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MOCA opens to public Saturday

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Museum of Contemporary Art

MOCA opens to public Saturday

The new, permanent location presents 'Made in Tucson/Born in Tucson/Live in Tucson'

  • Anne-Marie Russell in a rare moment of repose.
    Maggie Golston/TucsonSentinel.comAnne-Marie Russell in a rare moment of repose.
  • 'Container' by Dave Lewis.
    Maggie Golston/'Container' by Dave Lewis.

In 1997, Tucson artists James Graham, Julia Latane and David Wright founded the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson. For the 13 years that followed, MOCA found its home wherever it could, beginning in a cramped gallery space at Graham's studio, the Toole Shed.

Despite a relative lack of public arts funding and infrastructure, MOCA survived, largely due to the tireless efforts of local artists and art lovers.

On Saturday, MOCA opens its new, permanent home to the public with "Made in Tucson/Born in Tucson/Live in Tucson," an ambitious collection of works assembled by director Anne-Marie Russell in order to, in her words, "represent the Tucson diaspora."

The new building, the former headquarters of the Tucson fire department, creates an odd but compelling museum space. The warren of former offices become contained spaces for the pieces, individually or in small, careful conversations with each other. The fire truck bay houses larger pieces, including large sculptures by Latane and former MOCA board president Dave Lewis.

During a visit to the museum three days before opening, Russell rode a skateboard expertly through the large gallery (surely a privilege that is solely hers) as preparators and artists hurried to finish installing works before Saturday.

Russell is thrilled to open MOCA with this particular exhibition, as it reflects the tendency for anyone who ever lived or worked in Tucson to be inexplicably drawn to return. "The thing about Tucson is that everyone comes back. This is the oldest continuously inhabited place in North America — 4000 years."

Russell's point is compelling. The works in the show date from "1968 to — well, yesterday," said Russell, and the artists' ages range from 22 to 87.

"I groove on the fact that the exhibition is more than multigenerational. There is a continuum of microgenerations in between."

The most striking of the sculptures in the large gallery is Dave Lewis' "Container" (2005), originally shown as part of his "State Furniture" exhibition at MOCA's former home. The sculpture is a metal transport container split and stacked. In each half is a single metal chair,  a ghostly human presence in cold, industrial space. That the piece was made in 2005 seems crucial to its interpretation; Americans were forced to view their cultural position through the terrible lens of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. Lewis has created a space of confinement and of punishment.

"Power — who has it, who doesn't, how is it distributed? That's what I'm interested in." —Dave Lewis

Another installation that confronts contemporary cultural issues head-on is local artist and UA professor Ken Shorr's "One Way Mirror Awareness Month." The viewer is confronted by a small chamber outfitted as an interrogation room, complete with one way mirror, in which to view videos. Monologues written and performed by Shorr screen continuously. The videos, according to Shorr, are confessional in tone, but are "not necessarily crime confessions; the stories are the recollections of events by a single subject in the space of interrogation."

For the opening, and several times throughout the next month, local multimedia artist will join Shorr in a live performance in the space. Rummaging through shelves containing identical, strange items, Clark described the performance, entitled "Depraved Indifference,"in broad strokes, downplaying it coyly: "I'm just giving Ken's piece more depth and — er,  breadth."

Other exhibition standouts include works by older, established artists Raymond Pettibon, Robert Colescott and Dick Tuck, as well as daring new works by younger artists Taylor Baldwin, Jessica James Lansdon and Jason Manley.

There is a members only preview at 6 pm; joining MOCA starts at $50 per year ($30 for students). There are several upcoming member events, including a dance party. The public opening is at 7 pm, and will include a surprise musical guest.

Museum programming for the next three months includes kids' and teen programs, lectures, film screenings and performances. The MOCA campus promises to transform the area physically, even as the programs and exhibitions change the landscape culturally.

If you go

  • MOCA, 265 S. Church, 624-5019.
  • Opening Saturday at 6 pm for members, 7 pm with $8 admission.

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