Thirty Candles on the (Art) Cake


Art doyenne Barbara Davis takes 10 questions on a landmark occasion: her 30th anniversary as a pioneering Houston gallerist. The accompanying exhibition, %26ldquo;Mile Marker,%26rdquo; is on view January 12 through March 2 at her eponymous space, Barbara Davis Gallery.

What were the most important exhibitions from the early years of the gallery? The Joseph Beuys exhibition in 1988, the abstraction exhibition in the mid-%26rsquo;90s and Julie Mehretu in 1998.

Who are your most significant discoveries? I gave internationally acclaimed artist Julie Mehretu her first gallery exhibition in 1998 when she was a Core Fellow.%26nbsp;Shahzia Sikander did her first wall drawing for her 1998 exhibition [with me].%26nbsp;In 2007, Andrea Bianconi had his first U.S. exhibition [here]. I discovered Mie Olise in 2007 during Frieze week, where she was a finalist in the %26ldquo;Saatchi Sensations%26rdquo; exhibition, and in 2008 she made her U.S. debut at my gallery ... These four stand out, as they have seen a great deal of success at an international level.

How has Houston transformed as a place to make and exhibit art in the last 30 years? After New York and Los Angeles, Houston has become the third largest art center in the United States, followed by Chicago.%26nbsp;In the last 30 years, the city has seen the founding of The Menil Collection; the expansion of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the evolution of the %26ldquo;Perspectives%26rdquo; exhibitions at the Contem-porary Arts Museum Houston; and the birth of a number of area nonprofit art spaces, such as Lawndale Art Center, DiverseWorks and, most recently Box 13.%26nbsp;This multicultural city has cultivated a vibrant art scene that is nurturing and supportive of working artists ... As a result, Houston has become fertile ground for curators at the national and international level to make serious discoveries.

What characterizes the art-making of 2012 versus that of 1981, when you first opened? A lot has happened in 30 years with regards to society, politics and technology. However, with regard to art-making, it is not about what is hot and new; instead it is about what is moving and what is memorable. It is the difference between trend and timelessness.

What surprises are you planning for this month%26rsquo;s anniversary exhibition? We will be screening [video footage from] a dialogue on abstraction that was held at my gallery in the mid-%26rsquo;90s, which was moderated by Walter Hopps, the founding director of The Menil Collection, with a panel that included playwright Edward Albee, art historian Frances Colpitt, the late artist Dick Wray and artist Aaron Parazette.%26nbsp;The discussion was lively and, upon watching it again recently, it is still very relevant.

How do you see your role as a gallerist? Ultimately, education is an underlying goal of the gallery.%26nbsp;Facilitating discovery is an important driving force for me. It%26rsquo;s not just about selling; it%26rsquo;s about educating people about collecting and bringing important innovative contemporary artists who have never been seen in Houston.

How do you distinguish between trends and timelessness? Trends have their limitations.%26nbsp;If you look at work and you begin to see similarities amongst many artists, you can call it %26ldquo;zeitgeist%26rdquo; or you can call it a trend. To distinguish whether a work is timeless, you must ask yourself the following:%26nbsp;%26ldquo;How profound is the work?%26nbsp;Will the work be as relevant in 10 years as it is today?%26rdquo;%26nbsp; I tend to find that an artist with a uniquely profound voice will hold up over time.

What do you look for when you decide to represent an artist? I can see thousands of artists, but to find that magical combination is a rare thing.%26nbsp;It%26rsquo;s important for works to have the following characteristics:%26nbsp;You ask a question about what you are seeing; the work transports you some place; it moves you emotionally and has a profoundness that resonates; it becomes an experience.%26nbsp; The best works will shift your perspective and give you a new way of seeing and experiencing things.

What drives your personal collection? My own personal collection has been an ever-evolving journey from emerging artists to art historical figures.%26nbsp;My home is my sanctuary, and I collect works that I want to live with.

Which museum exhibitions are you personally most excited about for 2012? The Tate Modern will have an Alighiero Boetti exhibition in February.%26nbsp;Mie Olise has a major solo museum exhibition at the Kunsthallen Nikolaj in Copenhagen, also in February, which will have an accompanying monograph.%26nbsp;I anxiously await the Richard Serra drawing retrospective at The Menil Collection.%26nbsp;I am also eager to see the Houston Arts Alliance presentation of Ai Weiwei%26rsquo;s%26nbsp;Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads%26nbsp;at Hermann Park in Spring 2012. And as part of our anniversary festivities, the gallery will be donating%26nbsp;15 percent of our proceeds towards Ai Weiwei%26rsquo;s Houston installation. He is an artist with a strong sense of conviction and fearlessness, whom I greatly admire and support.

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