Fall Arts Preview: Visual Arts and Dance

The upcoming season offers photography, dance, fine arts and, of course, politics

Politics are everywhere in this endless election season, and local artists and arts organizations—painters, dancers and actors—are doing their part, jumping in with timely works that offer pungent political commentary.

Painter Alfred Quiroz, a UA prof whose big canvases have long aimed sharp criticism at sugar-coated versions of U.S. history, opens a major show at the University of Arizona Museum of Art right in time for the election—and for the inauguration of the presidential winner. The Presidential Series: Paintings by Alfred J. Quiroz, on view from Oct. 22 to Jan. 22, takes aim at the follies of presidents past, in large-scale, cartoon-colored paintings that veer from comic to deadly serious. artmuseum.arizona.edu.

Two local editorial cartoonists—Rand Carlson of the Tucson Weekly and David Fitzsimmons of the Arizona Daily Star—wield their stinging pens in works at the Contreras Gallery. Political painter Gary Aagaard joins the pair in a show that runs in the fraught political weeks from Oct. 1 to 29. contrerashousefineart.com.

Even dance turns serious. Artifact Dance Project, the ambitious local contemporary troupe, has created a dance interpretation of Animal Farm, George Orwell’s ominous 1945 fable about the rise of totalitarianism. ADP stages the work to live music in the Great Hall of MOCA-Tucson, running Oct. 6 to 9. artifactdanceproject.org.

See Sherilyn Forrester’s description of Nogales, a new play at Borderlands that deals with the wrenching issues of the border, a hot topic in the election. The play examines the real-life death of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, a Mexican boy who died on his own turf, shot by a Border Patrol agent through the border wall.

But the arts, with their timeless beauty, also offer respite from the craziness of the campaign. There’s plenty going on in this packed art season, most of it not political. Herewith is an all-too-small sampling of Tucson’s many arts offerings. (For a complete schedule of all events artistic and otherwise, see our listings.)

The Tucson Botanical Gardens embraces nearly all the arts, not to mention plants, in its unusual Frida Kahlo: Art, Gardens, Life exhibition. Borrowed from the New York Botanical Garden and inspired by Kahlo’s famous Blue House and garden in Coyoacán, Mexico City, Frida will revel in flowers, photos, poetry, paper art, videos and even dance. The garden’s walls will be painted a Kahlo cobalt blue, and replicas of her own blue garden walls will be installed, along with a re-creation of the plant-filled Aztec pyramid that husband Diego Rivera built for her. Though none of Kahlo’s actual paintings will be on hand, her famous “Two Fridas” will be echoed in a paper art re-creation of the two dresses she wears in the painting. Etherton Gallery will fill Porter Hall with photo portraits of Kahlo by Nickolas Muray, and garden tours will focus on TBG’s Mexican plants. ZUZI Dance will perform its “Frida Kahlo: Blood and Gold” at the gala opening Oct. 9, and at various times during the eight-month run of the show, from Oct. 10 to May 31. tucsonbotanical.org.

Visual Art

Mexican themes coincidentally dominate in a number of galleries. The great photographer Alex Webb exhibits 30 years’ worth of his Mexican street images in La Calle at Etherton Gallery, Nov. 15 to Jan. 7. Webb gives a lecture at the Center for Creative Photography on Nov. 19, followed by an evening reception at the gallery. ethertongallery.com. Previously unseen images by the late Louis Carlos Bernal, a Pima College prof who created haunting images of Mexican-American life, will be unveiled in Arizona Unseen, Color Photographs 1978-1988 at the gallery named for him at Pima West, Oct. 24 to Dec. 9. Cristina Cárdenas, a Tucsonan whose lush figurative paintings are inspired by her native Mexico, has a one-woman show at Wee Gallery throughout the month of November. gallerywee.com.

For pure, abstract beauty, look no farther than Tim Mosman’s paintings in Fanaux at the Temple Gallery Sept. 16 to Dec. 31. Mosman’s gorgeously colored modernist works are paired with idyllic French landscapes by his life partner, Hank Tusinski, who had a drop-dead Día de los Muertos installation at Tucson Museum of Art last year. The Fanaux reception is Sept. 16. ethertongallery.com.

The seven galleries of the Central Tucson Gallery Association kick off their fall season Oct. 1, with the ever-popular Big Picture evening gallery walk. Among the attractions will be Undressed, nudes by six artists at Davis Dominguez. davisdominguez.com.

At the museums, MOCA undertakes a provocative environmental show from the Aranda/Lasch studio, The World Would Burn Without Rain, Oct. 29 to Jan. 29. Inspired by the Sonoran Desert, the exhibition revolves around fiber (“expressed as baskets”), mud (made into adobe bricks) and desert architecture modeled on crystals and minerals. moca-tucson.org.

Tucson Museum of Art this weekend kicks off From Modern into the Now: Masterworks form the Kasser Mochary Art Foundation, which include more than 50 pieces from the likes of Matisse, Picasso, Rodin, Rauschenberg and Warhol. The show runs Aug. 27 to July 23. tucsonmuseumofart.org.

At the Center for Creative Photography, now operating without a director, a still-life show of 60 photos drawn from the collections, Flowers, Fruit, Books, Bones, runs for most of the UA school year, Sept. 24 to April 29. creativephotography.org.

And speaking of photography, the eminent photog Joel-Peter Witkin comes to town Sept. 9 to deliver a lecture at the Center, in conjunction with his Etherton Gallery show ShadowLands. Running Sept. 6 to Nov. 12, ShadowLands also exhibits woodcuts by Alice Leora Briggs, a talented ex-Tucsonan known for her searing border images, and photos by Roger Ballen. Reception is at the gallery Sept. 10.


The biggest dance event of the season is the arrival of Twyla Tharp and company after a decade-long absence from Tucson. Now celebrating the 50th anniversary of her troupe, as well as her 75th birthday, Tharp brings 12 new dancers to perform new work in a Centennial Hall concert Oct. 9. Tharp pioneered the fusion of modern dance with ballet, steeped in popular cultures, and created legendary works such as “Push Comes to Shove.” Now the choreographer of some 160 dances, Tharp started her company in 1965, just two years after she graduated from Barnard College in New York. Her concert is not to be missed. www.uapresents.org. Tharp’s show is the same weekend as Artifact’s Animal Farm, but dance lovers can easily squeeze in both.

Tucson’s excellent professional ballet company, Ballet Tucson, follows up with a season opener Nov. 18 to 20 that celebrates Day of the Dead. (See? Mexican culture again. Tucsonans can’t get enough of it.) Calexico, Tucson’s own desert noir borderlands band, provides the (taped) music for “Spirit Garden,” choreographed by artistic director Mary Beth Cabana and assistant artistic director Chieko Imada. Lawrence W. Lee provides artwork. Also on the program: “Perseus and Andromeda,” a premiere by Daniel Precup, and Cabana and Imada’s “Red, White & Blue,” which keys into the elections with a patriotic Americana aesthetics. At the Temple of Music and Art. ballettucson.org.

Ballet Tucson stages its traditional Nutcracker at the Tucson Music Hall, just before Christmas, Dec. 22 to 24. Tucson’s other major production, A Southwest Nutcracker, by Tucson Regional Ballet, sets the old European tale in 1880s Tucson. Tucson Symphony Orchestra plays the Tchaikovsky score live, at Tucson Music Hall Dec. 10 and 11. tucsonregionalballet.org.

The student dancers at the UA School of Dance—original home of Artifact’s founders—stage three separate concerts in the fall semester, all in the school’s own Stevie Eller Dance Theatre. They dance nothing but jazz in JAZZ in AZ, Sept. 27 to 29. Premium Blend, from Nov. 2 to 6, has them dancing faculty works. Then in Student Spotlight, Dec. 1 to 4, they step out in dances created by aspiring student choreographers. 

In between dancing its Frida shows at the Tucson Botanical Garden (see above), ZUZI Dance will host two concerts in its own theater. Its popular No Frills Dance Happenin’, a showcase for choreographers both aspiring and professional, is set for Nov. 4 and 5. The annual Solstice Celebration, a dance alternative to the many Nutcrackers that ignite in Tucson at Christmastime, this year will light up the stage on Dec. 17, 18 and 20, Solstice night.
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