Contemporary art

Eye for art: Barbara Davis celebrates 30 years as Houston gallery owner with Mile Marker

Eye for art: Barbara Davis celebrates 30 years as Houston gallery owner with Mile Marker

News_Barbara Davis Gallery_Mile Marker_30 anniversary_Barbara Davis
Barbara Davis Courtesy of Barbara Davis Gallery
News_Barbara Davis Gallery_Mile Marker_30 anniversary_Mie Olise
Mie Olise, Expanding Structure, 2011, acryilc on canvas Courtesy of Barbara Davis Gallery
News_Barbara Davis Gallery_Mile Marker_30 anniversary_Rolph_Buccaneer
Danny Rolph, Buccaneer, 2011, acryilc on canvas Courtesy of Barbara Davis Gallery
News_Barbara Davis Gallery_Mile Marker_30th anniversary_Gavin Perry_I Miss Your Smile
Gavin Perry, I Miss Your Smile, 2011, resin on board Courtesy of Barbara Davis Gallery
News_Barbara Davis Gallery_Mile Marker_30 anniversary_Davidson_Untitled
Joe Davidson, Untitled (GoldFlower), 2011, latex and epoxy resin Courtesy of Barbara Davis Gallery
News_Barbara Davis Gallery_Mile Marker_30 anniversary_AT Shumate_Tempesty
Anthony Thompson Shumate, Tempesty, 2011, wood with electronic light
News_Barbara Davis Gallery_Mile Marker_30 anniversary_Dan_McFarlane_Harpoon
Dan McFarlane, Harpoon, 2011, acrylic on panel Courtesy of Barbara Davis Gallery
News_Barbara Davis Gallery_Mile Marker_30 anniversary_Barbara Davis
News_Barbara Davis Gallery_Mile Marker_30 anniversary_Mie Olise
News_Barbara Davis Gallery_Mile Marker_30 anniversary_Rolph_Buccaneer
News_Barbara Davis Gallery_Mile Marker_30th anniversary_Gavin Perry_I Miss Your Smile
News_Barbara Davis Gallery_Mile Marker_30 anniversary_Davidson_Untitled
News_Barbara Davis Gallery_Mile Marker_30 anniversary_AT Shumate_Tempesty
News_Barbara Davis Gallery_Mile Marker_30 anniversary_Dan_McFarlane_Harpoon

"For me, it's always been about the now," Barbara Davis told CultureMap during an exclusive preview of Mile Marker, a show launched to mark the Houston gallerist's three decades of cutting-edge contemporary art programming.

Walking through her eponymous gallery at 4411 Montrose, Davis motions to a massive new piece by Mie Olise, a rising young painter whose work has shown at London's Saatchi Gallery.

"I'm interested in the way artists see the world today," she said, pointing to the painting's dreamy imagery of a cluster of desolate industrial buildings propped up on metal supports. "Olise's inspired by the abandoned buildings and boats found throughout the small Danish island where she was raised. She's not about doom and gloom, though. She's romanticized the scene."

The upcoming exhibition, which opens Thursday, offers a range of new work from Davis' current roster of artists, a stable that includes internationally-recognized figures like Donald Lipski and Danny Rolph as well as promising new talent like Jason Yates and Houston's own Julie Soefer.

"I like to work with artists whose work offers a memorable experience," Davis explained, "a profoundness and freshness that make viewers look deeply into the art."

Among such examples, Daniel McFarlane's Harpoon displays an intriguing triangle of exposed wood amidst a sea of thick blue acrylic on board, creating an optical workout that demands a thorough inspection just to make sense of the painting's central form.

 "I like to work with artists whose work offers a memorable experience," Davis explained, "a profoundness and freshness that make viewers look deeply into the art."

 Gavin Perry exploits modern materials in I Miss Your Smile — a large panel covered with vertical weaving strips of decorative automotive pin stripes which the artist then covered with colorful splotches of translucent resin.

Davis' high-profile shows have had a continued impact on the city's art scene since the early 1980s. There was Joseph Beuys in 1988, Gilbert & George in 1989, Joseph Havel in 1990 and Julie Mehretu in 1998. In the last decade alone, her gallery has mounted shows including Chuck Close, Zaha Hadid, Robert Longo, and Kiki Smith.

Educating clients, Davis said, has always been one of her main priorities, an effort that led to a notable panel discussion at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in 1995 that included Menil founding director Walter Hopps as well as playwright and art collector Edward Albee.

"People aren't born with an eye for art," she explained. "It's something you develop over time. Once your eyes are tuned in, though, it's about going somewhere — about asking where a certain work takes you."

"Sure, art is subjective," she said, "but there's certainly good work and bad work. You can see what you want to see, but there always has to be content."

In 2003, the Barbara Davis Gallery was honored with a booth at the second annual Art Basel fair in Miami Beach, a recognition Davis pointed to as one of the high points of her career.

"Once you're in that fair, you're on a different level and everyone knows who you are," she said proudly. "It's not a something you can just buy your way into. Art Basel Miami only shows galleries with substance, galleries who have something to say with their work."

On Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 pm, an artist's reception at Davis' 4411 Montrose gallery kicks off the Mile Marker show, which runs through March 2. A portion of the proceeds from the exhibit will be donated to the Houston Arts Alliance for Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's upcoming installation in Hermann Park, on display Feb. 25 through June 1.