Visual Arts

Designing Women

After 21 years in the business of printing art, Joe Segura has moved his inventory and his presses from Tempe, where they occupied a small, relatively isolated cinder-block building, into an airy, surprisingly quiet space along Mesa's Main Street.

Sandwiched between Shanghai Express on one side and the temporary home of the Mesa Museum for Youth on the other, Segura Publishing Company and Art Gallery looks less out of place here than one might think. Down the block, development of the $93 million multi-theater Mesa Arts Center is rumbling forward. The outline of an orchestra pit dips and rises in the dirt, and a billboard illustrates the complex in its projected magnificence.

The inaugural exhibition at the gallery, "A Celebration of Latina Art," is a collection of 19 photographs, four monotypes, three "photograms" (more on that later) and a lithograph. Some of the works were produced in collaboration with Segura, but most were selected by Segura and gallery director Crista Cloutier for a show originally suggested by the Hispanic Women's Corporation Convention. (When funding for the artistic aspect of the convention fell through, so did the exhibition's link to the convention; luckily, the idea survived.)

What the pieces have in common, beyond a shared cultural link, is the power of the different visions that produced them. From the eloquent, immediate photographs of Mexican artist Graciela Iturbide to the seriously beautiful monotypes by Argentinean artist Claudia Bernardi, these are strong, complementary female voices.

Three photographs by Tina Modotti, hung on three wide columns rescued from the now-defunct MARS art space, are punctuated by three Iturbide prints on the wall behind them, with Modotti's glorious platinum print of roses given pride of place. On the other side of the columns, visible from the street through the gallery's front windows, are three photograms by Bay area artist Camille Solyagua, whose surname is a fitting introduction to her work. The photograms, hybrids of Solyagua's devising, look like photographs of some parallel constellation but are in fact the result of the interplay between light-sensitive paper, bubbles and light itself.

Another wall boasts a series of portraits by Lola Alvarez Bravo, a photographer from western Mexico who counted Modotti as an influence. Alvarez Bravo's gift for capturing character is evident in a prayerful Francesco Toledo, but it's her photograph of Frida Kahlo that stops viewers. Arms crossed, a cigarette in her ringed fingers, Kahlo stands in the street and appraises us. This is not the mute, eternal Kahlo we know from her self-portraits. She looks as if she's about to turn and stalk off.

Farther along the wall hang four prints by Mariana Yampolski, an American who moved to Mexico in the 1940s and adopted the country as her own. The images here -- masked umbrella vendors posing playfully, a child in the arms of a woman with the heroic appearance of carved stone -- are from the late 1980s, but they look as if they could have been taken decades earlier.

Graciela Iturbide, who once assisted Alvarez Bravo's husband, photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo, is represented here by nine photographs, two of which -- a wary wild child with theatrical wings, and a sad-eyed woman wearing a bunch of iguanas on her head -- are knockouts. It feels ungrateful to quibble about too much of a good thing, but displaying fewer photographs by Iturbide might have allowed her work to shine more brightly; a couple of the pieces, in particular a lovely cactus, get lost in the context of the show.

Claudia Bernardi's monotype "frescoes," luminous and haunting, constitute a wall of rich color in what is primarily a black-and-white exhibition. (The other splash of color in the show is in Texas artist Carmen Lomas Garza's festive lithograph of people dancing outside at night, which greets viewers on their way into the gallery.) Saturated with pigment -- intense, inky blues; glowing spots of red -- the four pieces investigate Bernardi's twin leitmotifs of hope and despair.

Some years back, in an essay for a show at the ASU Museum of Art, Marilyn Zeitlin wrote that Bernardi's images explore "the meaning of personal imagination in a world of mass terror." To find Bernardi's compelling work on Main Street, in concert with the other works displayed here, is to glimpse the possibility of a real conversation about how we live now.

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Deborah Sussman Susser