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Applying a Heavy Wash

Allison redefines the term "watercolors" for Colquitt gallery owners

After nonstop flood coverage featuring drenched reporters in waders (God help us if we ever see Wayne Dolcefino in anything that clingy again), local stations got around to the Theater District's woes --water-damaged costumes, lost scores, canceled performances, a 17th-century double bass turned into a flotation device. Meanwhile, the visual arts were afforded all the media coverage of a jaywalker. Gallery owner Geri Hooks and her ruined Joan Miró print didn't make the evening news, but Al and his nine dogs on a rooftop did. Al seemed like a nice guy, but in his predicament, he looked like the punch line to a redneck joke. In the hierarchy of newsworthiness, Houston as a visual arts center ranked way behind Houston as a place of tin sheds and multiple canines.

It was enough to make the locals turn to drink. Which many did. On the Saturday after The Flood, a Montrose supermarket's beer coolers had been picked clean, save for some 12-packs of Old Milwaukee, which apparently not even a natural disaster can inspire people to consume. The chip supply was decimated as well. Residents appeared to be bracing for more rain by holing up in their houses and getting good and drunk. Several weeks later, the chips and beer have been replenished, but now the shelves are cleared of mosquito repellent.

On Colquitt, there is something of an art shortage. Having taken on water between four and ten inches, its galleries are still doggedly working toward recovery. Owners are picking through a lot of wet art, deciding what can be saved and what can't. Most, save Barbara Davis, have reopened while crews make the necessary repairs, and they should be ready for a new round of openings on July 14. The Davis gallery, however, was particularly hard hit; it had recently installed a hip new wood floor of MDF (medium density fiberboard) tiles, which ended up floating on floodwaters. The combination of MDF and water results in something akin to Zwieback in milk. Read: a soggy mass.

The New Gallery: With the sodden carpet removed, Thom Andriola thought the concrete floor looked kind of cool.
New Gallery
The New Gallery: With the sodden carpet removed, Thom Andriola thought the concrete floor looked kind of cool.

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Through Saturday, June 30. 713-523-9530
Art League of Houston, 1953 Montrose Boulevard

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The flood was psychologically trying for the gallery owners. After all, having your place of business ravaged is one thing, but losing irreplaceable artwork is another. Geri Hooks of Hooks-Epstein, who specializes in works on paper, felt like she had lost the children of her artists. "I had sympathy for people hurt by the flood, but when I walked in here and saw the damage, I had empathy for them." Hooks reportedly lost $250,000 in art. The owners and staff are painstakingly picking through flat files of wet works on paper and dealing with damp canvases stored in vertical racks.

At New Gallery, Thom Andriola thought that once the sodden carpet was removed, the concrete looked kind of cool. As for the works in his gallery, Arielle Masson's new paintings were unharmed, but Claire Ankenman's floor-based light-box installation was totaled. Andriola estimates he lost about $55,000 in work.

John Cleary Gallery lost an estimated $70,000 in photographs, including $15,000 worth of portraits by Hollywood photographer George Hurrell. Classic images of Katharine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich were transformed into curled pieces of paper. A $10,000 Bill Brandt print had been propped against a wall as the floodwaters entered the gallery, which was bad news not only to Cleary but also to the person who had just bought it.

Goldesberry Gallery received ten inches of water but fared better than most, because much of its inventory is ceramic or metal, stored on shelves. The gallery's files suffered the most damage. Oliver Goldesberry observed that cleaning out files is never fun, but cleaning out wet files is even worse, sorting through scraps of soggy paper to see what to pitch and what to dry.

If you're looking for bargains on damp art, you're out of luck. While few if any galleries had flood insurance, their art insurance policies cover the lost works. Damaged works will become the property of insurers, who will end up with a nice, if something less than pristine, collection of art.

Believe it or not, there is an upside to all this -- at least to some artists. Sometimes far less sentimental about their work than galleries or collectors, artists can view an insurance check as tantamount to a sale. As one chronically cynical artist remarked, "Once it's out of the studio, who gives a damn?" Asked whether he would take a shot at repairing his damaged work, he said, "I'm taking the money. I'm no fool."

Meanwhile, at the Contemporary Arts Museum, the downstairs gallery was flooded, but Dario Robleto's installation escaped serious damage. Only the objects' pedestals were affected. The downstairs gift shop, however, was succinctly characterized as "toast" with a "lot of little merchandise floating around." Upstairs, Uta Barth's fragile mounted photographs were unhurt (see "Blurring the Lines," June 14), but ridiculously high levels of humidity forced the staff to remove the work and ship it back early. The CAM will reopen on Saturday, July 14, with the "Yes Yoko Ono" exhibition.

To ensure national media coverage for the event, perhaps the CAM should place Yoko and nine hounds on its roof.


Lynne McCabe makes art out of things that go wrong. Part of "under lying truths," a group show at the Art League of Houston, McCabe's work is a video project that isn't a video. Script for a Small Party with Friends (2001) consists of a transcript of McCabe's video, a low-light photograph of the party setting, and a wall text explaining the project and how it went tragically awry.

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