The Dallas Art Fair could not have launched at a more inopportune time. It was 2008, and the country was in the throes of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. In Dallas, a number of galleries shuttered, and art world watchers wondered if the new fair was yet another case of Dallas’ cultural scene arriving too late to the party. Would it get the critical reception and market support needed to see its second year? The city’s most prominent collectors, perhaps hedging their own social capital, were noticeably out of town during the weekend of that first fair.
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Ten years later, the Dallas Art Fair has matured into precisely the kind of oddity that co-founders John Sughrue and Chris Byrne envisioned at the start—“fair with a twang,” as Byrne put it in an early interview with D Magazine. The fair has strengthened its roster of galleries and smartly leveraged the city’s cultural institutions. The big Dallas collectors now make sure they’re in town, and the Dallas Museum of Art has stepped in with an allowance (raised to $150,000 for 2018) that curators spend at the fair to acquire works.
Perhaps the best indicator of the fair’s success is that about 70 percent of the galleries return each year; it’s worth their time and investment. And this year’s first-timers—names like James Cohan Gallery, Green Art Gallery, and Luhring Augustine—are the strongest additions yet.
Byrne left last year to focus on his curatorial endeavors, and Brandon Kennedy has stepped in as a co-director. “After last year’s art fair, we received a lot of buzz,” he says. “We received positive press about the energy and the city as a whole, the Arts District and all the institutions—the DMA, Nasher, Dallas Contemporary, The Power Station, Karpidas Collection—how they come together to push everybody through the week. People are realizing that that energy is also reflective of what Dallas is building.”
Another thing that helps focus the fair’s energies is its location in the Fashion Industry Gallery, which has enough space for only about 100 galleries. So instead of trying to grow its footprint, the fair instead turns to the people.
“Dallas has the powerhouse collectors who are well-known in the community,” Kennedy says. “We’re able to kind of take that as an inspiration for building art collectors here on a smaller scale. Year-round, when we are not having the fair, we work to keep our emerging collector base engaged with what we are planning, what we’re looking at, and what is vital to understanding the current art market. It is about keeping the conversation current.”