Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Curious Case of the Devin Borden Hiram Butler Gallery

I swung by the Devin Borden Hiram Butler Gallery on Blossom Street on Saturday (the sixth of six galleries or museums I hit that day), and the show that was up, "Ideograms" by Matt Magee, was OK but nothing super exciting.

Pink F and Memphis
Matt Magee, Pink F (left) and Memphis (right), oil on panel, 2008 and 2009 respectively

The weird thing about this gallery, which I have noticed before, is that there is a somewhat jumbled back-room that anyone can just walk into. Galleries always have back rooms and storage spaces, and if you ask, you can often go see the art there--but sometimes not. Depending on the gallery, it's like getting into the VIP room at a nightclub. You have to be judged a (potentially) serious collector.

But not so at DBHB. You can just walk right in--indeed, I suspect many visitors do so by accident.

Hiram Butler backroom

It's cluttered and messy (like the Betz Gallery was). But unlike the Betz, you are alone in this room. So even though Mr. Magee's work didn't wow me, I was able to look around and find other work of interest.

relic 1

I'm not sure who the artist is or what the title of the piece is. It's basically a fake museum piece. The little identification card next to it is part of the piece. It reads:
Commemorative Vessel From the National Forest Service, 2044, New Mexico, U.S.A.
Attributed to Albert Staehle
This vessel was created for the centennial anniversary of Smokey the Bear in 2044. The oldest running public service message in US history, Smokey targeted children with his famous fire prevention message in print, radio, and television ads. His character was replaced by Shrek after the extinction of the black bear in the late 22nd century.

DBHB is in a beautiful location, an oasis in the rapidly urbanizing neighborhood. There is a thick canopy covering Blossom Street here, and it's all surrounded by encroaching townhouses (you know the type--3+ stories, cheaply built, with giant garages facing the street). The gallery is on a huge lot, with an immense and beautiful garden.

Hiram Butler garden

I went into HCAD to see who owned the property, as well as a few others on Blossom (which I will talk about in a later post). The owner of record of the property is Surls Butler Co. (!). In the back of the gallery (the yard that faces Fowler Street) is a small James Surls sculpture. Is Surls a co-owner of the gallery? Or was he one in the past, leaving only his name on the holding company? If he is, it's odd because he has a show up right now in Houston -- at the Barbara Davis Gallery. (Actually, the website for Barbara Davis claims that  the Surls show has ended... but that website hasn't been updated in a long time, strangely enough.)

Maybe the history of the DBHB Gallery is well-known in Houston art circles. But it seems a bit strange to me.

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