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December 2014 - Houston

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DECEMBER | PAGE 71 | 2014 IF ever a gallerist exemplifies the highest standards of a once noble profession, we would propose Hiram Butler. Modest in demeanor and understated in dress, yet unerring in aesthetics and possessing an incisive intellect, he is the standard bearer of a concept of connoisseurship that seems almost antiquated in today's frenzied marketplace. (Butler once famously said in a public panel that he considers exhibiting in an art fair akin to sleeping with a hooker.) If the late Mrs. de Menil — who crossed the threshold of his Houston art space from its inception — were to descend from heaven to open a gallery, it would feel very much like Butler's West End enclave. Situated amidst a manicured tropical garden oasis, it adjoins a prim turn-of-the-century Shaker-type cottage where a civilized and important contemplation of contemporary art continues undiminished after more than three decades. How did this temple to intelligent, meditative gazing come about? Here, in Butler's own words, is the story as it unfolded. THE PATH FROM EAGLE PASS, TEXAS, TO MoMA. I went to the University of Texas, where I took art history classes from Rusty Powell (now director of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). He had gone to Williams College and urged me to go there. Upon graduation from Williams, I was offered two jobs: one at Sotheby's and one in the Department of Prints and Illustrated Books at the Museum of Modern Art. I took the Modern. EARLY BRUSH WITH THE ART WORLD. I won a library poster contest when I was in the third grade and got the Rainbow Book of Art as a prize. I pored over it. I'll never forget the illustration of Raphael's Assumption of the Virgin in that book. It took me a long time to get to Venice to see it. FROM MANHATTAN TO DALLAS. I decided to go back to UT to get an MBA after working in New York. While in school there, I was selling prints. Bill Goldston [director of fine art publisher, Universal Limited Art Editions] introduced me to Laura Carpenter [owner of Delahunty Gallery, Dallas]. She offered me a job. I took it. Two degrees was enough. ON OPENING HIRAM BUTLER GALLERY. It was just time for me to be on my own. I have great respect and affection for Laura. She taught me a lot. A majority of the artists I work with are artists she introduced me to. Rather than open up a gallery across the street from Laura and compete with her, I decided to move to Houston. I have loved Houston since my first visit. There is no other similar concentration of museums and alternative spaces for contemporary art in Texas like that in Houston — MFAH, Menil, CAMH, Blaffer, Rice, DiverseWorks and Lawndale. I will never forget visiting Houston the first time and seeing the MFAH. Walking into the Brown Pavilion was transcendent. Gary Tinterow has taken it back to being that way again. Bravo! ON YOUR HALCYON YEAR: 1984. It was very different. Small. Menil was not open. There were three curators at the MFAH — George Shackelford, Alison Greene, and Anne Tucker. The Menil Collection [pre- museum] was essentially Walter Hopps and Paul Winkler. Walter was always available and was a frequent, often daily visitor to the gallery. Meredith Long and Janie C. Lee were welcoming and supportive. Rick Lowe, Dean Ruck and Nestor Topchy were all living together in a compound in Rice Military that was a great lab for art. What they have done is remarkable. They are working on projects here that could not be realized anywhere else. Rick Lowe's Project Row Houses, Dean Ruck and Dan Havel's interventions such as Inversion, Nestor Topchy's TemplO and Jim Pirtle's Notsuoh. Sometimes you might see something of equal ambition at Documenta, but I haven't seen work like this anywhere in this country. Project Row Houses is the primary site for the study and implementation of art and social practice, period. FIRST SPACE. The old gallery was on Portsmouth between Kirby and Greenbriar. It was a renovated Laundromat. It is now part of a car dealership. EARLY CLIENTS. The University of Texas was my first client — for Rauschenberg's Traces. Then The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu [now part of the Honolulu Museum of Art]. Anne Tucker bought photographs very early on. Before I moved to Houston, an MFAH curator at the time, Judith McCandless, bought a Johns etching from me. I will never forget February 1985. I hadn't sold anything and thought it was over. A collector [who is still a client] came in, bought a Vernon Fisher painting, left me a check, and it made the month. ON MRS. DE MENIL'S VISITS. Mrs. de Menil came to the gallery on Portsmouth and later on Blossom. I remember she came to see Michael Tracy on Portsmouth and Terrell James on Blossom. Walter [Hopps] brought her to see Terrell's exhibition because there was a piece he wanted The Menil Collection to buy. I'll never forget that she asked for a glass of water — "Half a glass," she said, then added, "Not too much." PREVIOUS PAGE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: In the garden with Joseph Havel's bronze sculpture. Portrait by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders on Shaker rocker. Eighteenth-century painted American chest. Hiram Butler and gallery director Josh Pazda. THIS PAGE, ABOVE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: With beloved pet Rebekah. A dramatic Sol LeWitt woodcut is perfectly at home in this 19th-century interior. A work on paper by Kate Shepherd adds energy to the library. Pillow on left by Houston's Rusty Arena. BELOW: Terry Winters' Section, 1991 (left), Vernon Fisher's Buddha Nature (text on wall) and John Cage's Extended Lullaby (on shelf). Eighteenth-century firwood chest from Andrew Spindler Antiques, Essex, Massachusetts. (Spindler-Roesle and Butler are married and divide their time between Houston and Boston.)

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