This weekend I attended the Central Tucson Gallery Association‘s fall opener, The Big Picture. Unfortunately, we ate dinner a little later than intended so we didn’t actually get down to the warehouse district till about 7, so we only had an hour to look around. Unlike Austin, whose warehouse district consists of, let’s see – Halcyon – which still actually resembles a warehouse, and even less so after their awful remodel which cramped their space to like, 1/8th of its original size, Tucson truly has a surprising number of old school (by Western U.S. standards) brick buildings built in the 20’s-50’s nestled right up against the train tracks. And we’re not just talking a single track, but lanes of tracks crossing the east downtown area. It’s evident that shipping and other heavy industries were once big here.

Today, much of this industrial-chic area lies fallow due to years of squabbling between developers, artists and the city, similar to what was going on in Dallas’ Deep Ellum district about 10-15 years ago and beyond, and even that is still an undertaking in progress. What is happening in Tucson is a group of galleries and artists’ studios at/near the intersection of 6th St. and 6th Ave. that appear to be fairly established, so perhaps they do have some pull in terms of what goes on in terms of making it a hip urban center, instead of getting squashed by pricey franchise boutiques/restaurants in the sheep’s clothing of pretending to look like local businesses. I won’t even mention the L word (hint: rhymes with “soft”).

contreras gallery

As I said, we got there with one hour to look around about 10 galleries and twice as many artists’ studios (not advertised anywhere on CTGA’s website or in the local alternative weekly), since most places were open from 6-8pm, a couple stayed open till 9, and I think one space until 10pm. This was definitely a culture shock to me since it’s usually safe to assume that spaces – at least on the Eastside – are still going strong for a good hour after the opening officially ends. Here, I saw one gallery shut its lights off at 5 minutes till 8 and turn people out. That’s not to say I’ve never ran openings where people overstayed their welcome. At Pump Project we’d have our intern start sweeping floors around 11:30 (after the opening officially ended at 10 o’clock) and that worked like magic. It just seems a bit unfair to viewers in general, that you have to be perfectly on time just to look at and enjoy everything. Of course, much of the crowd was a generation older than me, so maybe they have early bedtimes. But I dunno, the lifers at GuadalupeArts had no problem starting the party and shutting it down.

The lack of hospitality also continued at another space where the gallerist came up to me as I was taking pictures, simply for documentary purposes. She wagged her finger at me and said, “No photos allowed.” I stupidly did not ask why, but gloomily acquiesced and put my camera back in my purse. I understand that some people might think it “stealing” the images, whether it’s due to copyright issues, the photographer taking a “free” picture while not buying the work, or even like the stories circulating about indigenous people thinking cameras steal the soul by recording one’s likeness. Frankly, I think these types of gallerists and artists need to stop taking things so damn seriously. It’s not the freaking Louvre for god’s sake, and even there, the guards don’t bitch at you for taking pictures. It’s not going to make a bit of difference in selling the work whether someone takes a photo of it or not. I read something about Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction i.e. picture-taking in galleries on a blog few months ago, but can’t remember where (Glasstire? ‘Bout What I Sees?). Anyway, that really put a damper on the evening – I noticed that no one else had a camera out in any of the other studios and galleries. Is that a cultural thing here too?

contreras gallery

The most interesting building was a huge old converted Firestone shop fronted with galleries, but who knew it was bursting with artists’ studios? Not me! Googling now, I can’t find any information online about these studios, who rents them out, who’s in them. I wonder if this has anything to do with the age I spoke of earlier? Lack of computer/blogging literacy in general? All I can say is, don’t complain that no one supports art if you don’t have an website and email presence. I think the internet is still the best way to infuse new blood into your scene.

contreras gallery

Nonetheless, the upshot was that I still got a nice sampling of contemporary art here – not your typical southwestern-y shit. Mostly painting, tile and jewelry work suited for commercial tastes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, since many galleries seemed to be successful enough to keep their doors open and not look all shoddy, it certainly shows what is viable in terms of content and perhaps teaches some lessons about longevity. I guess I was in the mood for something more edgy though – the mixed-media political-themed show at Contreras Gallery was a good mixture of seriousness and cheekiness, and not white, reminding me of some of the pieces in last year’s YLA, (and I’m not usually a fan of politcal art) and I liked the youthfulness at Lulubell Toy Bodega; I regret not making it to MOCA. There was performance/public sculpture event co-presented by the U of A’s Poetery Center, and I am getting to know a few of the MFA cantidates in Poetry, Fiction and Non-Ficting through my husband, which is definitely opening some new mental doors in my artistic approach.

Conclusion: I am still feeling it out here. And feeling It, out here in my home studio. Perhaps I’m being overly modest about my mad art-pimpin’ skillz, but I’m not one to jump the gun for self-aggrandizement, just ‘cuz I know all this stuff I learned – and feel I barely scratched the surface of – in another city. I want to meet, greet, and collaborate with existing infrastructure to see how I can possibly fill in any gaps. (And trust me, the I already see the gaps in web representation here – now that I can do.) Complaining is just a way to cut through mere acceptance and continue searching for – and starting – adventure.

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