JULIA LATANÉ, HERETOFORE known as the artist of plump, stitched, cloth sculptures, comes out this weekend as an artist of hard sculpture--hard-candy sculpture, that is.
Her glistening larger-than-life sweets, made out of plastic poured into molds, ape real-life Good and Plentys and Mike and Ikes. They'll take pride of place on pedestals in the show Swollen at Elizabeth Cherry Contemporary Art, while Michael Campbell's simulated inflatables will be draped on the walls. His soft sculptures, made to look like blown-up mattresses, are actually stuffed with polyester batting, making them, the artist says, "cartoons of their real counterparts."
For viewers who prefer their cloth art in the form of canvas covered with paint, Charlotte Bender provides a suite of abstracted forest landscapes at Davis Dominguez Gallery. More oil painters, none of them remotely traditional, deliver an Oil/Change at the HazMat Gallery of the Museum of Contemporary Art. A sextet of contemporary glass artists delves into Glass/Contrast at Philabaum Glass Gallery, and Central Arts Collective gives a counterpoint to Latané's simulated sweets in the form of real food art. R. Darden Bradshaw displays sugar-stocked underpants sculptures, while Mary Babcock deploys decaying lemons in her photographic installation. Both artists also are at the UA's Joseph Gross gallery.
In short, this Saturday night, Tucsonans will get The Big Picture of the town's contemporary art, a picture large and soft-edged enough to embrace all of the above, and more. The painterly landscapes of Farzad Nakhai and the wild paper and masking-tape figures of Michael Cajero share space at DC Harris Gallery. Dinnerware Contemporary Art gallery, introducing a new slate of member artists, embodies the full range of contemporary-art contrasts in a single show.
"(People) will see a dismembered wooden corpse thing on the floor," new director Barbara Jo McLaughin cheerfully says, describing a sculpture by new member Chris Morey. By contrast, Betina Fink offers a look at an Old Master technique, in the form of her "old process" tempera paintings. And then there's Herb Stratford's found-object boxes, Mauricio Toussaint's narrative paintings, John Davis's steel and concrete and wood maquettes, and on and on.
This avalanche of contemporary art makes a noisy debut Saturday night, with simultaneous openings at 10 galleries offering an evening-long education in the headlong, conflicting trends of today's art. The galleries, contemporary art vendors all, have banded together into the Central Tucson Gallery Association, the likes of which the city's disconnected art scene has not seen in some time. All of the member galleries, plus a few non-members, conspired to kick off their seasons at the same time.
Art lovers can indulge in a dizzying evening of gallery hopping, though they'll be tootling around in their own cars or on their own two feet. Denied the use of the city's new downtown shuttle, The Big Picture nevertheless aspires to be a gala affair, offering up food, live music, demonstrations and talks.
And art. Lots of art.
"It's going to be really fun," says Moira Marti Geoffrion, founder of the one-year-old nonprofit GOCAIA gallery at Fifth and Congress. "In Tucson there are so many galleries. We've all been so isolated from each other. Other urban centers have had associations active for years."
Though there are outposts of contemporary art at some distance from downtown, the new association represents only galleries in the heart of town.
"We need to promote downtown, to get more people to come and spend time downtown," says Mike Dominguez of Davis Dominguez, who moved his 20-something gallery from the Foothills to Sixth Street in the Warehouse District two years ago.
Following the boundary-defying trends of contemporary art, the association itself has defined the borders of its central territory rather loosely. Its flexible perimeter embraces Elizabeth Cherry, a northerly outpost on Grant Road, and the Joseph Gross and Lionel Rombach galleries, the easternmost venues, resident at the University of Arizona. Among the members located in downtown proper are a trio of longtime downtown survivors: Dinnerware Contemporary Art Gallery, Central Arts Collective and Philabaum Contemporary Art Glass Gallery. Others are relative newcomers that, like GOCAIA, have taken the downtown plunge only in recent years. These include the HazMat Gallery of the Museum of Contemporary Art, which has been operating on Toole Avenue for about 20 months; DC Harris, which is wrapping up a two-year run on Sixth Avenue, and Raices/Taller 222, another two-year-old, a co-op on Sixth Street specializing in Latino art.
"There are a lot of players," says Dominguez, credited by his fellow gallerists as the instigator, along with Cherry, of the new consortium. "There's a real concentration of contemporary art in the center of town. When I add it up, this is the center of contemporary art for the state. Visitors should know about this. The nonprofits need what I need: more audience, more traffic. We all have a common goal. We need more exposure."
The exposure given by The Big Picture will be invaluable to a struggling nonprofit like Raices/Taller 222 Art Gallery and Workshop, says member Juan Enriquez. A financial shortfall forced Raices/Taller to scale back its grand plan of inviting such Latino luminaries as Cristina Cardenas and Alfred Quiroz to jazz up its Big Picture proceedings. Instead, muralist David Tineo will extend the run of his mural, "Rock Soup," an all-gallery painting that snakes across ceiling and walls.
"This association will draw attention to a gallery like ours," says Enriquez, who works part-time at Davis Dominguez up the street. "It shows the seriousness of the gallery and our commitment to downtown. If artists know we're a part of this association, they'll take us seriously."
But if The Big Picture promises exposure to some lesser-known galleries, its big lens has also revealed some fissures in the local scene. For Daryl Childs, proprietor of DC Harris, the group effort comes too late. He's closing the gallery down after the current show runs its course.
"That's it for DC Harris," he says. "This is my second go-round downtown. I used to have a gallery on Congress, for two years in the 1980s. It was pretty rough then, too." This time around he got discouraged by sidewalk street fights, by parking problems, by the lack of foot traffic. Childs will pursue his own artwork, and his other business of buying art for the sumptuous new houses going up on the edges of town. The downtown gallery, he says, "became an incredible drain, a time and money drain."
And the association itself has also come in for some criticism. Terry Etherton, proprietor of downtown mainstay Etherton Gallery, declined to join. He is a member of the Contemporary Art Tour, a somewhat overlapping group whose members had previously decided to hold simultaneous openings on September 16. So this Saturday night, he'll kick off a show that includes Native American portraits by lithographer Leonard Baskin. He's avoided the new group partly because he's expanded into two additional spaces in recent months, downtown and at Joesler Village.
"We're so focused on what we need to do, I don't have time to worry about another association, another meeting," Etherton says. "Maybe it's seen as elitist, but I've been downtown 20 years, and I just don't need another arts group. I've been on them all before, the Partnership board, and others. My job now is to do the best shows I can do."
Like some other observers, Etherton is critical of the association's loose structure and unwritten rules, rules that nevertheless have been used to exclude certain galleries. Etherton disapproves of the group's practice of making judgments about a gallery's art, instead of looking at professional operation and years in business. The rules allow membership for brand-new galleries, such as Sixth Street's one-month-old Industry, which Dominguez says he is planning to sponsor, and exclude some longtime players on the scene.
Sharon Holnback, owner and director of Apparatus Gallery in the Lost Barrio District on South Park, was dismayed when she received a letter from Dominguez denying her request to join.
"I think this gallery coalition is a great thing," says Holnback, who has curated some 30 fine arts exhibitions over the last six years in her gallery, where she also shows one-of-a-kind craft pieces. "I can't make judgments because I was not involved in the process. But I hope there's some kind of democratic process and not just a few people deciding."
Holnback won't pursue the matter, however, because she recently decided to close her gallery permanently. In the wake of Sunday's storm, which flooded the gallery, she canceled a final show that had been scheduled to open September 15. The gallery won't re-open. A photographer herself, Holnback will pursue her own art and her already existing business, Apparatus Iron, which produces garden sculpture.
Dominguez says he's sorry that Holnback was upset about his decision, but he's unapologetic about his criteria for admission. "Think of it a as a club," he says. "We have our own meetings and our own rules. If somebody had a club and I wasn't invited, I wouldn't try to get in. ... We're not going to have an application process."
The group only invites members that show purely contemporary fine arts in a dedicated gallery space, he says. Also not invited were downtown's Access/TCC gallery and the Tucson/Pima Arts Council space, both of which are "offices with artwork," Dominguez maintains; restaurants, hotels and movie houses that show art were similarly nixed. Apparatus didn't make the cut because it showed crafts.
"I want this to be fine art," he says, "not fine art and craft. If I invited Sharon in, I open the door to all the arts-and-crafts galleries."
Tom Philabaum, whose gallery shows fine functional glassware--craft by any measure--along with fine art, says he would have had no problem with inviting Apparatus to join. He noted that Holnback exhibited such critically acclaimed artists as Eriks Rudans, who's also exhibited at both Etherton and Philabaum.
"The more the merrier," he says. "I don't know why it got to be so adamant."
Geoffrion, of GOCAIA, says the rift reflects a philosophical divide in the art world, which endlessly debates whether crafts should sit on the same rung of the hierarchy as "pure art" does.
"It's a debate that goes on across the country," says Geoffrion, a sculptor who is also a UA art prof. "It has been a debate for 20 years. Those who do one-of-a-kind ceramic sculpture don't feel it's craft. I can understand where Sharon is coming from."
But Geoffrion pleads for patience for the fledgling group.
"We mainly want to help coordinate events, work together on various projects as a team," she says. "The organization decided that instead of expanding rapidly, we would start small and see where it would go. It may be limited somewhat, but we're trying to get focus. ... Let's see the big picture."
Glass artist Michael Schunke will demonstrate Italian glass techniques from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Philabaum.
Invited for the evening, and noted on the map, is Pima Community College West Campus Art Gallery, 2202 W. Anklam Road.
Contemporary Art Tour members who will be open are the Tucson Museum of Art, 140 Main Ave., which will be open normal hours from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. with an entrance fee required, and will open for free from 5 to 7:30 p.m.; the Center for Creative Photography, at the UA on Olive Street near the Speedway underpass, open from noon to 5 p.m. and presenting a symposium on creativity in the arts from 2 to 5 p.m.; the University of Arizona Museum of Art, normally closed on Saturdays, but open this Saturday from noon to 5 p.m.; and Etherton, 135 S. Sixth Ave., holding a reception from 7 to 10 p.m.