How Was This Year’s Dallas Art Fair?

by Christina Rees April 11, 2017

Some calm before the gates open.

Last year there was a dip in the energy level of the Dallas Art Fair week, and I wondered if it had topped out two years ago in 2015 and the hype would recede permanently. But this year, the fair’s ninth, the city was back to full throttle. The fair itself looked better this year—maybe the best it’s ever looked—and it felt like there were more overlapping scenes across town, and the people (local and visiting) knew where to be at any given time.

As usual with DAF week, local artists and spaces took full advantage of the publicity and the crowds, and staged events and shows that we Dallasites may take for granted for much of the rest of the year. But I think through the eyes of out-of-towners, the local art scene, or scenes, look chill and informal and capable. It’s a good look. When the hacked emergency sirens went off across the city late Friday night and we were all still out, I was thinking: We’re good; we can drop the mic on this apocalypse.

But right now I’d like to focus on the fair itself. My sense is that sales were happening (despite the self-reporting of exhibitors being unreliable) and/or galleries now know to adjust their expectations for this particular fair. Even by late Saturday afternoon dealers did not have that thousand-yard stare of bad-fair trauma. People were engaged nearly everywhere I looked. My artist friends on social media were reporting (I think reliably) the sales of their work at the fair, and if this means the Dallas collector base is catching up to Houston in terms of supporting its own scene at the mid-tier range, then it’s about time.

Galleries from out of town have to play a long game here, because that’s the rule for having an exotic presence take root at an annual regional fair. Name recognition helps. (Though Gagosian, in its first year here with a booth near the entrance, didn’t even bother to put up a sign. This was neither cool nor not-cool.) I’ve said this a lot but it bears repeating: the DMA’s acquisition fund, which allows the museum to drop considerable cash at the fair, is clever, and it benefits all of us because it guarantees the visiting galleries bring the better stuff. This is the second year of the fund and it’s already doubled to $100K, and just because the DMA goes in with a short list of possibilities doesn’t mean it sticks to it. It doesn’t. The playing field for the galleries in this contest is remarkably level. I felt like in earlier years the higher-profile galleries coming in from New York and London, etc., were bringing some bottom-of-the-barrel scraps for all of the presumably dumb and indiscriminate Dallas eyes. Those days are over. So thank you, Gavin Delahunty and the DMA.

John McLaughlin at Parrasch Heinjnen Gallery (LA)

With that, I doubt even the most ambitious galleries are bringing art priced in the six digits, and my guess is most regional buyers observe a spending ceiling in the $10K-$20K range (I’d love to see proof to the contrary). There could be (theoretically) exceptions: while the DMA bought seven pieces with its budget, it might’ve blown its load on one thing, like an excellent early John McLaughlin painting that somehow isn’t in the current (stunning) retrospective at LACMA. Next time, maybe.

Luis Jiménez at Talley Dunn (Dallas)

Luis Jiménez at Talley Dunn (Dallas)

Some observations: It was good to see Anthony Meier’s San Francisco gallery back at the fair after a multi-year absence. In the first years of the fair, I had begun to think of him as an honorary Dallasite with excellent local connections, and then he was MIA, and that felt to me like a harbinger of DAF doom. But this year he was set up across the way from Talley Dunn’s space upstairs, and his booth featured some familiar favorites like Tony Feher, Jim Hodges, and Donald Moffett. Dunn did something really different this year and showed only primary market work that, though vintage, hasn’t been made available until now: drawings, one-offs, and rare editions by Stella, Johns, Holzer, Close, Serra, and a really great Luis Jiménez.

Miles Cleveland Goodwin at Valley House

Miles Cleveland Goodwin at Valley House

Most returning galleries set up in the same spot each year (generally a good move), but Valley House, which was always in the back, this year had a big primo spot upstairs and seemed to be doing some stonking hard business in Sedrick Huckaby, David Dreyer, Valton Tyler, and a newbie named Miles Cleveland Goodwin.

Laura Lancaster at Workplace Gallery (London)

Some galleries teamed up this year for a booth—a slight trend at international fairs, too—with the groovy Cherry and Martin out of LA pairing with Galerie Frank Elbaz of Paris (and Dallas of late). James Cope’s Dallas-based And Now teamed with London’s Workplace Gallery and it looked good. The standout there I thought were the paintings by Laura Lancaster. Some unexpectedly cool galleries made the show, too. Night Gallery out of LA was lodged in a back booth but hosted a good crowd, and Simon Lee out of London was showing some new Angela Bulloch.

Tony Matelli at Marlborough (NYC)

The dealers were on point all weekend. I could scarcely poke my head around a wall without some great-looking young gallerist from Mexico City or Antwerp calling me in for an introduction to the work. In this weird and shaky post-election climate, the determination to get the work moving is palpable. It’s an art fair—that hell’s lobby of slippery commerce meeting art—but I was rooting for them all. When I spotted brand-new sculptures by Tony Matelli I kind of flipped out, and the sales guy at Marlborough was as charming as all get-out about it, and I left thinking: Am I really in Dallas? 

Benjamin Terry at Ro2 Art (Dallas)

Jeff Gibbons at Conduit (Dallas)

Jeff Gibbons at Conduit (Dallas)

I’m happy to report that the DFW galleries, some of them mentioned above, have this down cold. What’s cool is that they feel more adventurous, playful and confident than ever before, which is probably a case of having less to lose as well as a clear home-field advantage. Barry Whistler’s booth was relaxed (what else would he be?), Ro2 continues to kill with sheer charm density, William Campbell fronted its space with some big, gorgeous Otis Jones paintings, Conduit evidently sold the crap out of some Jeff Gibbons. I have that info because I also bought one. If I have to tell myself that spending money on art right now is the way to fight the good fight, so be it.



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Travis April 11, 2017 - 11:23

Good stuff. Thanks.

derrickforreal April 11, 2017 - 13:04

“Ro2 continues to kill with sheer charm density”

You can’t be serious glasstire? Ro2 is easily the most annoying dallas gallery at the fair this year, and last for that matter. Jordan Roth is someone who will show literally anything, as you can tell by his inability to edit. I have never seen any kind of vision or cohesive tapestry at his space, and that’s because he has zero ability to curate. This tends to cause problems for Ro2. Is it supposed to feel like the graveyard of the dallas art scene, or is it only purgatory? I guess it depends on if you are an early career artist, or late career. If you would like a fair analogy of what Ro2 represents to the viewer, it is very near the equivalent of a little store called hot topic in your local mall.

Jordan Roth April 12, 2017 - 11:46

Oh, Derrickforreal… it’s easy for you to hide behind a pseudonym and criticize what you know little about — and interesting you read a fairly thorough overview of the fair, and only had the impetus to attack me and the gallery. Many collectors and notable Texas artists went out of their way to comment about how much they appreciated the booth. I’m here to serve our artists and collectors and to broaden the dialogue about art in our region. You seem to have other interests in mind.

Susan Roth Romans April 12, 2017 - 12:33

This seems like a personal attack. However,you are attacking the wrong person, I take full responsibility for all curation at Ro2. I do not expect everyone to appreciate what I do. My first obligation is to our artists. I take issue that we will show literally anything. If you actually looked at the art you would have to recognize the quality of the work we show and I am unaware of what problems my curation has caused Ro2. We have many loyal supporters and we are grateful.

joel Sampson April 12, 2017 - 20:09

In general, I thought the overall quality of art was down this year at the DAF. Valley House and Tally Dunn each had large and exceptional booths. I also enjoyed much of the art from South America. Most of the DMA purchases were crap, which is what I expect out of the DMA when it comes to contemporary art.

My pet peeve is wall labels that list the price. If it is a commercial gallery, not a museum, why should I have to ask the artist and price? Make it easy to buy art!

As for Ro2 — they always take the award for the most FUN booth! It’s diverse and hung “packed and stacked” gallery style. Most of the art is very high quality and affordable. They do an excellent job of representing local and regional artists. Plus they are nice people and work hard selling art in a variety of venues.

Susan Roth Romans April 13, 2017 - 09:03

Thank you!

George Jung April 13, 2017 - 00:36

“As for Ro2 — they always take the award for the most FUN booth! It’s diverse and hung “packed and stacked” gallery style.”

This is basically what derrickforreal was writing, except Joel just added a heavy dose of positive spin. Throwing everything at the wall and hoping to make it stick, is not a good way to run a space. Every good film has many scenes that hit the cutting room floor, for the greater vision of the project. If any space needs to understand this in Dallas, it has to be Ro2. It may be a revolving door of artists and variety, but sometimes that revolving door leaves me dizzy.

Last time I checked, Glasstire is a website that posts art criticism, and the comments of such. Sometimes the truth is hard to hear. If you don’t like to read actual criticism in the comments, and you feel the need to frequent a safe space, or let us know how “hard someone works”, or how “nice they are”, maybe you should shut the laptop. At least consider that being a volume dealer who hangs salon style has it’s negative appearances, especially when compared to the majority of carefully curated galleries at the DAF.

Susan Roth Romans April 13, 2017 - 09:14

Have you ever been in the gallery? We have one salon style show a year and it’s called “CHAOS”

George Jung April 13, 2017 - 12:51

I was obviously commenting on the DAF primarily, as this is what the article and comments are about. Why try to defend when it’s just peoples individual opinions that are stated here. Everything that has been said has been very fair. You must understand that Ro2 is the anomaly of Dallas Galleries at the DAF, is it so odd to assume that not everyone is into the warehouse shelf stocking aesthetic?

Susan Roth Romans April 13, 2017 - 15:52

I would take you more seriously if you would use your real name instead of names( derrickforreal, George Jung), from a movie about d rug dealers.. I have no need to defend myself. I was very happy with our booth and find no need to be like everyone else. Maybe one day they will invite your gallery into the fair and you can show me how to do it.

Molly May 7, 2017 - 09:43

Good for you Susan. Gotta love the man-splaining from someone who has no idea wtf he is talking about. Ugh.

James Zamora April 13, 2017 - 16:01

It is weird to point out and criticize one gallery out of many, and then not talk about another gallery’s curatorial decisions. It seems like personal attacking. As an artist for Ro2 Art I love the opportunity they set up in the booth for multiple sales for each artist. In those opportunities, you get the unique presentation that Ro2 Art is known for. SO! Good job Susan and Jordan, I love the way it looked and thank you for the sale of my painting on the first night!!

Giovanni April 13, 2017 - 20:50

Honestly, I enjoy RO2’s booth. After awhile the booths have a tendency to look the same and it’s gets a little mundane. So when I walk into Jordan and Susan’s booth I know it’ll be a refreshing experience. Futhermore, if the organizers of DAF felt RO2’s programming was weak or overloaded they wouldn’t be asked back bc galleries have to apply to get in or get invited. RO2 is not your typical gallery but that’s what I enjoy about them. Don’t knock the hustle.

Carl Knudsen April 17, 2017 - 11:43

I attended the Dallas Art Fair. I was impressed by the caliber of art. The best thing about it was that I didn’t see any social justice art. I for one am getting really sick of it.

Thor Johnson April 18, 2017 - 15:12

Jordan and Susan are wonderful people and great gallerists who put on some of the best, most interesting shows in Dallas. They have put on amazing shows that no other gallery in Dallas would have the guts to touch, like Joachim West’s devastating “Mother Earth is a Dirty Whore” show.

I liked the Ro2 booth a lot, great job Jordan and Susan!

Joachim West April 20, 2017 - 18:51

Ro2’s space at the fair is always unique and charming because Jordan and Susan are unique and charming. They care deeply about art and about people. There are plenty of galleries that are aiming their wares directly at interior designers with one or two minimally conceptual artists thrown in the mix to give them the illusion of “edge”. Ro2 should be appreciated for being “themselves” and for bringing diversity, daring and fun to the often boring, often stilted, often conceited gallery scene and congratulated for consistently doing well during the Dallas Art Fair.

Diego Delgado April 25, 2017 - 02:24

The notion of Ro2 being celebrated for simply displaying a random shotgun of work is absurd. What you call diversity, others might see as a flea market of sorts, where this charming couple happily promotes derivative crafts. While the rest of the Dallas Art Fair, and all those other mildly edgy, minimally conceptual, conceited galleries focus on silly things like vision and taste. The moment you take the discussion away from the aesthetic subject, and begin the interject the fuzzy feelings about “they care deeply about art and people,” all other points are lost because you are obviously a friend. These posts are trying hard to cover for the original charges on the anomalous nature of organized abundance that Ro2 is infamous for. Does anyone not understand that after a certain point, more is less when curating? Is criticism somehow less relevant when the gallery owners are supposedly nice people? Also, Why do you put “themselves” in quotations?


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