Stampede! At Dallas Art Fair, Collecting's Social Aspect Dominates

Stampede! At Dallas Art Fair, Collecting's Social Aspect Dominates
(Jason M Acton)

DALLAS — How much can a three-day art fair contribute to an art scene that aspires to flourish year-round? It’s a question Dallas is asking itself on opening day of the fifth-annual Dallas Art Fair, which runs April 12-14. The event has grown from a 37-exhibitor, largely local affair to a buzzing hub for 90 international galleries like New York’s Marlborough Gallery and Milan’s Massimo de Carlo, a good half of which are new to the event this year.

Dallas, it’s abundantly clear, is a city that wants to be known as an art capital. And maybe — just maybe — it’s got a shot at becoming one. Collectors flew in from New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Detroit to browse the fair’s VIP preview on April 11. (Of course, it’s no Basel — many of those visitors already had existing ties to the area through relatives and friends.)

The number of local collectors has also grown dramatically since the fair’s inception. “In the 10 years since I left, it’s totally changed,” said Dallas-born Esther Kim Varet, founder of the Los Angeles gallery Various Small Fires, a first-time exhibitor. “There were always a couple names of collectors you would see — now there are so many more. It feels like it’s a part of the culture.” 

A testament to its growing ambition, this year’s fair even has its own satellite: Caja Dallas, a spinoff of the indie event SEVEN. (Unlike most auxiliary events, however, Caja Dallas was formally invited and co-produced by the fair’s organizers.) It’s one of over a dozen exhibitions, panel discussions, and other art events timed to coincide with the Dallas Art Fair.

“I think fairs can become nodes — magnetic points that things gather around,” Nasher Sculpture Center director Jeremy Strick told ARTINFO as he browsed the aisles, adding that he thought this year’s fair was “significantly better” than last year. “First, a number of institutions have constructed their exhibition schedules around the fair, and now a number of artists have organized exhibitions and projects.”

There are early signs that this coordination may help promote commerce. Though most marquee, expensive pieces — like a celestial painting by Roberto Matta from 1972 at the booth of Cernuda Arte priced at $800,000 — remained available at the end of the preview, work by emerging artists with established exhibition histories in the city sold briskly.

Within 30 minutes of the VIP opening, New York’s David Lewis Gallery sold a multipanel painting by Charles Mayton for $12,000 that was recently on view at the Power Station, a kunsthalle founded by local collector Alden Pinnell. Similarly swiftly, Jonathan Viner Gallery of London sold a $30,000 painting adorned with jewel-tone plasticine by Dan Rees, who is currently the subject of a solo exhibition at the nearby Goss Michael Foundation.

Dealers attribute this “hive mind” buying pattern to the social nature of collecting in Dallas and the small number of key art advisors active in the city. “People here know what their friends are buying — they bring people by to say, ‘Oh, I have this artist,’” noted the Green Gallery’s Jake Palmert. The Milwaukee gallery sold a bamboo and rope sculpture by Kasper Muller and Tobias Madison, who currently has a water-filled installation on view at the Power Station, for $8,000.

The fact that Dallas is located far away from self-serious art hubs like Los Angeles and New York also means that collectors here take more risks, dealers said. “The collections are personality driven and whimsical, much more so than in New York,” noted CANADA’s Phil Grauer. “The collectors are all advised, but sometimes they’ll go rogue, maybe to prove to their neighbors that they’re that much more relaxed.”

Indeed, some collectors were clearly taking chances. San Francisco’s Jessica Silverman Gallery sold four works by Amikam Toren, an Israeli-born, London-based artist in his 60s who had never before shown in America. His canvases — made from the pulp of ground-up thrift store paintings — sold on opening night for $13,000 each.

By the end of the weekend, dealers may conclude whether or not the region’s appetite for art is keeping pace with the fair’s ambitious expansion. Most are optimistic. “More than any small center,” Grauer said, “I can’t think of anywhere else that could pull this off.”

To see images from the Dallas Art Fair 2013, click on the slideshow.