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Dallas Art Fair Anchors a Visual Arts Bonanza

by Stephen Becker 8 Apr 2011 6:59 AM

More than 70 art galleries from across the country will set up shop in the Dallas Arts District today for the Dallas Art Fair. And as KERA’s Stephen Becker reports, the fair is the anchor of a premiere weekend for visual arts fans:


Sugar, by Beatriz Milhazes

More than 70 art galleries from across the country will set up shop in the Dallas Arts District Friday for the Dallas Art Fair. And as KERA’s Stephen Becker reports, the fair is the anchor of a premiere weekend for visual arts fans.

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Thursday morning, gallery owners scurried to get their art work in place for the Dallas Art Fair.

William Shearburn was one of those gallery owners, shipping artwork in from his St. Louis gallery. He exhibits at six art fairs a year, and there’s a reason why he’s showing in Dallas for the third time.

SHEARBURN: “Last year was great – we did significant business. And I think it should be good this year.”

This year, the Dallas Art Fair is partnering with other arts institutions, including the Nasher Sculpture Center and the Dallas Contemporary. And there’s even a satellite fair at the Belmont Hotel, another sign of the Dallas Art Fair’s prominence.

Chris Byrne is one of the Dallas Art Fair’s founders.

BYRNE: “The nice aspects of it are the civic-minded things, working with the museums, knowing that it’s not just a fair. Hopefully it isn’t just a retail experience, but it’s an idea of cultivating an audience and thinking about it throughout the whole year.”

The fair is held in the 55,000 square foot white-walled Fashion Industry Gallery in the Arts District. About a dozen North Texas dealers will be there. But three quarters of the exhibitors are from out of state, many from art capitals New York, San Francisco and Santa Fe.

Most of the galleries show contemporary artists. Work by Chuck Close, Ed Ruscha and Damien Hirst can all be had for the right price. But even if you’re not looking to buy, gallery owners like Shearburn says art fairs offer a unique experience.

SHEARBURN: “When you go look at something in a museum, there’s a wall – a certain distance – that you have between the object and the viewer. And here, it’s a little more immediate, because everything is for sale. And so you can look at something and actually ask what the price is. And I think that makes a huge difference.”

6,500 people from across the Southwest attended last year’s fair. To connect with all those visiting art fans, both the Nasher and Dallas Contemporary will open new shows this weekend. The Nasher will open “Statuesque,” it’s first outdoor show. And the Contemporary hosts a trio of shows.

Peter Doroshenko is the director of the Dallas Contemporary, which is a beneficiary of the Dallas Art Fair.

DOROSHENKO: “It seemed like a natural fit for us to get involved, because it’s all about putting the art in front of larger audiences for the Dallas Contemporary. And obviously we’re the beneficiaries not only for the gala event but for the thousands of people that come to the art fair. So for us, it’s a win-win scenario.”

Another sign the fair has gained a footing is that for the second straight year, a satellite art fair will take place. This weekend, the Belmont Hotel in Oak Cliff will host the Suite Art Fair.

If the Dallas Art Fair caters to buyers with museum-quality collections, Suite is more for beginners and those looking to discover new artists. As the Dallas Art Fair hosted a dressed up preview gala on Thursday night, Suite’s preview featured a local DJ and a T-shirt screening demonstration.

At Suite, 15 galleries will display their art in the Belmont’s screened in bungalows. Most of the galleries are from North Texas. Prices will range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. By comparison, Dallas Art Fair pieces will sell from around a thousand dollars to the high six figures.

Brian Gibb, who owns the Public Trust Gallery in Dallas, is the organizer of Suite. He says his fair complements the Dallas Art Fair because it caters to local galleries who may not be able to afford to rent space there.

GIBB: “I think that there are a lot of galleries who can only do one or two fairs a year, and if they’re going to do that, they’re probably going to do Miami, New York, Los Angeles or something like that. So I think this creates an opportunity where they can do something that they wouldn’t normally do within their own state.”

Gibb says he got the idea from going to Aqua Art Miami, a satellite fair to the city’s annual Art Basel. One of the biggest fairs in the world, Art Basel draws 40,000 people a year. Gibb says he’ll be happy if Suite could turn into something like Aqua.

GIBB: “I’m not trying to do anything to upstage the Dallas Art Fair. You really can’t – it’s too good of a production. But I just want to offer something in addition to it.”