An Unpretentious Dallas Art Fair Kicks Off, With Dealers Praising It as the "Miss Congeniality of Art Fairs"

Fairgoers admiring Yuken's "Heroes-Ultraman," 2011 at the Shoshana Wayne Gallery booth at the Dallas Art Fair
(Courtesy the Dallas Art Fair)

DALLAS—A few weeks before the Dallas Art Fair, Joel Mesler, founder of the Lower East Side gallery Untitled, told ARTINFO he was more eager to go to Dallas than Cologne, where he was headed next on the art fair circuit, because Dallas “just seems so much more exotic.”

Indeed, there were some strange local customs on view at last night’s vernissage: collectors bounding into booths and roundly embracing dealers; prices outrightly displayed on wall labels; dealers gamely asking this reporter if she had any questions about the work on view. Such displays of unpretentiousness and downright friendliness are foreign to the cavernous halls of most art fairs in New York and Miami. Carrie Secrist, owner of an eponymous gallery in Chicago, called Dallas “the Miss Congeniality of art fairs.” Now in its fourth year, the Dallas Art Fair is hosting 78 galleries from across the United States and Europe, 32 of which are new to the event. “It’s family style,” said artist Sarah Braman, co-owner of New York’s CANADA gallery. “In New York, people are always running for the art. But here, they all stop and ask each other, ‘Oh, what are you buying?’”

Most dealers cited the tight-knit community of collectors in Dallas, as well as the low booth price and facility of the organizers, as what attracted them to the fair. (Though the organizers do not disclose booth prices, one dealer estimated an average booth cost around $8,000.) “Once the secret gets out, there will be a wait list,” said gallerist Zach Feuer. The collector community, which includes heavy-hitters like Howard Rachofsky and Deedie Rose, was out in force last night, though it seemed they may have been too busy socializing to buy much.  

A number of galleries did report substantial sales, however. William Shearburn Gallery, of St. Louis, sold a multicolored text painting by Mel Bochner within the first few hours of the fair for $42,000, while Cernuda Arte, of Coral Gables, sold two paintings by Cuban-born expressionist painter Gina Pellón for $26,000 and $18,000. Leo Koenig, Inc. of New York, sold several small, life-like weed sculptures by Tony Matelli and a mesmerizing charcoal drawing of a wave by Robert Longo. New York’s Meulensteen sold two photo collages by Tim Hyde listed at $8,000 to $10,000, while Greg Haberny's explosive multimedia work "B-b-b...Wait," featuring Mickey Mouse in a tornado of debris, sold from Lyons Wier Gallery, also of New York, for $22,000. (Haberny made over 30 multimedia collage works especially for the fair, some of which quite acerbically targeted the conservative south.) 

Though the quality was uneven at times — there was the requisite of cowboy and gun imagery, as well as some mediocre photorealism — the fair offered an opportunity to get beyond some of the usual suspects, and see familiar galleries in a new context. In addition to a strong presence of galleries from Southern and Midwest states — Green Gallery of Milwaukee, which presented a variety of material-distorting works by José Lerma, and Carrie Secrist, which showed eye-crossingly intricate linear pencil drawings by Anne Lindberg, were among the standouts — there was a surprisingly large contingent of Lower East Side and, to a lesser extent, Chelsea galleries. “The decision to do the fair at first was sort of a curious one at first,” said Chris D’Amelio, of D’Amelio Gallery. “But if you go out of your way to show this community of really great collectors that you care and take them seriously, they give back.”

In some cases, the community gives back in quite a tangible way. CANADA’s Phil Grauer credits Dallas for single-handedly invigorating of the market for painter Mike Williams. He sold a painting by Williams for the first time at the Dallas Art Fair last year. “Mike was a painter that was way too garish for New York, but here, they dug it,” he said. When Grauer mounted a solo show of Williams at CANADA in New York last summer, the Dallas collectors followed, purchasing many of those pieces as well. Now, one of Williams’s paintings is in the collection of the Dallas Museum of Art, and Williams himself is gearing up for a solo show at VeneKlasen Werner in Berlin. “Collectors here have a kind of laissez-faire nonchalance that allows them to go to experimental places New Yorkers might not,” Grauer said. “And that can make a big difference for some of these artists.” 

To view highlights of the Dallas Art Fair 2012, click on the slide show.