been all about skulls and swastikas and penises,” Wilson said. “I think he has been able to see beyond that and filter that out and find the people who are either legitimate in their own right or if they are doing skulls and swastikas and penises, they are doing it in a way that works.”
Pela likes to serve wine in glasses, not plastic, he said. He wants to raise the bar in quality for the Phoenix art galleries, specializing in the little things that make a gallery quality, he said.
“It is important to keep the downtown arts scene lively and alive. You can only complain for so long and then all you are doing is complaining, and I have complained both privately and publically about the downtown arts scene,” Pela said. “I get paid to write commentaries about the arts scene in Phoenix and so I finally thought I better get involved or shut the hell up.”
Pela said he plans to serve Espinosa’s baked goods at the gallery.
“I sort of volunteered my services way back a couple years ago as mostly to get extra hours for my internship,” Espinosa said. “After the internship stopped, then I started billing them for the baked goods. Robrt just has a lot of faith in me to bring in something really good and different, and I think that people that come into the gallery openings associate that with Robrt.”
Pela was unsure about putting his name on the gallery. He said that it seemed like a conceited thing, but he was convinced to put his name in the title anyway.
“I wanted people to know where I went after leaving Willo North,” Pela said. “My husband said to me, ‘Look, your name has been in print in Phoenix for 30 years, every day for 30 years, why don’t you take that and do something with it. I thought that was a good argument for putting my name on the gallery.”