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Tucson Weekly Group Think

Who Got Into What At Various Invitational Art Exhibitions.

By Margaret Regan

July 8, 1997:  EVERY YEAR ABOUT this time, group shows spring up around town with the same reliability that parched Tucsonans scan the blue, blue skies for rain. Maybe it's because it's too darn hot to devote much time to dreaming up a theme and curating a show around it, or maybe it's because group shows make for a reasonable end-of-season windup.

Right now, Davis-Dominguez Gallery has on view its annual summer invitational of small works by Tucson artists, a collection of some 40 paintings and sculptures whose dimensions were supposed to measure one foot by one foot. (Alfred Quiróz wittily complied with the rule by constructing one foot of the human variety, a cartoon-bright painted wood foot sculpture in his continuing Aztec television series.) And though this year's show, Tucson Collection '97, as always gives a good sampling of the types of art being done around town, particularly in painting, this time around it can also be read for different meanings.

That's because the Arizona Biennial '97 at the Tucson Museum of Art (reviewed in the June 26 issue of The Weekly) as usual has occasioned controversy and plain old hurt feelings among local artists whose works didn't get in. Bero and Raw, two small galleries downtown, decided to showcase some of these refused pieces, not to criticize the Biennial, according to Bero's Beth Wachtel, but to celebrate the talent of the rejected artists. (Naturally, participation in the Bero/Raw show was entirely voluntary.) Thus, the joint show, featuring some 30 works by 24 artists, is called, Salon de Célébration.

So the politically astute local art lover can look at all three group shows and try to figure out why who got into what. A number of the artists at Davis Dominguez--including painters Quiróz, Timothy Murphy, DeAnn Melton, Herb Gilbert and pastel/charcoal artist Charlotte Bender--won a place in the Biennial; others did not. Davis Dominguez gave the nod to photographer Ann Simmons-Myers and painters Rudy Nadler, Paul Waid and John Louder, but the Biennial jurors withheld it. The refused works of these four artists are at Bero/Raw. The comparison is instructive.

Nadler, a serious abstract painter, displays a small gem at Davis Dominguez. An untitled oil on wood, it's a luminous work in red and black organized around the diamond, Nadler's trademark shape. The glossy paint is applied in many flat layers, so you get a contradictory impression of depth. But though the same principle is at work in his large oil on linen, "Corona," at Bero, that painting is not as successful. Mostly black on black, its central diamond is traced in faint gold and barely visible. As a practical matter, it's not the kind of painting that would stand out in the slides the Biennial jurors had to inspect. And as an aesthetic matter, though black paintings have a respectable place in modern art history, to my eye they simply don't make much visual impact.

Also at Davis Dominguez, Louder displays a beautiful postcard-size landscape dated February 11, part of his '97 Calendar Series, which requires of the artist a painting a day for a year, according to gallery co-owner Mike Dominguez. It's an acrylic and watercolor semi-abstraction of mountains and sky, loosely wrought in purples, blues and golds. But the work Louder submitted to the Biennial is a large oil on canvas from an inexplicable series I'm tempted to name "Jaguar Revisits Art History But Why?" This one is a tenuous revamping of Duchamp's cubist "Nude Descending a Staircase," transformed into Aztec realist, with a masked nude woman riding a jaguar down the steps of some Central American ruin. Louder had a big solo show of his art-historical jaguar works a few years back at the now-defunct Local 803 Gallery; then as now I'm at a loss to understand why he does them. Evidently the Biennial jurors felt the same way.

Not that the Biennial jurors are always unassailable. Simmons-Myers' toned gelatin silver prints at Raw are part of her moving, mysterious Shroud series, which pictures women bound up in cloth in various natural settings. "Shrouded: Snake" and "Shrouded: Granite" are both disturbing, strong images that evoke ideas of violence, coercion and death. Simmons-Myers usually does get into the Biennial; the problem this year may have been that she had some image competition in the form of Tucson photographer Scott Baglione. His similar-but-different photos of wrapped women were accepted.

Frances Murray, another photographer at Bero, is a formidable talent whose sleek, haunting figure works shown at Dinnerware a few years ago still linger in memory. Her still life pieces here, "Bogonia" and "Crimson Urn," are fine as far as they go, but they're just not as strong as the earlier works. Elaine Querry, another photographer whose work I admire, submitted relatively weak works. Likewise, David Andres has often exhibited gorgeous monoprints that play on the intricate forms of sealife, but his Biennial entry at Bero, "Mexican Dancer," simply doesn't have the elegance of his other work.

Regrettably, a lot of the work in the Célébration show is of poor quality: pedestrian weaving, an ugly bronze, tepid painting, tedious assemblage. On the positive side, painter Paul Waid's ambitious, thickly painted works at both Raw and Davis show promise, and so do a pair of paintings at Bero by Joe Forkan, an artist who also draws a comic strip for The Weekly and other papers.

Other painters to keep an eye on, among the Biennial artists who are also at Davis Dominguez, are Herb Gilbert, an older abstract painter from Bisbee who's trying out a new technique of painting on wrinkled paper bags, with wonderfully textured results; and Timothy Murphy, a relative newcomer who paints with confident sureness, though to my mind the work "Along the Belvedere" at the museum out-shines "The Blue Window" at the gallery.

The Davis Dominguez show also brings out some Tucson favorites who apparently are uninvolved in the Biennial contretemps. Regulars Bruce McGrew and Joy Fox team up for a McGrew painting of Adam and Eve inside an elaborate ceramic frame by Fox. Will Saunders contributes a savage pen-and-ink drawing; James Cook a wildly brushed landscape. The always dependable Nancy Tokar Miller has painted a beautiful little acrylic on paper, "Klong House Study," a semi-architectural abstraction that is characteristically deft, simple and masterful.

Tucson Collection '97 continues through August 2 at Davis Dominguez Gallery, 6812 N. Oracle Road. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. For information call 297-1427.

Salon de Célébration continues through July 19 at Bero Gallery, 41 S. Sixth Ave., and at Raw Gallery, 43 S. Sixth Ave. Summer hours at both galleries are 5 to 7 p.m. each Thursday during Art Walk; 7 to 10 p.m. on Downtown Saturday Nights, the first and third Saturdays of the month, and by appointment. Bero can be reached at 792-0313; Raw is at 882-6927.

Arizona Biennial '97 continues through August 17 at the Tucson Museum of Art, 140 N. Main Ave. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. For more information call 624-2333.

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