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Best Art Gallery

Etherton Gallery
135 S. Sixth Ave.

READERS' PICK: Etherton has now become downtown's Old Faithful, a reliable purveyor of contemporary art that doesn't take expert detection to sniff out. Its loyal art followers can't forget the huge, haunted birds that Kate Breakey showed at the gallery last winter. Her gigantic painted photographs of avian corpses were as powerful emotionally as they were startling visually. Her mementi mori of mere sparrows had the majesty of dead royals.

Etherton also scored with paintings by local favorites Nancy Tokar Miller and Gail Marcus-Orlen, and austere black-and-white photos by Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide. The gallery has long balanced contemporary art with vintage photography, and proprietor Terry Etherton followed his heart in putting together the season-closing show of historic photos. An instructive survey of historic photographs of Arizona Native Americans, the show, Arizona Tribes, is worthy of permanent installation someplace in this dusty burg.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: De Grazia Gallery in the Sun, 6300 N. Swan Road, has been a favorite local landmark since the artist designed and supervised its construction in the 1960s. The rustic adobe buildings are a perfect backdrop for the display of the late Ted DeGrazia's paintings, sculpture and sketches. In addition to the main building, there's a smaller gallery which houses changing collections of paintings and photography by featured local artists. There is also a small chapel which is a popular site for semi-formal weddings. Splintery but sturdy picnic tables are available too, should you choose to bring your own rustic Southwestern food fare. There's no charge for admission, the atmosphere is quiet and informal, and you can pick up some of the coveted DeGrazia refrigerator magnets in the gift shop.

CLUE IN: Davis Dominguez Gallery, the longtime foothills gallery which specializes in showing contemporary Tucson artists, deserves a nod this year for its impending move downtown (soon to open at 154 E. Sixth St.; formerly of 6812 N. Oracle Road). Co-owners Candace Davis and Mike Dominguez are taking a risk relocating to the funky Warehouse District north of the railroad tracks. They'll doubtless lose some of their more squeamish foothills customers; but as Dickens might have said, moving downtown is a far, far better thing they do for the city. The move will be a test case of the much-ballyhooed principle that art can help revitalize a derelict downtown. Davis Dominguez's renovation of the old Tucson Warehouse and Transfer building, near Seventh Avenue, will help spruce up an entire city block. It should also help increase the customers for Etherton, Philabaum, Dinnerware, et al. Plus, gallery-goers will no longer have to negotiate the ungodly traffic on North Oracle Road.

On the art front this past year, Davis Dominguez put together a charming show of three Tucson long-standing art amigos: Joy Fox, Bruce McGrew and James Davis; the trio had never shown together before. The always-entertaining Small Works Invitational featured tiny works by dozens of Tucson artists. We can't wait to see how the sweeping new spaces in the new place change the ways the gallery mounts its shows.

CLUE IN: The plucky, small alternatives in town lost one of their more robust members this summer. Bero Gallery, 41 S. Sixth Ave., a high-minded, cutting-edge photography space, closed its doors in August after four years, a victim of changing personnel, high rents and the poor market for difficult art. Committed to showing the work of local photographers, Bero gave an outing to everything from photography made by a pinhole trash-can camera, to handmade photographic books, and landscape pictures snipped and re-sorted kaleidoscope style. Bero will be much mourned, and much missed. Raw Gallery next door continues to carry on the mission of showing challenging new works, mostly by locals. And Elizabeth Cherry Contemporary Art, almost hidden on industrial Grant Road, astonishes with its lineup of cutting-edge European artists.

Case History

1997 Winner: Etherton Gallery
1996 Winner: Etherton Gallery
1995 Winner: Tie: Tucson Museum of Art + Etherton Gallery

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