READERS' PICK: Top-shelf photography exhibits are delicate, costly to curate, and expensive to display, and Tucson is privileged to have a nationally renowned photographic gallery in our very midst.
Highlights from the past year have included Imag(in)ing Mars, Brooklyn professor Ann Mandelbaum's Proximities, and Comparative Concepts: Photographs by August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt, Albert Renger, Patzech and Bernd and Hilla Becher, a collection of 20th-century German photography shown for the first time in the U.S. Most of the shows are augmented by related lectures, films and discussions.
The Center for Creative Photography is a research facility and archival museum as well. And perhaps best of all, it's free. Regular hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Dinnerware Artists Co-operative Gallery, 135 E. Congress St. For more than a decade, the Dinnerware artists' collective has not only brought some of Tucson's finest local painters, photographers and sculptors into the spotlight, but in past years has served as a focal point for a disparate arts community, in a time before Tucson's downtown arts scene had blossomed into the hub of individual galleries and working studios we enjoy today.
MORE MANIA: Let's give the nod to a pair of scrappy newcomers dedicated to the art of the avant-garde: Elizabeth Cherry Contemporary Art, 437 E. Grant Road, and HazMat Gallery, 191 E. Toole Ave. Cherry has been running a gallery in town for a couple of years, but since September 1 she's been operating out of a sleek new building just constructed on grungy Grant Road. Until then, the ECCA gallery occupied the living and dining rooms of her house. Now her admixture of European and coastal avant-garde has moved next door into a soaring modernist space that's turning the heads of drivers accustomed to the strip's hodgepodge of industrial and fast-food outlets.
HazMat last winter renovated one of the leaky Arizona Department of Transportation warehouses on Toole Avenue, mending ceilings and floors and scrubbing down the brick walls to host a changing array of art in every media. Nicknamed the Temporary Contemporary, the gallery is intended as the forerunner of a much bigger Museum of Contemporary Art, which organizers Julia Latané, James Graham and David Wright envision over on Congress Street. Meantime, HazMat has been doing nicely with its mission of showing cutting-edge visual and performing arts in the funky space, including a kitchen video installation by Vicki Dempsey and monologues by artist Ken Shorr. Like ECCA, HazMat deserves credit not only for opening local eyes to the wild new directions in art, but for helping revitalize funky parts of town through art.
MORE MANIA: Daryl Childs' DC Harris Gallery, 41 S. Sixth Ave., is another welcome newcomer to the downtown. Childs, an artist himself and a consultant to interior designers, set up in the vacated space of the late, lamented Bero Gallery. His gallery tends toward easel painting ranging from contemporary to traditional, and his business has been bustling.