On the art horizon

National art fair hones in on Houston

National art fair hones in on Houston

News_Houston Fine Art Fair_Chester Arnold_Grubstake
Chester Arnold, "Grubstake," 2008, oil on canvas Courtesy of Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco
News_Houston Fine Art Fair_Lotus Bed_Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg, "Lotus Bed II" (The Lotus Series), 2008, pigmented ink-jet on Somerset velvet Courtesy of © Robert Rauschenberg Estate/Universal Limited Art Editions, 2008
News_Houston Fine Art Fair_Walter Robinson_Hybrid
Walter Robinson, "Hybrid," 2009, mixed media Courtesy of Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco
News_Houston Fine Art Fair_Chester Arnold_Grubstake
News_Houston Fine Art Fair_Lotus Bed_Robert Rauschenberg
News_Houston Fine Art Fair_Walter Robinson_Hybrid

A revered photography biennial, a dedicated fashion week, a distinctive film festival and now, a premier art fair. This isn't New York, Paris or Miami.

This is the Houston of the 2010s.

The Houston Fine Art Fair, slated to debut Sept. 16-18, 2011, is selling itself as among the nation's top art fairs, one that will rival the standards in New York, Chicago and Miami. The landmark event will feature over 80 blue chip galleries from around America, as well as smart selections from art spaces abroad.

Following the city's hosting of the American Museum Association conference in May 2011, HFAF could solidify Houston's prominence in the international art arena.

The operation is spearheaded by president Rick Friedman, who first spawned Art Hampton four years ago, and has rapidly expanded on his concept, launching Art Aspen and San Francisco Fine Art Fair in 2010. The colorful Friedman has been all over the New York art map, from befriending Andy Warhol circa Studio 54 to masterminding the chic Hamptons scene. A serious collector himself, Friedman favors Abstract Expressionism.

So why the Bayou City?

"We visited all of the art centers, and asked top collectors and gallery owners where they considered to be the next center for American art," Friedman tells CultureMap. " 'Houston' kept coming up as a response."

It's the Houston equation of concentrated affluence and openness to the new that makes it an ideal launching pad for Friedman's next venture. But don't read this as an expression of unbridled ambition wedded with tasteless Texas swagger. Friedman & Co. will be hand-picking a select number of dealers of 20th and 21st century art, meaning the emphasis of HFAF will be on quality, not filling exhibition spaces.

In fact, no more than 10 local galleries will make the cut. We can anticipate a boutique setting where collectors can easily mingle with gallerists — forget the riffraff and art feeding frenzy.

Envision a George Brown Convention Center decked out with around 80 pristine-white exhibition booths, punctuated by a platinum lounge and indoor sculpture garden. An on-site theater will stream short films on contemporary art.

Between now and Sept. 15's opening preview, organizers will be cultivating strategic relationships with local arts organizations. Friedman is already in direct contact with Museum of Fine Arts, Houston director Peter Marzio — expect a selected area for the work of Core Program participants, as well as dedicated lectures from selected fellows.

HFAF will also feed off the contemporaneous event at the GRB, the Houston Antique Dealers Association Show, which in its 45th year, will lend a different aesthetic dimension to the week's program, as well as a crucial influx of visitors. Of course, Friedman's not concerned about getting people into the show.

"We're estimating that around 10,000 collectors and enthusiasts will pour into the convention center to see this take place," he says. "There will be key international collectors with an eye on the event, but it's also a place for the entire city to see what's happening in art right now."

Other Texas cities will be well-represented at the fair, but it will also be a gateway to exchange art and ideas with Latin America. Describing Houston as the "new" Miami as a point of entry to Latin America, Friedman foresees the fair as ripping through the status quo of how the United States approaches the ever-expanding trade in art from that region.