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Liliana Molina is the force behind River Oaks' Art of the World Gallery.

Liliana Molina is right at home among some seriously captivating—not to mention seriously expensive—art. Her heels clack against the dark wood floor of the gallery she owns as she strides across the room, expertly and effortlessly explaining piece after piece on display. She rattles off artists' names, birth years, home countries, and preferred medium as easily as a Starbucks order.

She's been at it in Houston since 2014, when she and husband Mauricio Vallejo set out to open a modern and contemporary art gallery here. Already private dealers with much experience in the global market, the couple longed for a sense of permanency, not to mention the name recognition it would bring. They found it in Art of the World, a two-story gallery they opened at 2201 Westheimer. From the get-go, Molina knew she wanted to be in River Oaks, "an important part of this city for this type of gallery."

Today, Art of the World exhibits works of world-renowned artists, from the pop renderings of Mr. Brainwash to the larger-than-life bronze sculptures of Javier Marín. Molina can talk at length about each of them.

Born and raised in Medellín, Colombia, a vibrant city once beleaguered by drug cartel violence—Molina recalls nightclub explosions at the height of notorious narcotics boss and native son Pablo Escobar's reign—Molina has a special allegiance to the Latin American visionaries she exhibits. In Colombia, her family has a gallery of their own.

"I grew up surrounded by art," Molina said, literally surrounded by art once more, this time in a private room at Art of the World several weeks ago as she prepared for the opening of an upcoming exhibition. "It's in my blood."

She and Vallejo moved to Houston in 2002 for its international reputation. Fifteen years later, the spectacular diversity is still Molina's favorite aspect of the city.

This month, she spoke with Houstonia about her passion for art and design, the discerning eye she's cultivated, and—on the heels of the second annual Women's March—being a female business owner at what feels like a turning point in the national dialogue.

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Molina describes a Javier Marín sculpture in her gallery.

Image: Abby Ledoux

On art she's inspired by:

"What’s important for me when I like an artist is their consistency in their style … they want to give something to the art world. For instance, Fernando Botero: his aesthetic is all about volume. People think, ‘Ah, Fernando is painting a fat man or a fat woman’ – no, no, no, it’s not that. It’s related to volume. … Other artists at the time, they were painting narrow figures, so Botero created the opposite. Creating a style and contributing in some way to the art world is something very remarkable, and that’s what Botero has done. Or Julio Larraz – his style is so simple. He’s from Cuba, and most of the time he’s painting wealthy people, religious themes, political subjects … there is a lot of humor in his work, but at the same time they are elegant, simple."

On how having an interior design background complements her work today:

"Sometimes I have clients that want to buy artwork, and they say, ‘well, I have this and that in my living room, but my style of home is this or that way, so what do you suggest?’ So many times I not only sell paintings or sculptures to them, but I also contribute in their houses [with] how to change the space in order for the art to look better … and also light is important; I suggest how to light the artwork."

On why to invest in art for your home:

"It’s incredible the difference when you see artwork from a master or a mid-career artist, where they have developed or are mature in their artwork. And it’s incredible the difference when you see a painting or sculpture from an artist that has those qualities of experience [compared to] other artwork, like a print or another original work from an artist that hasn’t studied or doesn’t have that maturity in their work. When people have the means ... to buy art, it will make a big difference in the space. It’s like when you buy anything else–we can buy shoes, but some of them could be more comfortable than others that might be cheaper. The same thing happens with artwork: When you hang a painting or install a sculpture that has that level of quality, your home will be more beautiful. 

When you buy art, it’s a very personal experience ... one of the most important things is that you enjoy something when you buy it, because it’s like a window. When you buy a home, you want to see something beautiful through the window. Every painting can be that."

On the style of her own home:

"My home is very contemporary. I wish I could have more artwork, but I usually I buy for my business. I have some beautiful art at home, but the most beautiful works are here in the gallery."

On her future plans for Art of the World:

"I hope that we can become the No. 1 gallery here in Houston—and have a sculpture garden. Sometimes we have gorgeous monumental sculptures in storage, and it’s a shame that they’re in storage and not exhibited to the public. I hope we can have that, and bring a lot of exhibitions not only to our gallery but to public spaces, like parks and museums."

On her experience as a female business owner in America:

"It has been very positive, but maybe because the art world is more open. I guess other women have opened the doors for me, they’ve opened the way to be here. I appreciate that from them. Women have always been in second place, and I hate that, because we are very smart, we are very strong, and we have a lot of talent to be in the same place that guys have been for centuries. I am so happy with what’s happening now, that women are not afraid anymore, that we can talk, that we can say together, ‘we are here, and we need and we deserve respect.’"

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