of Allison teaching at the Museum school in Belgrade Yugoslavia
Wednesday, September 30, 1998
By Nancy Dean/This Week Correspondent,
HOUSTON ARTIST OPENS EXHIBIT
AT MUSEUM IN YUGOSLAVIA
Although Dan Allison, 44, a contemporary
art specialist and printmaker, is well known among the owners of the series
of art galleries in and around Colquitt off Kirby Drive, his latest artistic
endeavor is taking him much further afield.
Sept. 3 marked the opening
of his retrospective exhibition at the new Modern Museum of Viejo in Belgrade,
"What will be on display
reflects my artistic and personal interests for the last 18 years," the
Houston native said before his departure. "About half the works are mixed
media on canvas, using acrylics, air brush techniques and collage. The
other half are prints. Some are maps of the world, woven together. It's
my way of showing new world order."
Allison's connection with
the former Yugoslavia goes back to 1987, when he was awarded the prestigious
International Graphics Biennial prize in Ljubliana, Slovenia.
"My entry had been in Ljubliana
for the judging for some time, but I wanted to visit the exhibition myself
because I was interested in observing the work of the other artists," explained
Allison. "After 16 hours in airports and airplanes, I had no idea that
I had slipped into the room at the exact moment that the name of the grand
prize winner was being announced and conducted in a language totally
alien to me, so the only two words I recognized were my name. Suddenly,
a horde of people and cameramen rushed toward me. Honestly, I thought I
was being arrested."
Instead, it was the beginning
of a relationship that has continued even as the former Yugoslavia has
torn itself apart. Allison is one of few people who can travel freely between
each piece of the former country. He has lectured in Zagreb, the capital
of Croatia; Ljubliana, the capital of Slovenia; and Belgrade, the capital
of Serbia (what is also still officially Yugoslavia) and formerly the capital
of the entire country.
The speaking tours and
exhibitions were arranged in 1987 and 1989 by the United States Information
Agency, the cultural and information arm of the U.S. government overseas.
Allison's interest in the
region never flagged, not even as the war raged early in the 1990's. In
fact, Allison returned to the former Yugoslavia again during the height
of the civil war in 1994, as the head of a relief mission for the artists
in Sarajevo. It was sponsored by the Artist Rescue Mission based in Houston,
an organization he co-founded.
Upon his arrival, he and
his crew were immediately caught in the escalating conflict, so the original
plan to airlift the supplies was impossible to carry out. Allison left
Ljubliana, 300 miles to the north with two trucks through contested areas.
"It's definitely the scariest
thing I've ever done," he said. "The only way to keep moving was to bribe
the guards. Ultimately, I ran out of money, so I was detained for questioning
by the Croatian militia just 30 miles south of Sarajevo."
Eventually, Allison and
his trucks were allowed to continue. The supplies, which included cameras
and tape recorders, reached the artists in the area. They then used the
cameras to document their work and their situation as seen through the
eyes of the artists. The photographs were sent via fax to Houston, computer
enhanced and exhibited at the Davis/McClain Gallery, 711 Louisiana, in
A live tele-conference
was hosted by the gallery on opening night. The dialogue between the artists
sequestered around a single working phone in the darkened gallery in Sarajevo
and the Texas artists seated at their microphone amid the press conference
atmosphere in Houston was one of contrast, emotion, and drama.
"I have but one nation,"
said one of the Sarajevo artists. "It is the nation of art. It knows no
So, it is no wonder that
Allison is excited about this, his first visit in four years back to the
area of the world he has adopted as his own.
"Eventually, I plan to
establish a studio in Slovenia, near the border of Austria and Italy, close
to France and Germany. Houston will always remain my base. I plan to keep
my studio in the River Oaks area, but my heart belongs to Yugoslavia --
all of it."