Arts / Museums

Changing the Art Game

A Young Lion Takes Over a Prime Shuttered Gallery Space, Uses Facebook Power

BY // 01.06.16

When long-time gallerist Roni McMurtrey shuttered her prime Gallery Row Colquitt Street address last October — to concentrate on private curatorial projects — Houston lost a respected dealer with a 35-year history, as well as a nexus for talents such as lensman Keith Carter and painterly trio Sandi Seltzer Bryant, Sarah Williams and Howard Sherman. Also, McMurtrey had reinvigorated the white cube with an ongoing pop-up, Hello Project, curated by Jon Hopson (wife, artist Debra Barrera served as McMurtrey director, so the arrangement was ideal, as well as enticing, thanks to the litany of compelling shows Hello presented during its concise time on Colquitt, since July 2014).

But good news has arrived. No longer will 3508 Lake Street be forlorn and empty: an energetic young dealer is opening the doors of a pristine, re-imagined space with an aesthetic that would make Agnes Martin proud. Cue Mel DeWees. Expect great things from his Gray Contemporary, which unveils its second iteration after a recent stint at a design mecca. DeWees, who himself is a painter with a Cooper Union and University of Houston education, honed his eye while working as an art handler; one of his regular gigs was installing works for The Menil Collection. (Is it a coincidence that his art space’s name nods to the de Menils’ signature hue?)

DeWees spent his holiday readying for his first opening on Gallery Row, tearing down walls and opening up the 2,500-square-foot space — of which 1,800 square feet will serve as gallery. His first Colquitt act presents two promising solos, opening on Saturday, January 16, to coincide with the exhibitions that launch the spring 2016 season on the street. Gray Contemporary’s headliners are reductive British painter Deb Covell and Tennessee-based sculptor John Tallman, who has a way with juicy shades of pigmented urethane (through February 13).

DeWees discovered both artists by trawling Facebook; as a young dealer, he’s on a strict budget, so rather than traveling to art fairs to scope out fresh makers, he researches endlessly online. Both Covell and Tallman possess international credentials and demonstrate a sophisticated exploration of material, which strips away the non-essential to an almost shocking purity.

We’re hoping DeWees will be embraced by the Houston (and Texas) collector base. Kudos to this brave young dealer of the modest price point — many works will be around the $1,000 range — who most reminds us of a cross between gallerist Sonja Roesch‘s austere minimalism and the devout principles of the former dealer Doug Lawing.

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