It wasn’t until Monday afternoon that all of Houston’s galleries had packed up and headed south on I-45 after the close of the second annual Dallas Art Fair. In every way, this event was a critical moment for local galleries as they put their wares on display and networked to the nines.
This next week will be all about the follow-up with potential collectors and their trusted advisors. New York gallerists agreed that the Dallas Art Fair differs from other fairs – for better or worse – with the presence of cautious collectors. There isn’t the sense of urgency found at Art Basel Miami, in which competitive collectors arrive early to snatch up the most valuable items. Instead of focusing on the exhibited art, the fair was launched on Thursday evening with a decidedly Texan gala that emphasized moving bottles of Veuve Cliquot over top-notch canvases. And during the weekend’s rounds, a couple of Houston gallerists voiced concern over the number of hand-holding consultants over resolute independent connoisseurs.
Yet the relationships forged at the fair will prove beneficial to Houston. Gallerist Wade Wilson expressed excitement over a new partnership with sculptor Mac Whitney, whose energetic works in metal may soon grace an outdoor sculpture gallery at 4411 Montrose. At the Barbara Davis Gallery booth, visitors sought out new commissions by Houston-based installation artist Paul Fleming. On Sunday morning, Barbara Davis was spotted meeting with former first lady Laura Bush and with a consultant eyeing a James Surls wall-mounted sculpture. Deborah Colton reported, "We had a super experience at the fair this year; we noticed many more collectors coming to support the fair both in the Greater Dallas-Fort Worth Area and Houston." Patrick Reynolds, filling in for a laryngitis-struck Kerry Inman, clarified Houston's presence at the fair as more of a three-dimensional advertisement, allowing face time with interested buyers and curators that may evolve into stronger tied.
The notion of connections went beyond that of dealer-client, but permeated the fair as a whole. Fredericka Hunter of Texas Gallery connected the dots from San Franciscan Andrew Masullo’s stream of miniscule canvases to native Texan (and Texas Gallery alum) Donald Moffett’s homoeroticized Arte Povera-esque pieces (and fair show-stoppers), which were brought to the fore by SF’s Anthony Meier Fine Arts. The intertwined art world was in full force, and to any enlightened fair attendee, Houston held a critical role in the web. Likewise, Deborah Colton told the tale of her emigrating Chinese prodigy Yang Jin Long to exhibit in Houston. Thanks to her efforts with those of Carolyn Farb, Long is now featured in Dallas' Crow Collection of Asian Art.
Sunday afternoon brought a final lull to the fair, as Super Bowl fever kept people away. Although Houston gallerists lauded the fair’s organizers for offering a beautifully constructed space at Fashion Industry Gallery, one gallery owner criticized the “huge mistake” of scheduling the art fair at the same time as a national sporting holiday. Noted another owner, “You can’t say the public turnout is great when it’s not.” Gone was the vibrancy of the fair’s first year. Top dog New York gallery Pace Prints made it clear that they would not be returning in future years. However, London galleries such as Timothy Taylor reported record sales, although many of the displayed works had sold well before the fair via Dallas dealers.
Despite a bit of disappointment regarding the overall energy at the fair’s conclusion, Houstonians seemed, as always, confident in their future. Hunter shared her excitement over the spring’s upcoming shows (one featuring the work of Carl Palazzolo in April) and Colton detailed her ambitions of expanding her New York satellite. All Houston galleries confirmed their confidence in the Dallas Art Fair and anticipate a return to Big D in 2011, citing the fair’s verifiable quality and its intimacy. Unlike mega-fairs, Dallas Art allowed guests to truly observe, in the words of Barbara Davis and JoAnn Park, "what contemporary art really is — it's magic.”