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Interview with: Dianne David
Interviewed by: Louis J. Marchiafava
Date: October 2, 1975
Archive Number: OH 036
LM: 00:02 Interview with Dianne David, October 2, 1975. Ms David, are you a native Houstonian?
DD: Yes. I was born in Corpus and moved here in 6 weeks old.
LM: And so you spent most of your life in the city?
LM: When did you first get in to the gallery business?
DD: In 1964.
LM: At that time, were there many galleries in Houston?
DD: No, very few good ones.
LM: So, you perceived the need for this?
DD: I’m more a need for myself to do it than the public’s need for it, I think.
LM: Would you elaborate on that a little bit. Why did you want to establish a gallery?
DD: Well, the artists that I knew that I thought were good artists were not being shown anywhere, because they did very non-decorative work. The galleries that where open at that time where selling things that I thought were like wallpaper. So, I started showing the artists that I thought were really good.
LM: Who in particular?
DD: 01:08 Jim Love and Roy Fridge and Bob Camblin. Don Shaw. Lucas Johnson.
LM: Did you meet with a favorable reception?
DD: Not for two years, because everyone in Houston thought that because my father had a lot of money, that I was just having a good time over there, acting silly. I think, then, after a couple of years, they realized I was going to stay open, and so it got more serious.
LM: I have heard the comment made by other people that there are two sorts of galleries in Houston. There’s the kind that sells you a painting which will match your furniture, and there’s the kind that is genuinely interested in the artists they represent.
DD: That’s right.
LM: Who’s winning?
DD: The decorators will always win, because I don’t think that there 20 art collectors in Houston, and there’s almost 2 million people here—I mean, really serious collectors.
LM: Would you describe—without naming anyone in particular—but would you describe one of these, shall we say, middle-class galleries, decorative galleries? Who they sell, what kind of volume they carry on…
DD: Yes. There was one artist who I represented that was with another gallery before she came to mine, and she was told by a man who ran the gallery that she had to start painting more like David Adix or they couldn’t have her work in the gallery. Her newest thing was that she had gone off and started doing abstract painting, and the man said if she didn’t go back to doing figurative things in pretty colors, that she could no longer stay there. That was really the deal in Houston at that time was if you didn’t do things that would sell to “general public,” you couldn’t be in the gallery, and the general public, really, has got nothing to do with the art, as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t matter what they like.
LM: Is this a fairly common thing that a gallery director will say to an artist? “Now look, you’ve got to change your style if it’s not selling.”
DD: 03:16 Only from hearsay, but I think that generally, it’s like a magnetism of any kind. I just think that that sort of gallery—that sort of artist gravitates towards that sort of gallery.
LM: What is the reaction of the artist toward these middle class galleries, the decorative galleries? Do they shun them?
DD: Yes. They think it’s schlock.
LM: That being the case, are there enough outlets for the serious artist?
DD: There are none in Houston right now. There are none in Houston for Houston artists right now, because when galleries open in Houston now, they do show, again, “serious art.” They want the art from California and New York or an already-established artist. What they end up with are very inferior works that the ones on both coast haven’t been able to get rid of, so they send them to Houston.
LM: Even galleries like the Texas Gallery or Cusack or Tibor de Nage, they’ve gone pretty much away from the local artist.
DD: Yes, all of them. They don’t show local artists, any of them. Tibor de Nage shows one local artist, Ben Woitena, who does sculpture. Texas gallery shows no Texas artists, which is nice, since that’s their name. Barbara Cusack only shows very strange, outrageous wall decoration. You know, the last person that was there went to the bus station. He got off the bus and completely changed his whole line of thinking for the show and decided that he like the coffee stirrers on the counter while he was waiting for Barbara to pick him up. He got a handful of them and broke them in half, stuck them on the wall of her house, and said they were worth $1200 each and that was his show.
LM: Yeah. To get back to the local artists, if they do not have an outlet in the gallery, do they have any patrons who are especially interested in their work, people like Mrs de Minelle?
DD: They do. There are several patrons. When I said awhile ago that I thought there weren’t many really collectors in Houston, those people go to the artist studios, the good ones, and check on their work and buy from them. Janie C. Lee shows Dave McManaway’s work and Jim Love’s work. So, she does show some Texas artist work. I haven’t been to Betty Moody’s gallery, but she’s also showing a couple of real good Texas artists, but the rest of them are not good—decorative.
LM: 06:12 Are there many private galleries in Houston, in the sense that they will only show to special clients, maybe in their own home?
DD: No. There was, Louise Ferrari, but she moved to Port Orenzis.
LM: How would you compare Houston as a place to work for an artist with other cities, say, cities on the coast?
DD: Someone told me one time that diplomats that are sent to Houston get hardship pay, because the humidity and the weather are so horrible here. The traffic is so horrible. The pollution is so horrible that I can’t imagine an artist choosing this place to come and work, except that it’s such a booming community, and there’s so much money concentrated here. It would only be financially that they would be here, because there sure is nothing else to offer. There are no good studios available.
LM: That’s kind of the point I was getting at. Often times, people will assume, perhaps naively, that culture tends to follow money.
LM: Therefore, it would seem, at least in this one aspect, that Houston would be a good place for an artist.
DD: That’s true.
LM: Would you say that Houston is a good place for a schlock artist?
DD: Yes. Very good.
LM: As a gallery director, were you concerned with educating the buying public, with maybe changing people’s taste?
DD: It didn’t start off as a person concern, but I think that after a while, the people who came in started realizing that their taste was changing because of what they were seeing, that what they were seeing was really fine stuff and that every year it was rising in price. If they wanted to sell it, they could make money off of it, because each year, every one of the artists were asked to send work to different museums, and they were finally, most of 08:12 them, in every major museum in the country. Even that kind of thinking, “Well, if they’re in museums, I sure ought to have one,” even the people who weren’t really crazy about the work wanted one.
LM: Have things improved since 1964?
DD: No. I think they’ve gotten much worse.
LM: Would you blame that, in part, on the museums and the kinds of things they display and the way they’re organized?
DD: No. I don’t think so at all. I think that when I closed the gallery, which was in 1970, Bob Camblin, who was one of my artists, told me that he thought that art had died and that the galleries that were going to stay open—I think that was the main reason I closed the gallery—he said the galleries that were going to stay open were going to be like tombs and that, if I would watch, that the art was going to start becoming more minimal, more nonperceptive—no realism. He was really right, because the galleries that are staying open are showing very, very minimal art that I could do myself, lines, showing art by people who cannot draw. Like Salvador Dali said, he thinks we ought to get back to realism so we can find out who’s got some skill.
LM: But still, one hears about the movement in super-realism in American art. Has that not come to Houston?
DD: It has not come to Houston.
LM: That’s interesting.
DD: It came to Houston, and then, when I closed the gallery, it left Houston.
LM: Is there a hardcore group of people in Houston who are interested in minimal art or conceptual art?
DD: Yes, I think so. Texas Gallery, particularly, pushes that; so does the Contemporary Arts Museum.
LM: Tom Wolfe, in his latest book, The Painted Word, really stresses the role of theory in modern art. Do you notice that in Houston?
DD: 10:30 Very much so. I had a fantastic argument with the man who runs the Museum of Fine Arts about that book. He said he read 20 pages and threw it in his garbage can. I thought it was one of the finest… I think that you could find a lot of very small flaws with what Wolfe said but that, basically, what he said about, “You used to have to see to believe.” That changed from now you have to believe to see, is really—that’s what it’s turned into.
LM: Have you ever seen or heard of instances where a patron would go to a gallery director and say, “I will spend X thousands of dollars. Get me something for that amount of money.”
LM: Just totally entrusted their money to the director so at least people, even if it’s pretentious, they like to think they understand their work, and they like to know the artist or something about his work. This is in the serious galleries.
DD: I’ve never seen a case of that happening.
LM: How do patrons get to meet artists and get to know artists?
DD: The really serious ones, and one who I think that you should talk to, is Betty Ruth Sussholtz. What she does is, when she likes someone’s work, she gets to know the artist very well and goes around talking to them and seeing their work and really finding out a lot about them and supporting them. She is really one of the few people in Houston who are art patrons. A long time ago, if kings were still around, the people who are really good artists now would be hired to hang around the court, and they wouldn’t be having to run out and make money and then, in their spare time, trying to create something. It’s very hard to—the kind of suffering that artists do now is not emotional. It’s really a horrible physical thing of having to really work 8 hours a day and then hope there’s something left over in you to cast some light on what you really want to do.
LM: Yeah, that’s true.
DD: In Houston, especially, it’s very hard to make a living.
LM: 12:58 Why do you say that? It would seem that in Houston, it would be fairly easy to get some kind of mundane job.
DD: A mundane job is a hard way to make a living. It’s hard to get a good job, and someone who’s artistic doing something mundane, I think, would detract—it would start showing up in their paintings if that’s how they spend a third of their day.
LM: Is that, in fact, what happens, though? Do most artists hold down other jobs, other full-time jobs?
DD: Uh-huh. Teaching, mostly.
LM: To get back to something I wanted to pursue, we were talking about how people find out about an artist, and it’s usually assumed that in every community, there’s a kind of artistic grapevine.
LM: It’s something I’d like to try to make explicit. How does a person get to be known? We have a guy. Let’s say he’s doing minimal stuff. How does he sell that?
DD: You mean through a gallery, or does he get a connection through a museum, or what?
LM: Right. I mean, let’s start with an artist standing by a canvas. He’s a relative unknown, and he wants to sell his work. He’s in Houston. What does he do?
DD: He has to go through the most embarrassing thing in the world, and that is take slides of his work or his work around to every gallery until he finds one that’s interested in his work. I think their job should be—if they’re going to take him as an artist—should really push him as an artist and spend money on advertising and asking the people who do buy it to see the work and introduce him around and that sort of thing, but I don’t think the galleries do that much.
LM: How did you decide who to show and who not to show?
DD: This is all back to, “I don’t know much about art.” I just knew what I liked. I can’t sell something that I don’t like, so I just, when I found something I like, that’s who I got.
LM: 15:10 Do you think that people in Houston now, maybe who are paying lip service to theory, are actually buying works that they don’t really feel a liking for, that they just buy a name?
DD: I definitely think that happens.
LM: Would you give some specific instances? Who are some artists today that are popular because they have a name in Houston, Houston in particular or just general?
DD: But not a Houston artists, you mean, just somebody.
LM: Right. Someone that would be likely—
DD: Franz Kline.
LM: He would be likely to be hanging in River Oaks, in other words?
LM: Who are some others?
LM: Again, these are people who are not Houston artists?
LM: That’s curious. Is there kind of an anthem attached to local artists?
DD: There really is. It’s like having a local musician or a local anything. I think one of the neatest things that was in that book, The Painted Word, was someone asked Barnett Newman what he thought about art, his own art, aesthetically, and he said he felt the same way about aesthetics as birds must feel about ornithology.
DD: That really is a nice disconnection. But I’ve seen shows of Kline’s work, his early work, and he couldn’t even draw. You wouldn’t even buy one of his paintings when he was 16:48 trying to do realism. I think that once Picasso destroyed the theory that you can distort and still end up with something, that everyone after that was a plagiarist. He did it, and I think all his stuff Campbell soup cans and all that stuff, I don’t think is art. I think it’s insulting to anyone who’s intelligent, and I think that it’s a terrible for these people to be doing. I think they’ve turned into conmen, and I don’t consider them artists at all.
LM: Do you see the situation getting worse?
LM: Is it any worse in Houston, in particular, or is this just something that is national or even international?
DD: I think it’s really international. I think it’s everywhere.
LM: Is that one of the reasons you closed your gallery in 1970?
LM: So, you were just so discouraged by the whole thing that you have no plans of getting back in?
DD: I wasn’t really discouraged about it. I just didn’t want to be involved in it anymore, because it was—there was just nothing left about it that was any fun anymore. When it started off, it was really nice, because there were some really super artists. Some of them had never sold a picture in their lives, and within 3 or 4 years, we were selling everything they painted. It was just really neat. One thing that happened was every time I put an ad in Art in America, Kennedy Gallery in New York would write my artists and offer them like $20,000 a year to live on while they painted exclusively for them. So, I would lose my artists, because I was trying to help them by advertising. When someone doesn’t have any money, you can’t blame them for accepting $20,000 a year to live on.
LM: No. Not likely. Is there a tendency for large galleries, then, to kind of gobble up small galleries, in the sense of taking away their artists?
DD: Uh-huh. After somebody else has got them on the map, then they make a big offer and take them.
LM: 19:11 How does a person go about starting up a gallery? Let’s take a hypothetical case. Today, I want to open a gallery in Houston devoted to super-realism. How much money do I need? Where do I go? Who do I talk to? Where do I locate?
DD: I guess the best way to locate the artists would be to ask artists whose opinion you respect who they like in that area and call them and talk to them and say you’d like to come out and see their work. I think that you really need at least $100,000 to start a gallery so that you wouldn’t have to be worried about the money for at least a year or two, because I think it takes at least two or three years for one to become established and run on its own.
LM: Can a gallery be a fairly lucrative thing?
DD: Sure, if you’re selling schlock.
LM: I avoided this earlier, but I’ll just ask you outright now. Which are the galleries in Houston that deal in schlock?
DD: Is this slander we’re talking about now?
LM: No. Remember, truth is an absolute defense of libel, but you don’t have to answer the question.
DD: DuBois’ gallery sells schlock. They are the schlock manufacturers of Houston. Ars Longa sells schlock in that the entire gallery was set up because either the brother-in-law or some relative of the woman who runs it was planning a small city outside of Houston. She had gotten the contract to supply all of the art for the city.
DD: She has this gigantic opening. Someone at the opening said it reminds him of the sinking of the Titanic, that there were like 5000 people crammed into this huge building, and the work was schlock. She had 3 or 4 good artists, but they left immediately.
LM: I had an experience one day. I walked into a bank. In the lobby, there was a display of paintings for sale. In 2 minutes, I got so sick of looking at daisies that I never wanted to see another one as long as I lived. So, I know exactly what you mean.
DD: Daisies are in.
LM: 21:41 Do these galleries have stables of artists that turn this stuff out?
LM: Who are some of the classic schlock artists in Houston, for example? Let me ask it in a more neutral way. Who are some of the artists that are in DuBois’ stable?
DD: Lamar Briggs was, but he’s now moved to Betty Moody’s. But Betty Moody used to run Ars Longa. She’s left there and opened her own gallery. But that’s what he paints—flowers, birds.
LM: Is that really a bad thing, though? In what sense?
DD: It’s not bad at all, because I think 90% of the public, that’s the extent of what they can understand. I think that the artists have to depend on the 2% of the public that have got more perception than that. I think that that’s what a really good gallery has to aim themselves towards, are those very few people.
LM: Let me return to the question of education. Could you pinpoint failing on any level—in a Houston school system, in American society in general—why only 2% of the people really appreciate good painting?
DD: I don’t think people can go to school and learn to have good taste. I think through what they read and the people they know and the things they feel are just drawn to good things. I don’t think it has anything to do with the educational system.
LM: Put yourself in the position of a policy maker, now—a person of political power. What would you do, if anything, to change the situation?
DD: I don’t think it can be changed.
LM: We just have to live with it.
DD: Yeah. I think that if you want to have an intellectual conversation, you don’t go to the House of Pies.
DD: 23:54 For the same reason, you don’t go and look in one of these galleries if you want what I would think is good art.
LM: If you are looking for good art, and since the serious galleries have atrophied in Houston, where does a Houstonian go now?
DD: I would go straight to Jim Love’s studio and see what he’s doing or Bob Camblin’s studio, who doesn’t show anywhere. There are a lot of really good artists in Houston.
LM: Do Houstonians, in fact—I mean, that’s where you would go, but now, more generally, do they flock to New York City? Is that the pattern? If someone wants to make a big investment, and I won’t even say in a good painting but just say a big investment, do they tend to leave Houston and go elsewhere?
DD: Yes, to the east coast—I mean, the west coast or New York.
LM: Are there any local galleries that act as middle men in some of the more important trends actions?
DD: Yes, but by acting as the middle men, they certainly are not going to get the best work by that artists. If the client doesn’t know what he wants enough that he would hire a middle man to go and get something like that, I think he’s going to end up with something that’s just really half-baked, for sure, if not less.
LM: Is there a tendency in Houston galleries to specialize by media, for one to have almost all paintings and another to deal in sculpture?
DD: No. Mostly, they’re hodgepodge—everything.
LM: That’s not economically feasible to do that.
LM: To your knowledge, has that ever been attempted?
DD: I don’t think so.
LM: 25:49 Where does the ethnic artist go in Houston for outlets of his work?
DD: I really don’t know. There are a couple at DuBois, a couple of really good painters. That’s the trouble is. When someone is good, and they don’t have an outlet for their work, and they go to a gallery like DuBois, and DuBois says, “Yes, we’ll take you,” then, their problem is that they’re surrounded by artists who are painting daisies and blue bonnets and little houses on a hill and trash, and their work is the thing that looks out of place, because they’re surrounded by garbage, and it makes them look like they’re the freak. Unless there’s a gallery that’s strictly showing good work, I just don’t think that they can sell their work in a place like that.
LM: To your knowledge, has there ever been a gallery in Houston that has specialized in ethnic art?
DD: Never, except Mrs de Minelle.
DD: Is this tape something you can cut?
LM: If you’re about to say something you don’t want to say, either a) don’t say it, or b) it can be erased.
DD: I wanted to ask Rodney the name of a place, because he knows.
(tape cuts briefly)
LM: You were saying about Mrs de Minelle?
DD: Yes, that there is a Black Art Center that’s been open that I think she is doing a tremendous job for helping ethnic artists.
LM: Which media sell well in Houston? For example, is there much of a market for sculpture here?
DD: 27:41 Not really. There’s a lot of imported sculpture here. Mrs de Minelle, especially, has brought in a lot of fantastic things. But I think mostly oil paintings.
LM: What do you think of the public sculpture in this city, in terms of quality?
DD: There’s so little of it, it’s hard to… I think what there is of it is very good, but there’s not much. I even like the statue of Sam Houston, though. I think that’s nice.
LM: So do I. To what do you attribute that, simply the newness of the city or some lacking?
DD: I think Houston is still very much like a small town. It’s real honky. I think that if someone’s going to spend—if they city has to appropriate maybe $50,000 or $100,000 for a piece of sculpture, the people they’re going to have get the money from and the ones that are going to choose the thing are automatically going to be people that aren’t going to be very good at it. They’re certainly not going to give any money to me to go choose one.
LM: Right. Let me, therefore, ask a more general question. What approach does a city government, or what approach has the city government taken toward the arts, in general, in Houston? Do you think they’ve been very supportive?
DD: No. This might be a complete lie, but somebody told me that the Houston Council for—what is that thing called for the arts?
LM: Houston Community Council?
DD: The ones that have the money appropriated for the arts. I can’t remember the name.
LM: Yeah, the corporate people. Yeah, I know what you’re talking about.
DD: Well, I was told by a priest at St Thomas that they have $850,000 right now in their fund to buy art with, and this was over a year-and-a-half ago, and as far as I know, they haven’t spent a penny of it. So, it’s not that there’s no money available. It’s just that it’s not being spent. I think Jim Love’s bear—I forgot about that when you asked me about the sculpture, the public sculpture—but that bear that’s in front of the museum, I think that’s the most cosmic piece of artwork I ever saw in my life. When that bear appeared over there, I think the vibes everywhere around this and that in Montrose changed. I’ve 30:12 seen old couples, like 70 years old, holding hands and sitting on top of that bear. Every time I drive by, I love it.
LM: That’s another question I wanted to ask you. The answer to this would probably be obvious to you, but I’d like to get it on tape, because it might not be obvious to someone 100 years from now. Why do the arts—or should we say, artsy people—tend to cluster in that Montrose/Bissonnet area?
DD: Because they’re poor. As soon as they start making money, they don’t stay there.
LM: Oh yeah? Where do they go? Are there enclaves of artists in Houston that I don’t know about?
LM: They’re just kind of scattered.
DD: But they realize they don’t have to stick together and talk about how miserable and pissed off they are. When they start making their own money, they realize they don’t want to hang around that—there’s a cloud hanging over Montrose. You drive through Montrose, and everything turns gray. There’s just this real sadness that comes from people who aren’t getting where they want to go and aren’t making enough money to move, and it’s just a real stagnant kind of… It depresses me something horrible to go over there.
LM: I must say that I received a somewhat different impression, at least in talking to people, from Montrose. They’ll say, “Oh, yeah, Montrose is a hip place to be.”
DD: I think it used to be about 10 years ago.
LM: When did you first notice Montrose becoming that way? There’s no real word for it. I’ll say “Bohemian” for lack of a better word. When did it start becoming that way?
DD: Probably about 15 years ago, it did. There’s an artist there, who I’m crazy about, named Don Snell, who would really be a good one to talk to about that Montrose area. He’s lived there, as far as I know, forever—New Orleans, and then there.
LM: Now, let’s go back one step further. Fifteen years ago, then, what was the original attraction of the area for the artists?
DD: 32:30 The houses were beautiful. That was one of the oldest areas in Houston, and it was so close to downtown Houston that the people with money were not living there. They wanted to be out and secluded. There were these wonderful little houses renting for practically nothing, with big rooms so they could have a good studio.
LM: That’s interesting, this era of depression that you mentioned.
DD: There is an era of depression. I think that most artists who haven’t made it are very, very depressing people.
LM: To look at it a little bit more positively, are there benefits from an artistic community, from people interacting?
DD: Not when none of them have made it. I think that, on the contrary, that it makes all of them more negative, because everyone they talk to is supporting their theory, which is these rich people, who are pressing me down, they’re suppressing me and my work. They just egg each other on, while at the same time, it’s these rich people that they’re trying to sell their art to, so that their whole concept is really screwed up. I think it must make them hate themselves. They’re painting for people who they despise. What they really need is for someone to tell them how wonderful their work is and to make them feel better, because artists are certainly the most sensitive people and get their feelings hurt the fastest. I think that’s why they hang around in little coves talking about, “Well, the world’s out there, and we’re here.”
LM: Is that problem or that attitude conducive to radical politics? If Houston has an area of left-wing sentiment, it has to be Montrose.
LM: Insofar as there is a left wing in the city, it’s not very far.
LM: Which reminds me, have you yourself been involved in local politics to any extent?
DD: 34:49 Only when I got in a lot of trouble with the Vietnamese refugees. Different politicians in Houston started calling me and raising hell about, what did I mean by bringing in these foreigners?
LM: When was this?
DD: About 5 months ago, when they evacuated Saigon, I went to Guam.
LM: Right. This is unexpected but pleasant. How many refugees did, in fact, come to Houston?
DD: Almost 7000.
LM: They have settled here or in this area?
LM: Let’s digress for a moment and talk about this. Were you one of the instigators of this? Were you in on it from the beginning?
DD: Uh-huh. There were two of us, in fact, who were the sole instigators.
LM: Who was the other person?
DD: Cruiser Roland. He went with me to Guam. We went over there with a friend named Philip Hendron, who was looking for some friends of his from the University of Saigon, who were lost in the computer readouts. He couldn’t find them. When we got over there to help them, we realized we couldn’t find them, so we started working for the Red Cross and helping out at a roady point where they dumped everybody. We saw that we weren’t going to do any good there. There were 40,000 people in tents at that one place. We came back here and started getting people out of Fort Chaffee, thinking that would get the ones off of Guam. The typhoon season was coming, and the people that we liked so much—they’re the fisherman and the peasants—were sitting out there on the tip end of the island just waiting to be blown off the map. We thought the ones at Fort Chaffee, if we got them out of there, they would bring them in to replace them. What we didn’t know was that every corrupt police official and all those people had already been sent to the United States, and that’s what we were letting out, when the only ones we really knew were the farmers and the fishermen. But they shouldn’t have been put in camps in the first place. 37:01 We let 450,000 immigrants into the United States every single year, and they’re not put in camps. This was 130,000 people who, supposedly, were our allies. They were being put into camp and run through the CIA, the FBI, the Secret Service, and 2 other organizations just to see if they were fit enough to come out and live with us, after we had dropped, what, 500,000 tons of bombs on their country, and they were working for us?
LM: How had these 7000 people been received?
DD: Very poorly, really, and for very good reasons, in most cases. The ones that were working for us, like I said, that we were getting out of camps were so used to American money and being overpaid and doing probably ludicrous things for us over there, that they came here and started acting just like jackasses. Cruiser one day, the man we sponsored, took him a television set, and the man looked at him. He’s living in a $400 a month apartment that we’re paying for, sending all of his food to him, and Cru walks in with a color television set, and this man says, “That better be color. I hate black and white.” (Diane mimics Vietnamese accent: “That betta be colluh.”)
DD: You know, they are really so used to being rotten that they act that way.
LM: Interesting. I saw a part, a glowing report, on CBS News the other night about the way that the Vietnamese children were being received. Apparently, it was all really smooth and everything.
DD: The children are precious. I heard from a friend of mine last week that there were 700 refugees, the farmers and fishermen that are now in Padre Island, that are just wonderful people and being very well received. They’re working for a fishing company. They’re making plenty of money. These people, though, were the really peasant ones. When they were staying in motels waiting for their rooms to get ready, they were washing their clothes in the swimming pool, putting Oxydol and bleach in the swimming pool and getting big rocks and cleaning their clothes at the Holiday Inn pool. But those people are really, really nice people. But the ones that—there are a lot of police officials here in Houston, and they’re just really bummers.
LM: In what sense? Would you elaborate on that a little?
DD: 39:54 Yeah. There was one that was a master dredger in Saigon. We got him a job with Brown and Ray, and he said he wasn’t making enough money. They were paying him some phenomenal amount of money, but it wasn’t as much as he was making working for us in Saigon. He quit his job. Most of them that I have kept up with, the ones I got sponsorships for—I call the sponsors every once in a while—and they’ve had trouble with them. One woman gave hers a Chevrolet, and he said, “That is not Cadillac.” (Dianne mimics Vietnamese accent: “Cadilloc.”)
DD: Another one took this guy to buy some clothes because he didn’t have any. He said, “We had our own tailors in Saigon. Do you not have tailors here? I do not wear blue jeans.” They’re very ungrateful, and you can understand their ungratefulness after we destroyed their country and then dump them in a prison camp is exactly what that place is where they were, but at the same time, when you’re trying to help someone, and they treat you like their enemy, it’s very hard to keep up the relationship. It’s really not anyone’s fault, but it’s still a problem.
LM: Let me make an educated guess and suppose that you were involved in the anti-war movement here in Houston.
DD: Not publically, but I certainly was involved in it.
LM: Right. I just wanted to ask you—and in this, I’m leading up to the questions on Pacifica—how extensive was the anti-war movement here in Houston? Was it pretty much underground? Were people afraid to show their colors?
DD: Yes, it really was, except the Montrose area, like you said. The left-wing…
LM: There was a concentration of activity there.
LM: What was the response of the police to the anti-war movement?
DD: I have no idea.
LM: 42:00 Let me put it this way. Was there a sense of paranoia? A sense that you were being spied on, observed, photographed?
DD: You mean me personally?
LM: Well, you personally, and you and your friends who were opposed to the war.
DD: Yeah. There was a lot of phone tapping and strange cars out in front watching. But it started mostly after I got involved with Pacifica. I think that that was a really frightening thing for the police department.
LM: Of course, with Pacifica, the response grew somewhat more violent. Do you have any personal knowledge or connection with the investigation of the bombings?
DD: Yes, that the man that did the bombing the first time was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and was down at the police department and had been—what do you call it? —booked.
LM: Right. Arraigned.
DD: Arraigned, and then, for some reason, was let go. No one ever did know why. They said they didn’t have sufficient proof, even though they had found TNT and other things like that in his car.
LM: Can you recall what the reaction was of the street people in Houston? I’ll just say the left-wing community generally, the counterculture—I don’t like the phrase, but I’ll use it.
LM: What was the reaction when the bombing took place? Were people angry? Fearful?
DD: I heard very little reaction to it, except at the station. Nobody even thought about it after a couple of days, and no one ever wondered why they didn’t do something about the bombers.
LM: I guess the point I’m trying to get it is it seems that there’s never been any one incident of sort of massive violence, be it a race riot or a large, massive demonstration in Houston. There seems to have been no single event that acted as a catalyst what there is of the left 44:28 in Houston. If people won’t react to a bombing, you have to wonder what they will react to.
DD: Right. Very little, I think. There were 2 bombings.
LM: Right. I’m referring, specifically, to the first one. The second one would have been old hat.
LM: It seems like there’s almost a sense of political apathy in this community.
DD: There is.
LM: To what would you attribute that?
DD: I think there’s apathy across the whole world. I don’t think it’s just this city. I think the people have become so frightened that they’re hanging onto SLN and group therapy and anything, just to have someone else to touch and think, “I’m not alone,” when I think everyone feels so alienated from everything, they’re so busy feeling about themselves and their own alienation, that they couldn’t care less about what’s happening with a radio station being bombed.
LM: Of course, KPFT is a radio station that supposedly has very close ties with its listeners, being a listener-supported station. It’s only problems have not been bombings. You, being on the board, are probably privy to some of the controversy, some of the friction that’s taken place. Would you describe what’s been happening on that front?
DD: They’ve never gotten enough sponsorships to not need money, and so, what started off being a non-commercial station—it was strictly listener-sponsored—they’ve had to change their whole format just to get enough people to become sponsors so that they wouldn’t have to be a commercial station. It’s really no longer like it was. They used to do really wonderful things on there and talk about—well, they had news that came in before the other stations had it about the My Lai Massacre and things that happened at the police department and things like that that they had to quit doing because the general public didn’t want to hear that kind of thing and wouldn’t listen to the station. Now, it’s just, to me, like any other station. They just play music, and news is news. I think that they really had to do that just to stay on the air.
LM: 47:08 Specifically, what have been some of the sources of contention between the board and the staff?
DD: The staff always wants more money, and they think that the board’s duty is to raise money and to keep quiet about the policies of the station. It’s my feeling that if I’m going to be used to raise money, then I damn well ought to be able to have some say-so about what’s going on.
DD: Everyone feels used. The staff is underpaid. The board is bored to death. All they do is argue.
LM: What was the genesis of the station? When did it first really get off the ground?
DD: I believe it was about 6 years ago. We had an art auction to raise the money to do it. They opened the station downtown on Prairie Avenue—or Texas; I can’t remember which one. But then, it was a lot of really dedicated people who had come in from New York and the other station in California to really help. They were really enthusiastic, and things were going really well. Then, they had to start getting—you know that any time they’re using volunteers to help, that you’re getting really not very good help. The only people that had time to volunteer their time were people that had nothing to do with their time. That was what was coming out on the air, was just really uninteresting kind of trash. Then, they went for a while into sensationalism, a program that, once a week, would come on and talk about people’s different sex lives, hoping that people would call in and ask or answer questions and that that would get their rating up high enough that people would pay money to be a sponsor and be a member to keep it on the air.
LM: They resorted to sensationalism.
DD: Mm-hmm. I think that’s happened at all the Pacifica stations. This station now refuses to be called Pacifica. They want to be called KPFT, and they’re trying very hard to get the stigma of Pacifica off of the thing. They’ve changed their whole policy.
LM: Looking back now, knowing what you know from the last 6 years, do you think there is enough of a market, enough of an audience, for that kind of radio station in Houston?
DD: 49:38 Yes. If they had enough money to pay staff members and get enough good staff members, it would be fine, but the people they get come on the air and pick their fingernails and say, “Well… er… uh… duh...” kind of stuff. Anything that’s put across intelligently is nice to listen to, but this “um… er… uh…” stuff is really boring, no matter what it is that they’re saying.
LM: Right. Yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about. So, you think that some measure of professionalism might save the station?
DD: Mm-hmm, and they can’t get it until they get the money.
LM: I certainly hope so. It’s unique as a station.
DD: It started off as if there was nothing in the world better than a free radio station.
LM: Yeah, especially in America, right?
DD: For sure.
LM: I have, more or less, gone through what I’ve prepared in questions, but I know, in talking about the galleries and the art scene in Houston, I’m sure that there were just dozens of things that I did not touch on. At this point in the interview, I’d just like to open it to you and ask if there are any other comments you’d like to make on the artistic scene in Houston, your perceptions.
DD: I think that one thing that’s really wrong with the galleries in Houston is that there’s the most formal air about them, that you walk into them—and I’m talking now about The Texas Gallery, Janie C. Lee—there is absolutely no friendliness involved. It’s almost like they’re the keepers of the world’s treasure, and you are really lucky for them to let you come in and look. I think it really puts people off and frightens them. Very rarely do you go in one where there’s any music playing or where anyone gets up and says, “Could I help you? Would you like some coffee?” or anything to make you feel like you’re wanted. It’s a real standoffish kind of thing that just makes me think they’re very insecure. I haven’t been to any of those galleries that I would ever go back into for a second time, because I don’t like being made to feel like I’m an interloper when what I wanted to do is see something beautiful.
LM: How did you make people feel at home in your gallery?
DD: 52:21 We were just always having fun in there. The artists were there and would talk about their own work. The doors were always open, and someone always went in and said, “Do you want some coffee?” There was music playing, people talking and laughing, and playing poker on the floor. It was also connected to a bookstore that my brother had, and the people from the bookstore would wander around. It was really a nice, real homey kind of place.
LM: That is a good arrangement, I must say.
DD: It is.
LM: There was one other thing, before it slips my mind, that I suppose I should ask about, and that is the question of the commission. Are artists sometimes upset about the way that the dealer’s commissions are handled?
DD: Yes, for sure. I believe, now, that the general commission is 40/60, that the gallery gets 40, which seems like a lot for them to get, but without the gallery, they’re not going to sell their work, and that the gallery does do things like, they pay for the mailer, and they pay for the show, and they pay for the rent, and they pay for the whiskey and everything else. So, there is a lot of money to be taken out of that. The gallery doesn’t really end up with a whole lot of money from that.
LM: Are there any other remarks you have to make?
DD: Yes. I have a friend name Alan Armstrong, who told me a really wonderful thing that I’m thinking of doing. He said I should open a guerilla gallery, G-U-E-R—guerilla. He said that what we ought to do is set up his circus tent on a vacant lot and have a really super artist like Roy Fridge, for instance, come in, show all of his movies, show his sculpture, which would be for sale, talk to anyone who wants to talk to him, and then fold up the tent within 24 hours and disappear. Whoever didn’t make it, didn’t buy it, is never going to have the chance to do it again. Then, like 2 months later, it will reappear someplace else, like an x-rated theatre and show somebody else’s art, but always in some place just to keep something happening somewhere. There’s a man here in town who has a tamale machine that I think is the neatest piece of art I’ve ever seen. It’s all wood. You put 50 pounds of tamale mixture in one end, and it runs through this Ruth Goldberg wooden machine and comes out the other end all wrapped up in corn chucks. I’ve tried for a year to get both museums to put this in their front yard and sell museum tamales, just so
55:15 people can see some damn interesting thing going on. They’re just so unimaginative, the museums. They think that will detract from the seriousness of what’s going on, and I think it’s the very seriousness that’s not only ruining the world but has certainly killed art. I think artists that don’t have a sense of humor ought to all be run out of town. I think the museums and the galleries are the ones that have brought this seriousness on them. When you walk into a place that’s deadly serious, you feel like you’re in a tomb. You don’t feel comfortable. You don’t want to buy something from there, because it’s depressing. I think when you stop having fun with something, you better quit doing it, because you sure aren’t putting your soul in it when it’s… I just am very down on seriousness.
LM: The other night I was at the Athens Bar and Grill with an artist, personally described, almost perfectly, kind of bitter, not selling anything but still cranking it out. We were talking about art. He said to me that 90% of art is the immediate felt experience, and only 10% could be theory or anything like that. You have to look at a painting or a piece of sculpture, and if you don’t feel it, then it’s no-go.
DD: I think that’s absolutely true. That’s why there’s so few people who are really serious collectors, because I think there are very few people who look at anything and feel. They don’t even look at the My Lai Massacre and feel much less a piece of art.
LM: That’s kind of a down note on which to end the interview.
DD: It’s lucky we still have that 2%.
LM: But would you say it’s probably true? We can only hope that things improve, I guess.
DD: I think, really, art always is reflecting what’s going on in the world at the time. I don’t really know an up-note to end it on except that there surely are a lot of good artists out there who need a good gallery and some good backers. I think people should really make it their solemn duty to support those kind of people and find out who they are and go to their studio and talk to them and find out what real art’s all about and buy something from them. I think that when we lose our artists, we’ve lost everything.
LM: Are you going to act on your tent idea?
LM: 58:10 How will you leak clues about it or will you?
DD: We’re going to send invitations and say this is for 24 hours only and that, the next day, the entire thing is going to be gone.
LM: Just gone.
DD: I thought by the third time it happened, that people would come in and be so afraid they weren’t going to see those things again, that they’d buy them immediately. That would certainly be a really good way to help the ones that I think are really good artists. I’ve already had several artists say that they would be the first ones to do it so that when we finally got around to the third or fourth, they could make some money.
LM: It’s a novel idea, certainly.
DD: I think it’s a really good thing, because it’s exciting is what it is, and I think that’s what’s missing in the museum and the gallery. You just don’t feel like you’re being a part of any big excitement of any kind. It’s almost a real drag.
LM: It’s been a very informative interview, if not an optimistic interview, and on behalf of the Houston Metropolitan Archives and Research Center, I’d like to thank you very much.
DD: I’m just proud we could be here.
[end of 036] 59:30