Four’s A Charm: Rounding Up The Fall-Out From Art Fair Weekend

This past weekend, I found myself echoing again and again what Glasstire’s Kelly Klaasmeyer writes about this year’s Dallas Art Fair. “How was it?” the curious asked. “You know what?” I replied. “It felt better.”

The Dallas Art Fair did feel stronger than it has in years past, though my only real critical paradigm for that judgment was that it felt like less of a beating, like it took less work to dig through the booths and find work that was interesting or fresh – or really just easier to find space in all the art fair glut to feel like you could actually look at work in the first place.

Maybe the improved quality of the art fair has something to do with the fact that of the 73 dealers at this year’s fair, 32 were new, as pointed out in this interview in Art+Auction via Artinfo with Art Fair co-founder Chris Byrne. What is beginning to attract galleries, Byrne says, is that dealers are beginning to see that the Dallas Art Fair offers a more intimate, personal setting for out-of-town dealers to engage local collectors. That is a change from a few years ago when a number of the major Dallas collectors seemingly snubbed the art fair by skipping town during the event.

There has certainly been an attitude reversal towards the Dallas Art Fair, both on the part of the collectors and how various other Dallas institutions have decided to embrace the opportunity the Dallas Art Fair offers. If the quality of the art fair felt better this year it was aided by the giddy feeling that accompanied the sheer magnitude of activity that took over the city this past weekend. The Dallas Art Fair has become a centerpiece of a host of spin-offs – the Dallas Museum of Art’s Art Ball, Jacob Kassay at the Power Station, the Dallas Contemporary’s Dallas Biennale, DB12, Erick Swenson’s opening at the Nasher, the Fallas Dart Air at the Shamrock Studios, Fountainhead, a pop-up exhibition briefly returning Angstrom Gallery to Parry St., showcase musical programming at the Rio Room – and the sum total of these efforts has been to really move the needle.

The Wall Street Journal took notice a week before the Dallas Art Fair kicked-off:

“In the Dallas art world, even a Neiman Marcus store can serve as a canvas,” the paper reports, which, of course, is exactly the point.

Since its founding, Chris Byrne has said that The Dallas Art Fair is trying to find its niche, emphasizing it’s “twang.” And there is indication that the vision is starting to take hold. This piece in Artinfo dubs the Dallas Art Fair the “Miss Congeniality” of the art fair circuit, a reputation earned by the lack of pretension from dealers and collectors alike, a so-sweet tone that one gallerist attributes to Dallas collectors:

“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.”

And from CANADA Gallery’s Phil Grauer:

 “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.”

There have been some other trickling-outs from Dallas’ weekend happenings. Art in America offers up this slideshow of weekend goings on; Mediabistro takes note of the Hervé Van der Straeten-designed champagne buckets; and Gallerist NY drops a mention that someone picked up a bolo tie while in town for the Dallas Art Fair before heading back to the city for a hoedown-themed party in Tribeca.

There is a subtext to all these party photos and society mentions, to the free champagne and the tinted window busses trucking around rich out-of-towners to parties and collectors’ homes. In all of this, what I find most interesting is that projects like the Shamrock Hotel, DB12 at Oliver Francis, and Fountainhead show that local artists are learning how to create opportunities for themselves, mounting exhibitions that cleverly play off the official de rigueur in a way that is fun and exciting, but also serious and quality. Collectors and museum directors showed up at these ancillary, artist-driven exhibitions, which I hope indicates a closing of the gap between the stratospheres of Dallas art. There will always be the life and times of the one percent, and maybe I’m still tipsy from all the free drinking over the past seven days, but after this weekend, something about Dallas art feels more possible than ever.

Image: Erick Swenson, Schwärmerei, 2012 (detail). Acrylic and oil on urethane resin, silicone, and MDF, 53 x 24 x 24 in. Courtesy Talley Dunn Gallery, Dallas; and James Cohan Gallery,New York. © Erick Swenson. Photo: ManTiger Studio, 2012.

Swenson’s exhibition at the Nasher opened this past weekend, and a smaller version of Schwärmerei was on display at Talley Dunn Gallery’s booth at the Dallas Art Fair.