Hot in the City

This summer's provocative art exhibitions are guaranteed to make you hot under the collar.

Two years ago, the Tucson Museum of Art staged an Arizona Biennial that forever changed that show's stodgy old image. Curated by Louis Grachos of SITE Santa Fe, the show's contemporary art--all soft sculptures and doll chairs and videos--not only shocked Tucsonans out of their sleepy summer torpor. It challenged the very notion of what art is.

This year's Biennial '01 "might stir up even more controversy," says Julie Sasse, the TMA's first curator of contemporary art, on the job since last summer. For her first Biennial, the every-other-year showcase of Arizona artists, Sasse picked an outside curator at least as outré as Grachos: Kathryn Kanjo. Now head of the alternative Artpace in San Antonio, Kanjo also served as curator of contemporary art at the Portland Art Museum and she worked with Grachos when the two were at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego.

"She has a lot of experience in contemporary art," Sasse says, "especially cutting-edge work in the West. I had visited Artpace and thought she'd be really good for our state."

At Artpace, Sasse says, she saw video installations, giant mazes and "grapefruits hollowed out and painted and taped." But the place also showed a painter whose works resembled "sensitive Pakistani miniatures."

Opening to the public June 9 and running through August 5, Arizona Biennial '01 will show only 48 works by some 33 artists, down from the usual 70 artists in past Biennials. Kanjo had the formidable task of selecting these pieces from almost 1,400 submitted. "It's not like what we used to do, a major survey of all the styles in the state, but it will be a more cohesive show," Sasse believes. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $5 general, $4 for seniors, $3 for students, free to kids 12 and under, free for all on Sundays. For info call 624-2333.

THE TUCSON MUSEUM OF ART won't be the only art space benefiting from some out-of-state attention. Tucson's hot summer is traditionally a time for group shows, and this year the town will have everything from a national show at Dinnerware, juried by the famous Fritz Scholder, to a Center for Creative Photography show of works by 12 leading photographers commissioned to document life in 12 American communities. In fact, photography is a theme that runs through the summer shows the way monsoon rains course through Tucson's dry riverbeds.

Here's a rundown of Tucson's not-so-sleepy summer art season:

· Painter Fritz Scholder kicks off the Dinnerware Ninth Biennial National Juried Exhibition with a talk at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 26 at the gallery, 135 E. Congress St. Dinnerware executive director Barbara Jo McLaughlin says she understands that the loquacious Scholder will talk "about every single one of the 59 pieces in the show."

Previous Dinnerware Biennials sought works only from nine western states, but McLaughlin, in the job since last summer, decided to solicit work from clear across the United States.

"It gives us a broader range of what's being done all over the country," she says. "I'm excited to get work from New York, from Georgia, from Florida."

With a juror of Scholder's stature, the call for entries yielded about 400 works. A majority of Scholder's picks are photographs. "He thought a lot of what could be done in painting has been done," McLaughling says, "and that photography allows for more experimentation."

Dinnerware's Ninth Biennial National Juried Exhibition continues through Saturday, June 16. ARTlab 16, an alternative group from Phoenix, takes over the gallery June 19 through July 14, offering up visual and performing art. The Drawing Studio of Tucson stages an exhibition on the figure July 17 through August 18. Gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 7 to 9 p.m. Downtown Saturday Nights. For info call 792-4503.

· The Center for Creative Photography, which the Weekly approvingly named coldest gallery in Tucson some years ago, remains a great place to go on hot summer days. Right now it's showing Ex Libris: Ralph Gibson, a one-person exhibition of photographs tracing the history of books and written language. He's traveled around the world to photograph historical landmarks in the evolution of the written word, including the Rosetta Stone, Roman stone carvings and a wedding contract written in cuneiform. Gibson's show wraps up July 8, but there's one remaining talk on the agenda. At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 6, Special Collections Librarian Shaw Kinsley will speak on "Write Then and Now: Insights into the Book Arts in Ralph Gibson's Photography."

Then, not too long after Independence Day, the center will kick off a major documentary project show, Indivisible: Stories of American Community. On Saturday morning, July 14, the whole town is invited to a breakfast open house for the show, from 8 to 11 a.m. The national project, co-curated by the center's own Trudy Wilner Stack, dispatched 12 distinguished photographers, from Danny Lyon to Debbie Fleming Caffery, to 12 wildly divergent American communities. There they chronicled the small-scale efforts of ordinary people to better their lives. Lucy Capehart, for instance, documented a project to reintroduce Churro sheepherding on Navajo lands. The photographs, and accompanying interviews conducted by oral historians and radio producers, add up to a provocative portrait of "the nature of a living democracy," Wilner Stack says.

At the exhibition, as viewers look at the almost 200 original photographs, audio handsets will bring them the recorded words of the people in the pictures. Postcard versions of the photos will be exhibited in the community, including at the Tucson Mall July 22 through 28, and at the Tucson International Airport August 6 through September 28. A full range of public programs will include gallery talks by Tom Volgy, UA prof and former Tucson mayor, at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 17, and by Alta and Sharon Begay, who led the Navajo project, at 2 p.m. Sunday, August 5. Many of the photographers will participate in a two-day round of artists' talks on September 21 and 22.

Indivisible: Stories of American Community opens July 14 and runs through September 30 at the Center for Creative Photography, departing from there for a great American tour to museums all over the continent. Center hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. It's closed Memorial Day and Independence Day. For more information call 621-7968.

· Latent Discoveries, at Joseph Gross Gallery, right across from the Center for Creative Photography at 1031 N. Olive Road in the UA Fine Arts Complex, also focuses on nationwide photography, student division. Its summer offering, continuing through August 9, is a gathering of photographs by students in six MFA programs around the country. More than 20 shutterbugs studying at the UA, the California College of Arts & Crafts, Rhode Island School of Design, University of New Mexico, Arizona State, Boston Museum School and Cranbrook show pictures that investigate "how we are shaped by our surroundings." Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Phone is 626-4215.

· Flashflood, Tucson's own collective of emerging young photographers, many of them UA grad students, is strutting its stuff over at the T/PAC Gallery, 240 N. Stone Ave., through Friday, June 15. Flashflood first burst onto the scene in a wild show at MOCA January a year ago; the new show bears witness to their progress in the last year. Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Phone is 624-0595. One of the group's founders, Rosanna Salonia, double-dips by exhibiting her own work in a solo show, too, at the Hotel Congress Gallery run by Elizabeth Cherry Contemporary Art. Salonia's show is free and open 24 hours a day through Friday, June 15 at the hotel, 311 E. Congress St. Info is 903-0577. At Cherry's own space at 437 E. Grant Road, edgy-eros photographer Valerie Galloway, formerly of Tucson, now of New York, shows her work June 2 through July 21. Phone is 903-0577.

· Davis Dominguez Gallery, following its own summer tradition, stages its Ninth Annual All-Tucson Small Works Invitational. Opening Wednesday, May 30 and running through July 28, the show invites a gaggle of locals to micro-size their art, usually with engaging results. The official opening will be during the Central Tucson Gallery Association Art Cruise, from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, June 16 at the gallery, 154 E. Sixth St.

· The fledgling Museum of Contemporary Art is also offering a group show, of artists from around the country, working in a variety of media. Curated by Meg Hagyard, the MOCA president, the exhibition, Broad, continues through Saturday, July 14, showing the works of six artists, including Meg DeArmond of Tucson. MOCA's Hazmat Gallery is at 191 E. Toole Ave. Gallery hours are 2 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. The phone is 624-5019.

· Raices Taller 222 Gallery offers an international variation on the group theme by gathering together works not only by its own members, but also by artists from Ciudad Obregon in Sonora. International Encounter of the Arts continues through June 2 at the gallery, 222 E. Sixth St. Hours are 5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; the number is 881-5335.

· Obsidian Gallery, 4340 N. Campbell Ave., pulls off an arty look at the natural world, with Flora opening June 9, and Fauna opening July 28 at the gallery's annual summer party, from 5 to 9 p.m. About 35 artists will participate in each of the invitational exhibitions. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays; phone is 577-3598.

· If you want to play body games, try going into Tucson's hottest gallery on the hottest of summer days. Philabaum Glass Gallery, heating up by the adjoining kilns, is exhibiting New Faces, a show of upcoming artists in the difficult art of glass. Six new faces present handblown glass, etched glass and glass sculptures through Saturday, August 26 at Philabaum, 711 S. Sixth Ave. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; call 884-7404.