Walking into Champion Gallery recently, the sun was setting and the room glowed white.
The picture windows were like a silent movie, playing scenes of the city at dusk. Men and women walked by, most glancing into the windows on their way past, yet the L-shaped space was quiet.
The galley walls held large photographs on both sides. The glass door opened on Adam Schreiber's portrait of the bleachers at Royal Memorial Stadium, looking like a cathedral.
On the far end stood ‘Foyer at Uday's Palace,' the now famous picture of soldiers standing among the rubble of Uday Hussein's desert pedestal, staring out on Iraqi desert. The empty blue swimming pool merges politics with kitsch.
It was a meditative setting; the rarity of a private viewing in total silence, inches away from the heat and noise of East Eighth and Brazos streets. After awhile I turned the corner and was greeted by Sonia Dutton, the owner of Austin's newest art gallery.
‘I don't like to disturb people when they first come in,' Dutton said, ‘I want to give them a chance to experience the works on their own.'
Champion is a daring exhibit space on a lovely rising corner across from the Central Presbyterian Church. Of all the new studios in town, it feels the most urban, basking in the thin glass dividing its white concrete floors and the city's landscape.
This feel stems organically from Dutton, who arrived here after a decade in New York City, where she worked with the Art Trust Pension, selecting art for collectors.
‘When I arrived I realized that there was so much abandoned urban space around here,' she said of the adjacent neighborhood. ‘I wanted to have a presence in the downtown, to contribute to the ideas of regeneration and reinvention.'
Dutton is ready to ride a new energy into the city's art scene, with a touch of worldly prestige. ‘I had at least 25 really good studio visits in Austin,' she said. She seemed amazed that many of those artists weren't represented by local galleries.
Barry Stone, an assistant professor at Texas State University, and Adam Schreiber embody this effect, Dutton said. ‘What's interesting about these artists is that they both have New York representation.
‘That's where I'd really like to change things. In fact, there's a plethora of artists in Austin that really deserve to be seen, but there's just not enough venues.'
A couple from the condos next door walked in as we stepped outside to marvel at Anthony Sonnenberg's mesmerizing bronze flower garden in the window. Dutton has a keen eye for striking scenes like this.
Dutton's vision has accumulated works with outstanding global pedigree, one that is rarely found outside Austin's museums. She has often acquired the most iconic images from an artist's catalog.
‘Interrupted Landscapes' is a broad show that makes powerful statements about very different landscapes, from a Detroit artist who builds pyramids from the detritus of abandoned buildings to a man from a Kazakhstan region nicknamed ‘Texas' because of its oil wealth.
Dutton seeks artists ‘with great imaginations and inner mythologies,' she said.
A slight young woman, with wavy hair and a subtle New Zealand drawl, Dutton grew up on New Zealand's South Island after her father, a philosopher, moved the family from Michigan.
After a week in business, Champion has an alluring confidence that Dutton hopes will find a place in Austin. At the moment, the expense of importing iconic paintings and photographs from some of the world's best artists is not something she wants to consider too deeply.
‘You take a risk and you do what you've always wanted to do — the only thing that you've known to do, really.'
The Sept. 16 opening was a good sign. ‘It surprised me, so many people came,' Dutton said. Four hundred came out, starting with a private viewing and finishing with food carts and music.
‘It's a very open door, so to get as many people as possible to come through the doors and engage with the art is really important to me,' she said.
When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays through Oct. 16
Where:Champion Gallery, 800 Brazos St.