More on the Houston Fine Art Fair

by Kelly Klaasmeyer September 17, 2012

Everyone was wondering how the  Houston Fine Art Fair‘s move to Reliant Center would work out. From what I can tell it was a good idea.  It’s a newer space and this year the HFAF organizers sprang for booth walls that were two feet higher that last year. Meanwhile, the walkways between the booths seemed to be almost twice as wide. The feeling was much more elegant and spacious than last year. (Short walls and narrow aisles tend to create a flea market vibe.) I walked the whole fair at the opening and went back two more days but I still missed a lot.  I saw some strong work and while the fair could still stand editing, there seemed to be fewer egregiously bad things than last year. (i.e. The mirror mosaic hot dog and cowboy boot sculptures a Dutch gallery brought to Texas last year were absent, as was the gallery.)

The Reliant setting does have its down side. Last year’s George R. Brown Convention Center location was considerably more pedestrian friendly and scenic with Discovery Green as the center’s front lawn and good hotels and restaurants in easy walking distance. I love Houston but we generally aren’t known as a particularly attractive city. The bottom of the 610 south loop isn’t going to do much to change that reputation.  I don’t know about the hotel situation or restaurant opportunities for the out of town galleries and visitors in the Reliant Stadium area. Light rail proximity is a bonus but there didn’t seem to be any nearby dining options that allowed you to escape the iron fist of Aramark. Aramark, with its school cafeteria-grade cuisine, has a monopoly on both the GRB and Reliant Center.  I think there is a Pappas restaurant and a Joe’s Crab shack nearby but car-less attendees and exhibitors would have to cross under the 610 loop and stroll along the access road to get to the chain restaurant offerings.

But, as one dealer told me, this is a fair for Houstonians, not out-of-town visitors. Her take was that, like the Dallas Art Fair, it works to improve local perceptions of and interest in the area art scene. It’s the  out-of-town dealers that are the most important visitors. The are the ones who will spread the word (positively or negatively) about the city’s art scene and who might give area artists wider exposure. Another dealer explained that one of the side benefits of the fair is that it can close long-pending sales. And indecisive collector has to either pull the trigger on a work that is going to be included in the dealer’s booth or risk having someone else buy it.

The rancor and drama from last year’s two competing fairs, the HFAF and the upcoming Texas Contemporary, appears to have died down this year. The general feeling seemed to be that the two fairs were here to stay and that there should be a way to hold them at the same time.

Here are a few Houston gallery offerings and some out-of-towner highlights. As always, apologies to the artists for less than perfect images of work…

Hempel Design (Formerly Peel Gallery)

Gabriel Dawe

Gabriel Dawe created another amazing installation, an optical haze created from a reported 13 miles of thread.

Kopeikin Gallery

The Los Angeles gallery Kopeikin was one of the first booths at the fair entrance and had some strong photography.


Alejandro Cartagena, from the series  “Car Poolers”

Alejandro Cartagena, from the series “Car Poolers”

Alejandro Cartagena captures overhead highway shoots of laborers going to work in Northeastern Mexico. The images could easily be shots of day laborers in Houston. You wouldn’t think stuffing people in the open bed of a pickup in between a bunch of machinery would be legal here but I see it all the time.

Andy Freeberg “Andrea Rosen”

I remember Andy Freeberg‘s great series of photos of NY gallery desks from a FotoFest show. Such a sense of warmth and welcome…not.


Hiram Butler Gallery and Barbara Davis Gallery were our two reader nominees for Best Gallery last year. And they are both standouts this year.

Barbara Davis Gallery

Barbara Davis went all out. She had great solo booth for Joe Mancuso and one for Jay Shinn..

Joe Mancuso

Joe Mancuso

Joe Mancuso

Jay Shinn

And their main booth included work by Danny Rolph (currently on view at the gallery) and a two early Kara Walker silhouettes.

Danny Rolph

Kara Walker

Hiram Butler Gallery

Hiram Butler had another elegant booth this year with some great secondary market as well contemporary work. He also brought in a Joe Havel installation and a pretty epic light installation by Matthew Schreiber in the fair’s entry. (Schreiber has worked as an assistant to light guru James Turrell. )

Andy Warhol’s “Jackie II,” 1966.

This silkscreen portrait of the widowed Jackie is one of my favorite Warhols.

Butler’s wall of shelves with small works.

Terrell James

Joe Havel

Matthew Schreiber, White Twist, 2012

Detail of Matthew Schreiber, “White Twist,” 2012

Sicardi Gallery

Sicardi Gallery brought the legendary Carlos Cruz-Diez.

Carlos Cruz-Diez.

McClain Gallery

McClain brought one of Jeff Shore and Jon Fisher‘s motorized sculptures. The collaborative artists create hauntingly simply effects from complex elements.

Jeff Shore and Jon Fischer

Aaron Parazette and Christian Eckart

The Art Guys, “A  Dish of Colored Fruit,” 2012

McClain also gave a single artist booth to the Art Guys’ photo of a photo of a photo installation, A Dish of Colored Fruit. The title is after the Latin origin of the word “satire,”  satura lanx, meaning “medley, dish of colorful fruits.” (Thank god for the Internet.)


Tally Dunn Gallery

Erick Swenson, “Scuttle,’ acrylic on resin. 2012

The Talley Dunn booth showed Erick Swenson’s riveting Scuttle, fresh from his show at the Nasher. Can we get a “EEEEEEUUUUUWWWWWW”?

Sammer Gallery

Miami’s Sammer Gallery, like last year, brought in some great 20th century Latin American work.

María Freire’s gouache diptych.

I can’t read my photo of the caption but I think this photo paper work is by Romulo Aguerre.

 Devin Borden Gallery

Devin Borden filled his booth with Geoff Hippensteil‘s thickly brushed yet oddly ethereal paintings and practically sold out.

Geoff Hippensteil

Hooks Epstein Gallery

Thank god Geri Hooks brought Robert Pruitt‘s work to the fair. Pruitt, even though he was in a Whitney Biennial, is one of those Houston artists who deserves to be much better known.


Pictura Gallery

This Bloomington, Indiana gallery (!?!)  had nice work from former Houstonian James Nakagawa and Siberian-born photographer Evgenia Arbugaeva.

Osamu James Nakagawa

Nakagawa showed his “Gama” series at Poissant Gallery during this year’s FotoFest.

From Evgenia Arbugaeva’s photo series shot in her Siberian home town of Tiksi.

The Core Program

Beneficiaries of the HFAF opening, the MFAH’s Core Program showed works by current Core Fellows as well as “Core Factor,” an exhibition of works by former fellows, curated Curated by collectors Brad Bucher and Victoria Lightman.

Anthea Behm, A/B Extract; Ed Ruscha, City, 1968, Custom Blur: Surface Blur radius 100 + threshold 2, Surface Blur radius 10 + threshold 203, Surface Blur radius 20 + threshold 85, Guassian blur radius 16.5 Lambda print, 2011,55 x 48”, Edition of 3

Current Core Fellow Athea Behm‘s shaped Lambda print has a kind of hypnotic haze. Mounted on gatorboard, it looks like some sort of resin-coated panel. The image has complicated origins, it’s  extracted from an angled and blurred video shot of Ed Rusha’s 1968 City.

Leandro Erlich’s 1996 “Neighbors”

I still remember the work former Core Fellow Leandro Erlich showed in Houston, especially his early swimming pool piece.


 Anya Tish Gallery



William Cannings‘ inflated steel sculptures sometimes play it save but this piece is unruly and interesting.

Harvey Bott offers up some precise and optically charged painting.

Tish gave Katja Loher a solo both for her video projection sculpture.

McMurtrey Gallery

McMurtrey Gallery offered up the superbly crafted and fluid-looking wood sculptures of the appropriately named Troy Woods, whose show is currently on view at the gallery.

Troy Woods

Gallery Sonja Roesch

Roesch had a painting from the brushy greatness of Raimond Girke, whom she featured in last year’s fair as well as one of Dirk Rathke’s shaped and torqued canvases.

Dirk Rathke, “Geteiltes Rot” (Red Divided)

Edge detail of Dirk Rathke’s “Geteiltes Rot” (Red Divided)



Deborah Colton Gallery

Colton showed some great Soody Sharifi digital collages in which she recontextualizes images from Persian miniatures…around some phallic-looking rock. (I can’t read the title in my photo, I wonder if the structure is naturally occurring, digitally constructed or some actual man-made shrine…?)

Soody Sharifi


and let me leave you with….

Darke Gallery

Darke Gallery showed gargantuan photos by Alex Cao, salon-style. Pamela Anderson’s enormous aftermarket additions garnered a considerable amount of attention…

Alex Cao


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