The Warehouse Wilds

The galleries in Tucson's warehouse district team up for an art safari.

Sunset magazine has gazed upon Tucson's Warehouse District and found it wanting. In a story on Tucson's art scene in the February issue, Sunset called the city's most happening art district "a lousy neighborhood for art."

Never mind that writer Lawrence Cheek softened the blow by adding that "in Tucson, location hardly ever matters: Art is everywhere." The Central Tucson Gallery Association is out to prove to the public that, au contraire, their neighborhood is about as good as it gets for art.

This Saturday night, the group is sponsoring the 2004 Art Safari, inviting "art hunters" to simultaneous openings in six member galleries. (A seventh gallery, Santa Theresa Tileworks, is not a member but will also open its doors.) With the exception of 3Falk Gallery downtown, the association members are all on Fourth Avenue or in the Warehouse District, whose looming industrial spaces once served the freight trains that ran the rails nearby.

Davis Dominguez is the district's art pioneer, having moved from a Foothills location to a former car dealership building. (And, yes, it's across the street from a still-operating wheel-alignment shop, as Sunset haughtily points out).

Scott Baker, owner of Metroform Ltd., likes the Warehouse District much better than his former location on Stone Avenue downtown.

"This is a better location all around for this kind of thing," Baker said last week, noting that he moved his 3-year-old photography gallery to Sixth Street last August. Lots of people wandered into his place downtown--jurors on lunch break, for instance--but they rarely bought his fine-art photos. "It was not selling. Here, it's nice to be next door to Mike (Dominguez, of Davis Dominguez.) He sends lots of people my way."

Proximity to other galleries is all-important to art dealers. Metroform, Davis Dominguez and Raices Taller 222 Gallery are all near each other on Sixth Street. Santa Theresa is around the corner on Sixth Avenue. And Dinnerware, long a downtown stalwart, last year took a storefront right next to the Drawing Studio on Fourth Avenue. During regular hours, customers can easily walk from one gallery to the other, and the galleries can join forces for special occasions.

"We do three events a year now," Dominguez said. "The first Saturday in February, we do Art Safari. The first Saturday in June, we have the Summer Art Cruise. And the first Saturday in November, we have The Big Picture, the kick-off for the fall."

Hunters at Saturday's Art Safari will have plenty of art game to target. Gonzalo Espinosa, a well-known public artist in town, is celebrating 30 years in art with his one-person show at Raices Taller. (Espinosa has a concurrent solo show at Galeria La Sirena, 2905 E. Broadway Blvd.) Monotipias Monopteros Monicas, at Raices Taller, is a veritable herd of brightly painted installations, sculptures and monoprints, most of them drawing on Latino archetypes. "Paper Dolls (Muñecas de Papel)," a mixed media on paper, features three painted figures in conquistador clothing. A sculpture of wood chips, painted royal blue and black, "Miracles in Blue (Milagros en Azul)," is encrusted with silvery Milagros--a hand, a heart, a foot--like those the Mexican faithful use to pray for favors from God. And a choir of angelic plaster figures--without heads, but with wings--clusters on a great green painted disc in "Of Perfect Skin (De Piel Perfecta)."

Metroform has some 20 photographers on its roster, many from Tucson, but Baker's current show highlights talented out-of-towners. Photog Jennifer Shaw is exhibiting handsome black-and-white portraits of New Orleans, her adopted hometown. "Felicity Street With Rain 2002" is a dreamy update on the classic theme of trees reflected in water; "Loading Dock 2002" is a mesmerizing study in perspective, re-working the standard shot of buildings and telephone poles receding into the vanishing point. This one pictures old New Orleans warehouses, coincidentally not unlike the one housing her art in Tucson. Ion Zupcu, a Romanian immigrant resident in New York City, makes breathtaking black-and-white still lifes in his apartment. His photographs are like old master paintings rendered in gelatin silver--an egg posed on a doll's gilded throne, a set of old-fashioned keys standing upright against a rough wood plank.

Davis Dominguez is closing a show of crayon-bright Southwestern landscapes by Duncan Martin, a transplanted easterner who's painted Pima Canyon, Pontatoc, Cochise and other local delights, and big sculptures by Katja Fritzsche. Fritzsche has literally made prey for the evening's hunters. Her Beasts in Bronze are giant heads of deer, their skulls abstracted into simple planes, cast in metals and subtly painted in oils.

Santa Theresa Tileworks displays colored ceramics by Susan Gamble and others; the Drawing Studio is offering up a group show of monoprints; and Dinnerware has mounted a juried exhibition, Young Sculptors and Installation Artists. Dinnerware's Mauricio Toussaint and Lucinda Young complicate matters by exhibiting their work at 3Falk Gallery, in the two-person Remembering Our Stories.