Dallas Art Fair Founder Chris Byrne on What He Learned From New York's Lower East Side

Chris Byrne of the Dallas Art Fair
(Courtesy Chris Byrne)

Since it began four years ago as the brainchild of developer John Sughrue and dealer Chris Byrne, the Dallas Art Fair has more than doubled in size. Still, at 73 galleries, it remains navigable. This year’s edition hosts 32 new dealers, including Feature Inc. and Leo Koenig, from New York; Green Gallery, of Milwaukee; and Silverman Gallery, from San Francisco. Local favorites, such as Webb Gallery, are among the 41 returning to the fair, which runs April 13-15. In a recent interview with Art+Auction, Byrne spoke about why Dallas is attracting more cultural activity than ever.

How has the fair changed in four years?

It started with 35 galleries. The growth happened very organically. We never felt like we wanted to rent a convention center and fill it out. We use the same venue, a midcentury arts-district building called the Fashion Industry Gallery, but we’ve expanded to fill the whole space. We don’t have an application; we get new dealers by referral. Exhibitors include galleries that have worked with local museums or have connections to local collectors. This year also marks the first time a critical mass of cultural activities has come together at once. The Dallas International Film Festival opens April 12, Alden Pinnell’s kunsthalle-like Power Station is opening a solo exhibition of Jacob Kassay on April 11, and the nonprofit Dallas Contemporary is debuting the Dallas Biennale during the fair.

Was it a conscious decision to include so many young galleries this year?

Whenever I’m on the Lower East Side of New York, I always see Dallas collectors there. Those galleries have a history of working with artists who are just starting their careers, and that’s comparable to the situation that some of the Dallas galleries are in. The hope is that by presenting the local, national, and international galleries on an even playing field, we give the viewer an important role in evaluating the art on its own terms.

What does the Dallas market have to offer exhibitors?

Our dealers don’t want or expect us to duplicate Art Basel Miami Beach or the Armory Show in New York. I think they want to cultivate collectors in Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. There is a strong history of collecting and philanthropy here. Being in Dallas feels very much like the meter isn’t running: You get to spend time with collectors you wouldn’t necessarily be able to talk to at a busier, larger fair.  

To see a preview of works from the 2012 Dallas Art Fair, click on the slide show.