Space Adventure

The Big New Davis Dominguez Gallery Opens Downtown.

By Margaret Regan

MIKE DOMINGUEZ, CO-OWNER of Davis Dominguez Gallery, had a pronouncement to make.

"I'm standing in my gallery and I'm in love with it," he declared, waving his arms to take it all in. "I've been having beautiful dreams about this space." Its curving wood ceiling, he said, "is like the bottom of a Viking ship. "

Review The soaring space in question, all vaulted industrial ceiling and concrete floors, is in the heart of the warehouse district. At Sixth and Ferro (from ferrocarril, for railroad), it's north of the downtown tracks, west of the Velvet Tearoom and catty-corner from Orts Theatre of Dance, at the distant opposite end of the Tucson Warehouse and Storage complex. As of this weekend, Davis Dominguez Gallery, late of North Oracle Road, takes its place in the Tucson Arts District.

"Isn't it wonderful?" exclaimed Candice Davis, Dominguez's wife and co-proprietor of the contemporary art gallery. She didn't stop for an answer. Uncharacteristically dressed down in jeans and shirt sleeves, the couple scurried around last week, consulting with artist Judith Stewart about installation, worrying with a contractor about the floor re-do, nimbly sidestepping the track lights and ladders cluttering up the floor.

By Saturday, when crowds doing the annual Artists' Studio Tour sponsored by the Tucson Arts District Partnership mill into the old place, the peeling facade will have been painted--beige, off-white and blue--the carpet laid, the concrete floor polished, its cracks filled in. Even better, paintings by DeAnn Melton and Joanne Kerrihard will be positioned on the long walls and Stewart's metal sculptures will rise up on pedestals all over the floor.

It's probably the first time art's ever gotten top billing in this particular corner of Tucson. At the turn of the century, a tangle of horse corrals and the adobe houses of Mexican-American railroad workers occupied the land. By the 1930s, the adobes had given way to a dramatic automobile showroom gleaming with Packards. In succeeding decades, the auto district at Sixth and Sixth moved eastward, and the building's gaping spaces were partitioned into offices for Mayflower Movers (a painted Mayflower is still faintly visible on the tower above Benjamin Plumbing Supply next door). Around 1990, it was briefly the venue for unannounced raves and then slid into storage for Benjamin's.

Last week, things were looking up, literally. With the office partitions and their false ceilings just a memory, the sweeping height of the room was now visible. The bow truss ceiling, a dramatic curved vault of white fur, had been power washed and its skylights given diffusers. The new sheetrock walls were painted art-gallery white. The industrial aesthetic, said Dominguez, matches the gallery's ambitions.

"It suggests classic Modern with a capital M: strong, energetic, lightweight," he said. "It's a modern space of the 20th century. That's how I think of the gallery. "

Downtown watchers are hoping the marriage of upscale gallery with high-cool warehouse will give the city's center a boost it desperately needs.

"It's a bright light in what looks like a declining retail environment," said Sarah Clements, executive director of the Partnership. "Retail downtown ebbs and flows and it's ebbing at the moment. To have a gallery at that level having the vision to take that kind of risk: maybe others will follow suit in the downtown core."

Inspired by the artists who've carved out studios in the cluster of abandoned warehouses north of the tracks, the Partnership has been promoting arts re-uses for the old buildings for several years, particularly through its arts space loans funded by the city. The Partnership lent $28,000 to building owner Mark Berman, proprietor of Benjamin Plumbing Supply, as seed money for the $124,000 gallery rehab.

"The loans leverage a ton of private capital investment, creating a lot of renewed use," Clements said.

The loan ended up covering only a small portion of the gallery renovation, Berman said, but the prospect of getting it "started me thinking about remodeling in the first place." Now he intends to move his plumbing fixture showroom from Broadway on up to the warehouse building, next door to the gallery. Clements calls the juxtaposition of high-end bathtubs with Bruce McGrews a "wonderfully wacky combo," and Berman is gambling that art will help his business.

"I hope it will bring shoppers downtown," he said. "I'm really excited. The space turned out spectacular."

Dominguez marvels over the jazzy custom bathroom Berman put into the gallery to showcase his wares, but he's downright giddy about all the space now at his command. Liberated from what now seems a minuscule showroom in an office park on Oracle, the new gallery is an expansive 5,446 square feet. Twenty percent is dedicated to an office and to the framing studio that helps the owners offset the financial risks of the art trade. But the rest--about 4,350 square feet--will be given over entirely to exhibition space.

I'll show more big canvases," Dominguez said. Melton, for instance, a painter of large, loose oils, could show only smaller pieces at the old gallery. For Allegories, the opening show in the new space, her big paintings will have all the breathing room they need.

Chuck Sternberg, resident architectural designer at Rancho Linda Vista, designed the three-part division of space into the main gallery, an alcove and the "salon." While the main room and alcove will house changing exhibitions, the partially walled salon will be devoted to a changing "gallery mix." Clients will be able "to wander in and see the whole menu," Dominguez said. "Let's say I do a minimalist show. In the old place, people who didn't like minimalism would walk out in three minutes." In the salon, they'll always be able to see a sample of work by every artist the gallery carries. As Dominguez put it, "There will always be a Bruce McGrew, a Jim Cook, a Jim Davis."

And the big space has changed the gallery's ambitions. The gallery will continue to show local emerging artists in its summertime Small Works Invitational and in its New Artists Series, but Dominguez intends to stalk bigger quarry.

"Some of the energy we've expended on up-and-coming artists, now we'll spend more time on well-known artists. If somebody new knocks my eyes out--there's the New Artist Series. But the hunting process will be geared more toward the big names."

The central location will put the gallery more frequently in the path of art critics, Dominguez hopes, as well as of students and art lovers heading between the university and the downtown. And he shows signs of being an energetic player among his new neighbors. He's already organized a new marketing group of the city's major museums, the University of Arizona Museum of Art, the Center for Creative Photography and the Tucson Museum of Art, and three private downtown galleries, Etherton Gallery, Philabaum Contemporary Art Glass and Davis Dominguez. The six intend to publish a brochure and map called Contemporary Art Tour and Lunch Guide, guiding out-of-town visitors and skittish foothills dwellers alike to arts spaces and eateries from the UA through the downtown.

And Dominguez, having worked the gallery trade in the foothills for 19 years, knows exactly how to reassure suburbanites descending into the wilds of downtown.

"The map will show plenty of green zones for parking," he said.

Davis Dominguez Gallery, 154 E. Sixth Street, stages its grand opening from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, November 7, during the Arts District Partnership Open Studios Tour. For more information call the gallery at 629-9759. More than 100 downtown studios will be open throughout the day. Tour maps were included in the October 29 issue of the Tucson Weekly. They will also be available at studio stops, including Davis Dominguez Gallery; the Steinfeld Warehouse, 101 W. Sixth St.; Toole Shed Studios, 197 E. Toole; and the Labor Temple, 267 S. Stone Ave. TW

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