PaperCity Magazine

May 2015 - Houston

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MAY | PAGE 50 | 2015 ART DIRECTION MICHELLE AVIÑA. PHOTOGRAPHY SHAYNA FONTANA. HAIR AND MAKEUP TONYA RINER. W ith its stunning metal-clad building — a temple to Latin American modernism if there ever was one — exquisitely sited a block from The Menil Collection, and an impressive annual presence at both Art Basel Miami Beach and New York's Armory Show, Sicardi Gallery numbers among America's most powerful dealers. Yet few would have predicted such an outcome 20 years ago, when an Argentine immigrant touched down in Houston for her son's medical treatment, then tentatively dipped a toe into the art world by opening a modest 800-square-foot space behind Kirby Drive. Catherine D. Anspon speaks with founder María Inés Sicardi about the saga that unfolded and the making of a gallery that would go on to be a game-changer. A plucky woman with an iron will in reverse proportion to her diminutive stature, María Inés Sicardi began in the art biz in 1994, taking over a micro space from curator Sally Reynolds to try an experiment: presenting and selling Latin American art. The location was not along Upper Kirby's Gallery Row, which was then the booming heart of Houston's art world; Sicardi did not feel confident enough to lease space on Colquitt because her program was untested. The scene 20 years ago was a very different place than it is now — buyers regularly sought out tropical landscapes, but there were rumbles of change, predominantly from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, where the Core Program was taking off and a breeze of internationalism blowing in. Sicardi, who had studied art in college, practiced real estate in her hometown of Buenos Aires before relocating to Houston in 1989 for treatment of her son's leukemia. He passed away; she stayed in a new city to build a new life. Turning tragedy into hope, she took the opportunity to introduce her country's artists, initially offering a portfolio of 20 works on paper to curious collectors. She still remembers her first transaction: "two prints by Argentine artist Ana Eckell that Bill Broido and his wife Marisol bought." With that, she was on her way. The early years on Kipling (in a building that has subsequently been razed) were not always encouraging. Tony River Oaks customers flocked to the beauty salon next door, but despite a common hallway, few ever stepped into the gallery. With such an obscure location, Sicardi had to rely on innovative programming to attract the art crowd. Saturday afternoons were occasions for artist lectures. Scholarly guests including MFAH photo department head Anne Wilkes Tucker and FotoFest's Wendy Watriss and Fred Baldwin joined an intimate assembly of 20 to 30 rapt listeners who sat cross- legged on the floor to take in exhibitions that leaned towards photography and works on paper. Video was also a part of the roster of the first decade. The year 2000 saw the debut of Argentine artist Liliana Porter's work in that media, even though at that time in Houston, there was only one collector of video, Sicardi recalls. A pivotal encounter connected her with the couple and the doctor who would share the financial burden of running a gallery for conceptual, non-figurative art from an under- known continent. "I met Allison and David Ayers in January 1996, shortly after they were married," Sicardi says. "They literally walked in after looking in the phone book for art gallery listings. They were the first clients who were committed to collecting Latin American art in a passionate way. Allison started working with the gallery in 1997, organizing events and developing a marketing plan. She's been a major part of the gallery almost since the beginning, and she is involved in every aspect of the gallery's operations." Around that same time, Carlos Bacino came into the picture. "Patrick Reynolds, director at Kerry Inman Gallery, suggested he should meet me, since we both are from Buenos Aires and shared an interest in the arts," Sicardi says. "From then on, he visited every Saturday, stopping by and learning about art from Argentina, looking at books with a cup of coffee (always!), and we became close friends. In December 2000, we established a partnership, including Allison and David Ayers, Carlos Bacino, and Zuzette and Greg Cullinan. Since 2007, it's been the three of us — Allison, Carlos and me." Another fortuitous turn of fate was a chance conversation with fellow art dealer Robert McClain during a gallerist reception at the Menil House. Sicardi revealed that she was seeking a new location; McClain's new building was nearing completion and had an ancillary space available for lease. The timing and synergy were perfect, and soon Sicardi moved to a handsome new building on Richmond Avenue, adjoining McClain's new digs, both designed by Houston architect Marshall Reid. Despite opening one week after September 11, Sicardi persevered with a fresh approach to match the amped- up square footage, which had doubled to a still concise 1,700 square feet. Reflecting upon the sea change of the Richmond years, she says, "We were able to show larger pieces, sculpture, installation and videos as well … This is around the time that we started working with more established master artists from Latin America, many of whom make large-scale and kinetic work — objects that need more space and light than what our previous location offered. The aesthetic of the gallery changed, and while we had always worked with contemporary art from Latin America, suddenly we were presenting historical works by major artists from the 20th century. Our mission grew." Within four years of this move, the gallery was tapped to exhibit at Art THE LATIN [ART] NEXUS SICARDI AT 20 Sicardi Gallery's West Alabama space, designed by architect Fernando Brave. Gallery founder María Inés Sicardi with Venezuelan master Carlos Cruz-Diez's Transchromie, 1965 –2009.

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