Editor's note: The following article was rekeyed and reprinted on November 11, 2008 in Resource Library with permission of Lonnie Pierson Dunbier. The article is an excerpt from Dr. Roger Dunbier's unpublished writing of 601 pages titled WEST IS WEST: Your Money's Worth in Original Painting.  Dated 1982, the original typewriter manuscript is owned by his wife, Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, who edits and submits the chapters to TFAO. If you have questions or comments regarding the article, please contact Lonnie Pierson Dunbier in Scottsdale, AZ, at ldunbier@mac.com.


Houston to New York

...a situation like a Ceylonese tea planter who looked to London for just about everything other than the tropical sun and cheap labor.

By Roger Dunbier, PhD (1934-1998)


There are galleries and then there are galleries and believe me, any attempt to categorize them, let alone pass judgment on such an array might test Talleyrand's definition: "worse than a crime it's a blunder."

Ducking this subject for the moment, at least, I'll let Janie C. Lee, a Houston gallery owner, address the matter in reference to her base of operations in Texas. In a chapter entitled "Dealing from Houston" in the 1982 book, The Business of Art by Lee Caplin and funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, she writes of her city and her gallery:

Houston has a variety of good respected commercial galleries unequaled in this part of the country. Most of them have an area in which they specialize, such as 19th or 20th century art, Texas art, Southwest art, photography and prints. Some address themselves to even more specialization, such as minimal art or color field painting. . . At the time of this writing, the Janie C. Lee Gallery has been in Texas for fifteen years. During this period there have been many changes in the Texas art community and in the gallery itself. My basic premise, however, remains the same. The gallery is interested in, and committed, to exhibiting the best quality mature work we can find. The work we usually show is from established artists. It is not our object to show primarily New York artists any more than we set out to show Houston artists, but the artists to whom we have been committed for many years---Johns, Stella, Frankenthaller and Motherwell, to name a few---happen to live in the Eastern part of the United States. The gallery exhibits artists from Houston, Dallas and other areas of the United States because their work is also of high quality.

(It should be noted here in her allotted chapter, "Dealing from Houston", she fails to mention a single Houston or for that matter, Texas artist. But let her continue.)

The emerging artists have a very real and difficult problem in bringing their art to the attention of those who can recognize its quality and want to acquire it. I think the gallery should help such artists---it is to the gallery's advantage to do so. I must also mention, since my gallery is located in Houston, that I believe artists need to spend time in New York City. I do not mean that they must make a permanent residence in New York, but I am deeply committed to the results of the experience of a few years in New York: the art in the museums; the dialogue among one's colleagues, the advantages of seeing art that is being shown in the hundreds of galleries.

(I should interrupt here, but will let her continue, not leaving out a word, as I think everything she says about the New York connection deserves hearing.)

All of the advantages New York City offers, in addition to the above, are an intrinsic part of an artist's development. I am not suggesting that it is easy to live in New York, but then it's not easy to be an artist either. But somehow, even though it is difficult, many people have done it. Most of those who are recognized as being our greatest artists today have managed to live in New York City. Eventually many of those artists do indeed live out of New York but they spent some of their time in the city. I believe the New York experience is pivotal to the maturity of the artist and his or her work.

Well, one is tempted to say: "there you have it, the art gallery scene in Houston". I'll pass on that opportunity to be snide, but must muse for a moment on her fifteen years operating a gallery in that Texas city and advising all those promising young artists to go to New York and not getting even one (literally) worthy of mention back to Houston, let alone Texas. Maybe none come back? Or possibly those that take her clearly indicated course of action do not live up to the promise. You might want to ask her those questions, but as far as I am concerned the lesson for me in her words is crystal clear. If you want the art of New York artists displayed in their "hundreds of galleries", go to that city. What kind or quality of 'minimal or color field' art makes it from the lofts of New York past those hundreds of galleries to Houston where a class of gallery owners pay such obsequious homage to its place of origin. I should think this art trundled West occupies a niche similar to the disappearing artists of Houston themselves, something picked over, lost forever, or possibly non-existent.

The paragraphs from Houston are quoted here to point up the vast differences in art galleries that go beyond medium or subject, the treatment of subject or even the very existence of subject. What we have here is a colonial out-layer---a situation not entirely dissimilar from a Ceylonese tea planter who in a previous age, looked to London for just about everything other than the tropical sun and cheap labor. Substitute Texas money for the cheap labor and you pretty well have it.

Where is the dealer who advised Frank Tenney Johnson, "get out of here, get out of Los Angeles, your work needs the out of doors?"

For that matter, what happened to those artists who went West seeking "God's country" or a "real man's country"?

Where are the painters who portrayed the 'epic struggles', the landscapes and the Indian? And where are their dealers?

It seems that many of them are staying out West, mixing it up together and doing very well, thank you! From their 'colonial outpost isolation', far away from certain "advantages", they extend an invitation to artists who wish to succeed to spend time in the West, not necessarily as permanent residents but "deeply committed" to a "few years'-- enough time to "see the art in the museums, the dialogue among one's colleagues, the advantages of seeing art that is being shown in the hundreds of galleries". .

Even tea planters might profit!

-- Edited and Submitted by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier who holds the copyright


About the Author:

From 1982, Dr. Roger Dunbier (1934-1998) combined his professional economics training, research skills, and love of art to develop an easily accessed, 'all-in-one-place' repository of factual information so that buyers and sellers of American art could make decisions based on hard-core data rather than just marketing hype.  With ever-more sophisticated computers, programmed by Charles Lefebvre, his long-time associate, Dunbier built an artist record database, which by the time he died 16 years later, had 21,357 names linked to their respective auction prices, literature and biographies.  Today the result of his dedication lives on as the foundation of AskART.com, an internet site since 2000.  

Dunbier's innovation of computer systems began in 1963, when he pioneered computer mapping on what were then relatively primitive computers.  In 1967, he utilized concepts of 'arbitrage' and 'comparables' in designing the first real estate Multiple Listing System.  Its direct descendent remains in use by realtors across the United States, and he later applied the same underlying principles in building his artist database.  (right: Roger Dunbier, photo courtesy Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, derived from a larger image at http://tfaoi.org/am/16am/16am17.jpg)

Dunbier was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska.  His interest in American art was natural because his father, Augustus Dunbier, (1888-1977) was a prominent landscape, still life and portrait painter and art teacher, whose studio and classroom were in the family home.   Although Roger showed few 'right brained' skills, he did have other talents.  He graduated first in his class and Summa Cum Laude from the University of Omaha in 1955 with majors in economics and history.   He then received a Marshall Scholarship, which led to enrollment at Oxford University in England from 1955 to 1959.  During that time, he was on the Oxford University basketball and track teams, and was a member of the British National Basketball Team.  In 1961, he received a Doctorate of Philosophy, Economic Geography from Oxford.  His dissertation, The Sonoran Desert, Its Geography, Economy, and People, was published by the University of Arizona Press in 1960, and subsequently used as a text book for college geography courses.

After formal education, Dunbier held full-time professorial positions for several years at the University of Omaha and the University of California-Irvine.  He lived most of the remainder of his life in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, and had economic-geography related jobs including CEO of his management consulting firm that prepared demographic and locational studies; and President of Metro Press, Inc., publisher of over 100 computer generated area directories for Metro Phoenix.  In 1991, he married Lonnie Pierson of Lincoln, Nebraska.

-- By Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, 2008


About this article's editor

Lonnie Pierson Dunbier of Scottsdale, Arizona and originally from Nebraska, married Dr. Roger Dunbier in 1991. From then, she worked full time on his artist database. After his death, she co-founded AskART.com, for which she was Research Director from 2000 to 2007. Ms. Dunbier is also the editor of all other excerpts from Dr. Roger Dunbier's unpublished writing of 601 pages titled WEST IS WEST: Your Money's Worth in Original Painting

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