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Small Wonders 

A few pieces stand out amid art of modest size and skill.

With almost 4,000 square feet of exhibition space, the owners of Davis Dominguez Gallery can put on pretty big shows, but under normal circumstances, even they would have to stack paintings above each over to fit works by more than 60 artists into their renovated warehouse. The gallery's 10th annual All-Tucson Small Works Invitational is normal--normal for Davis Dominguez--but its 60-plus works actually fit in the gallery's two, small exhibition spaces.

The reason? Every summer for the last decade, Candace Davis and Mike Dominguez have been inviting local artists to exhibit "small" works in the gallery. By "small," they mean two-dimensional works that are no larger than one-foot square and three-dimensional works that are no higher than 18 inches, approximately.

The resulting Small Works Invitational exhibition is not warehouse scale, but salon scale, and it leaves Davis Dominguez's central exhibition space open for large paintings by artists the gallery represents. The Small Works exhibition is an invitational, so Davis Dominguez's artists are well represented in it, too, comprising just over a third of the artists included. The exhibition also features works by artists who have no gallery representation as well as artists who are represented by other galleries in Tucson and Scottsdale, including Etherton Gallery, Vanier Galleries, Riva Yares Gallery, Mo's Gallery, Wilde Meyer Gallery and Rosequist Gallery.

Initially, the Dinnerware Contemporary Art Gallery and Davis Dominguez planned to do a joint Small Works Invitational, but the scheduling didn't work out. Instead, Dinnerware is doing its own Small Works Invitational Exhibition, which opens with a reception on Saturday from 7 to 9 p.m. and continues through July 19. Although GOCAIA (Gallery of Contemporary and Indigenous Art) was not part of the original cooperative plans, they decided to get in on the act, and their Small Works Invitational exhibition is now up and continues through June 28.

The Davis Dominguez exhibition, which features a single work by each artist, is heavily stocked with traditional landscapes, many done in the traditional media of watercolor, oil on canvas and pastel on paper. What is surprising for a gallery of Davis Dominguez's caliber is how badly painted and poorly executed some of the landscapes are. Others, like Judith D'Agostino's pastel-on-board "Prairie Desert" and James Cook's oil-on-canvas "Aqua Caliente," are well executed, although completely different in their approach. Hers is a nice, delicate desert vista with puffy clouds. His is a miniature of his monumental paintings with paint and color spread so thickly that it seems color rather than form creates the scene.

The large number and the selection of landscapes in the exhibition are a reminder of how repetitive the contemporary, traditional landscape can be. The exhibition overall is full of safe, comfortable work. Even Andrew Polk and Alfred Quiroz, two of the few artists Davis Dominguez represents whose work is often confrontational, exhibit work that is rather sedate by their standards.

The two works with some tension are by Andrew Rush and Alice Leora Briggs. Rush's intaglio print "Idyll VII: Observers" is a line drawing of a bacchanalian orgy. It's hard to tell just who's having sex with whom, but the scene is complete with contemporary peeping Toms and a woman shedding her knee-high, laced boots.

Briggs' "The Experiment" is a disconcerting image about animal testing. The finely rendered scene scratched on black clayboard shows a man about to do something gruesome to a cat that is tied and splayed beneath some kind of press. The woman who is watching is holding and stroking a purring cat. Whether or not the second cat is fated for the next "experiment," it is clear that the experimenters see no contradiction in tormenting even an animal that could be a pet. We now think of animal testing as part of a great corporate enterprise, but in scaling the scene down to two individuals, Briggs makes their indifference even more disturbing.

GOCAIA is a nonprofit organization with a small gallery on Congress Street, while Davis Dominguez is a large commercial gallery in the Warehouse District. Not surprisingly, their Small Works exhibitions are quite different. Unlike Davis Dominguez's exhibition, GOCAIA features multiple works by 28 artists. The exhibition is eclectic, but it reflects the gallery's orientation toward indigenous and ethnic art. The contemporary artists draw on the traditions of South American textiles, Islamic art and Asian art. Although the GOCAIA exhibition does not feature traditional landscapes, its art is not cutting edge, either. The exhibition has some badly executed pieces as well as some immature art.

In her untitled collagraph, Monika Dalkin collages patterned fans on a delicately printed, black-lace kimono. She adds knots of red cotton thread for added patterning. The piece owes a great debt to feminist artists such as Miriam Shapiro, who used images of women's clothing, fabric and patterning to explore women's traditions, but Dalkin handles her image's mixed media with a gentle hand.

Tom Miller's inflated sculptures are the exhibition's most interesting pieces. Made of seamed, black rubber, "Small House" bulges with air and sits on a platform covered with Astroturf. Images of a blue house, complete with door and windows, are printed on three sides of the house and its peaked roof. The irony of the piece, which includes a valve stem, is the idea that the American Dream of owning a home in the suburbs and living happily ever after can be deflated as easily as it was inflated--perhaps more easily.

Seven of the artworks in GOCAIA's Small Works exhibition are stuck in the storage and administrative room in the back, which is inexcusable. Not only are artworks hanging over the trashcan, but some viewers will not even know the work is back there. There is no sign posted to indicate that the exhibition continues into the next room. With titles posted on the wall beside the artworks in the gallery, many viewers will not pick up the exhibition list that indicates there are pieces in back.

GOCAIA has had a hard time financially in the last year. Among other things, they had to give up their second gallery space. Even so, sticking artwork in the back room is not a good solution for limited wall space. In an exhibition with multiple works by each artist, either cutting some of the pieces from the exhibition or stacking the two-dimensional works salon style would have been a better option.

More by Pamela Portwood

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