The number of art galleries in downtown Palo Alto continues to grow, in spite of the pandemic, with the recent opening of Qualia, a commercial venue located at 328 University Ave. Its owner, Dacia Xu, brings to this endeavor a passion for art as well as a familiarity with the workings of the high-tech world.
Xu was born and raised in an isolated, mountainous area of China. She described her early life as "harsh," thanks to the political climate at the time. In the early '80s, she said, China restored the higher education system, with a strong commitment to science and technology. She was more or less assigned a career path, even though "my innate nature was to love art and literature more," she said. She eventually obtained her doctorate in materials science and worked for seven years in the high-tech industry. Doing so meant that she had to live in a variety of places in the United States, from Texas to Pennsylvania, and often apart from her husband, Xiaoze Xie, and two sons. When Xie was offered a position as professor of art at Stanford University, it was the opportune time for her to leave full-time work and devote herself to family life. At one point, she homeschooled her son so that he could pursue a career as a pianist.
"My partner and I have the same interests and similar backgrounds. She has loved art her whole life but went to medical school. Like me, she wants to support artists and spread art to enrich other people's cultural lives."
The name of the gallery, Qualia, is a term in philosophy. Xu explained, "it means the internal and subjective component of sense perceptions, arising from stimulation of the senses by phenomena." She can remember with clarity her own initial up-close-and-personal encounter with Western art, the first Robert Rauschenberg show displayed in China in 1985. "I was shocked and fascinated," she related.
"We named our gallery Qualia as a way to encourage people to directly experience art," Xu said.
Her opening exhibition, which was guest-curated by her husband, was a group show of seven artists whose theme was man's impact on the environment. The current exhibition (on view through Jan. 15), which Xu curated, features two Bay Area artists: Cate White and Sean Howe. Their large-scale paintings explore subjects including race, anxiety and power structures.
The configuration of the gallery, a narrow central space with an adjoining smaller room, will allow for group shows and displays like this one, where each artist has their own area.
Qualia has a roster of artists but will expand that list.
"It always takes time to develop a long-term good relationship with each individual artist," Xu said. "We do welcome portfolios from local, national or international outstanding established and emerging artists."
The shows are planned to change every four to five weeks.
When asked who her target audience is, Xu acknowledged the preponderance of highly educated, technology-oriented people living on the Peninsula.
"We do anticipate high-tech people to be our audience. And that is one of the purposes that we chose in opening a gallery in Palo Alto. It is much more difficult for people in Silicon Valley, who always have a very busy schedule, to make a trip for art to San Francisco."
Xu says she hopes to coordinate efforts with other Palo Alto art galleries, perhaps holding openings at the same time.
"It will help to create an art scene in Palo Alto and eventually people will form a habit to see art here," she said. The next scheduled exhibition will feature the work of Stella Zhang and Yulia Pinkusevich, who will also be part of a group show at the Palo Alto Art Center at the same time.
"I hope we can do something such as sponsoring an artist talk together," she said.
One enormous advantage Qualia has is location. Just two doors away from the Apple store, it might become a welcome place to pop in and browse while waiting in the inevitable line at the technology store. No matter who walks through the door, they will be met with Xu's enthusiasm and commitment to providing a vital platform for dialogues on contemporary art.
"My partner and I know it is difficult to make any profit out of a gallery venture, even in nonpandemic times. But I do believe that people need art."
More information is available at qualiacontemporaryart.com.
Freelance writer Sheryl Nonnenberg can be emailed at nonne[email protected]