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Thursday, September 20, 2018

Bentley Project Gallery

A recent cover piece in a Valley weekly newspaper asked if Phoenix had an inferiority complex. Whether or not it does is open for debate, but the article pointed out many of the shortcomings in Phoenix and it’s surrounding cities. In it, the author touched on the lack of amenities here in contrast to urban centers like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
But criticism aside, there has been a recent notable shift taking place that is witnessing more visual arts venues flourishing in our expanding metropolis.
Accompanying the recent surge of interest south of downtown as a visual arts center, Scottsdale’s Bentley Gallery recently opened a Phoenix space appropriately named the Bentley Projects, or B.P. as it is affectionately known.  To be more accurate, it is more an urban contemporary art complex than a single gallery.
Resting on the corner of 3rd and Grant Streets, just south of Bank One Ballpark, the austere exterior gives little indication of what it contains, or its size–35,000 total square feet with 25,000 square feet used for gallery space. Were it not for the signage on the structure’s roof, it would be easy to dismiss it is as just another older, but well kept, building sitting near the ballpark.
Entering the parking lot behind the former industrial building immediately brings you to an open area that is defined by walls, but invites a closer inspection. Here you’ll find the entrance to the gallery as if it were a mystery waiting to be solved.  Once past the walls that divide as well as define the space that creates an open courtyard, the building reveals its true identity.
Architect Mark Philp’s design is a clever solution on how to maneuver traffic through uninterrupted sprawling open spaces without being obvious.  Having effectively taken the building from its roots (it has been around since the early 20th Century) to the present, Philp, a South Mountain District resident, has crafted a careful articulation of interior spaces that is intriguing and well suited for the contemporary art on display. 
Philp’s firm, Allen + Philp, are also the architects behind the restoration project taking place at Scottsdale’s Hotel Valley Ho.  During the hotel’s hey day it played host to celebrities such as Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Bing Crosby, Natalie Wood and Marilyn Monroe.
Housed under the same roof as the Bentley Projects are City Bakery and the Poisoned Pen Booksellers.  Also located on the grounds is Framer’s Workshop 2 at Bentley Projects, a full service framing shop.  One can literally view large scale art, browse through a bookstore, have lunch and purchase a new work and then have it custom framed without ever leaving the grounds. 
Lisa Greve of Bentley Projects pointed out that the space did not begin as an exhibition venue. Originally the facility was used as a viewing warehouse for firm’s sister gallery in Scottsdale.  Sensing that the space had potential to be much more that a depository for large art works, owners Bentley Dillard and Glen Lineberry purchased the entire block and proceeded to transform the building into a full-fledged art space.  Not unlike many contemporary art centers, their vision included adding additional facilities in the form of a bookstore, restaurant and frame shop, moves that are becoming increasingly common in other cities.  Just don’t expect to see your standard-issue gift shop. The tone and mood of the Bentley Projects is decidedly high end.
Looking both appropriate, and at the same time other-worldly, the exterior is an interesting hint at what waits inside.  Tall ceilings and exposed brick are the norm in this expansive space that has that single luxury all gallery’s crave: space.  Seeing the city’s skyline immediately behind you creates a surreal juxtaposition between the quiet inside and the expanding city just outdoors.
Frequently exhibited internationally recognized names in art appear as you explore the many spaces that constitute the building.  One entire section of the gallery is devoted to Dale Chihuly, best known for his large-scale glass creations.  Several loose linear drawings were on display in an area devoted exclusively to his work along with glass works more typical of his style.
Jun Kaneko, whose works are installed on the ticketing level at terminal four at Sky Harbor Airport, had several large pieces on exhibition. Oversized ceramic heads that are nearly monumental in scale are not only well displayed, they are in an environment with enough ample space that they can be appreciated up close and afar.  Kaneko, who was the head of the Cranbrook Ceramic Department back in the 80’s, is currently working on new pieces for a production of Madame Butterfly.
Texan John Alexander, whose paintings were tinged with a bit controversy accentuated by vivid erratic brush strokes back in the 80s, has transformed his style and approach. His creations now look to the Old Masters with a hint of the vibrancy of late expressionism for inspiration. It is an interesting direction shift from his previous creations that will no doubt find him a new audience.
While major names in contemporary are represented–Jennifer Bartlet and Pat Steir among others–local talent is given time as well. Mary Bates Neubauer, a professor at Arizona State University, had several works prominently featured.  “Starfrog,” a large blue-bronze, conical-shaped work situated itself centrally on the floor looking both imposing and open to inspection. 
With work of this type, do not be surprised to see price tags of $35,000 displayed. The works shown are at the very high spectrum of contemporary art. The good thing is that you can view these works without having to mortgage a home, and the space is open for the popular First Friday openings. Plus, you can enjoy affordable dining nearby at the conveniently placed restaurant without ever leaving the gallery. Incidentally, the space is also available for rental wiyh on-premises catering.
With the inclusion of a bookstore and restaurant, Bentley Projects has definitely upped the proverbial stakes in visual art in the city.  They have, in essence, given the southern part of the city a cultural center that could potentially have many positive long-term influences on the remainder of Phoenix’s art galleries and in particular artists. 
Only time will really be able to answer those questions about the significance of Bentley Projects in terms of visual art in Phoenix. The presence of this kind of complex is a positive sign. It certainly proves that investment in the cultural and economic vitality of the city is drawing those serious about both much closer to the south side of town.
Bentley Projects
215 E. Grant Street
Phoenix, AZ 85004
Gallery Hours:
Tuesday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
And on the First Friday of every month from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
City Bakery “Arcadia Farms”
215 East Grant Street, Phoenix, AZ 85004
Phone: 602-253-7200
Hours Monday through Friday 8 am to 3 pm
Saturday 7 am to 3 pm
Closed Sundays.
The Poisoned Pen
David M. Strang Manager
215 E. Grant Street
In the Bentley Projects

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