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Is the Dallas Art Fair Being Culturally Gentrified?

On April 11, artgoers gathered at the Fashion Industry Gallery in Dallas’ downtown Arts District for the fifth edition of the Dallas Art Fair. Founded by two longtime transplants, Chris Byrne and John Sughrue, the fair featured over 80 national and international dealers displaying painting, sculpture, works on paper, photography, video, and installation by modern and contemporary artists. Since 2009, the event has attracted over 30,000 guests, including a who’s who in Dallas and, increasingly, social royalty from cities like New York.

Browsing the fair during the preview gala, which benefited Nasher Sculpture CenterDallas Contemporary, and Dallas Museum of Art, our suspicions were confirmed – the fair, in terms of quality, made a quantum leap since the last edition, with galleries from New York, London, Chicago, San Francisco, Paris, Seoul, and Milan participating. Its manageable size, tight curation, and overall environment of smiling faces, made for an enjoyable art viewing experience, one that bests some of the more established fairs.

In its fifth year the fair graduated from featuring top galleries in Dallas and the surrounding region to working with dealers who may have mistakenly (and perhaps arrogantly) dismissed the city as a place of Philistines, even though some of the country’s most distinguished collectors (Marguerite Hoffman, Howard and Cindy Rachofsky, Catherine Rose, etc.) live there.

Today, things have changed, and if the mood of dealers on opening night was any indication of their current feelings about Dallas as a solid art market, then this is the city to be in the first week of April.

Jessica Silverman, who owns a gallery of the same name in San Francisco, said she was incredibly impressed with the fair this year. “It’s our second year. We came back because it worked out really well for us, and so far people seem to be selling, so that’s a good sign.”

The secret is finally out: There is gold in Dallas, or as New York dealer Franklin Parrasch put it, “There’s platinum.”

Back in 2009 when the fair started, 16 New York galleries were present, including Andrew Edlin, Nancy Hoffman, and Carrie Secrist. Two years later, influential galleries like D’Amelio Terras, Zach Feuer, and CANADA exhibited at the fair, a move that likely influenced young, contemporary dealers to join the fray because this year it seemed as if “everyone” was in Dallas.

Young, cool-kid outfits – normally associated with NADA Art Fair, Frieze, Liste, and Independent – included The Journal Gallery, Various Small Fires, James Fuentes, Nichelle Beauchene, New Galerie, Martos, Johannes Vogt, and Marlborough Cheslea, each looking to forge long-term Dallas relationships.

The fair is clearly making strides at showing a broader, international range of contemporary exhibitors, but does it do so at the sake of alienating local and regional galleries, a form of (dare we say it) gentrification?

“No, that’s a crazy question,” said Lisa Cooley, owner of a New York gallery of the same name. “It’s just growing and changing to reflect the interest of the collectors here.”

Byrne, agreed, “The fair is an extension of what’s happening in the community with the collectors and institutions.”

Most people see the Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Contemporary, and Nasher Sculpture Center as important in bringing vigorous contemporary perspectives to Dallas, with the fair as ground zero for market activity.

Silverman, who participates in fairs around the globe, said it is about balance. “The fair has to balance a broad range of contemporary, local and international galleries if it wants to be on the map as a forward-thinking, contemporary fair.”

With the fair helping to put Dallas on the map, local galleries must contend with global competition, but Nancy Whitenack, owner and director of Conduit Gallery, is up for the challenge. “It’s always kind of scary that all these great galleries will come in and poach our collectors, but the other part is the caliber of galleries coming in for the fair. It raises the level of expectations, so now I get to put my art against everyone else in the world, and I am very comfortable with that because [my program] stacks up.”

“There is something shaking in Dallas,” continued Whiteneck. People want to be part of it, like Hannah Bronfman and Jason Schwartzman who attended the fair preview gala (and after party) and the Dallas Museum Art Ball, respectively.

That’s not to say the fair’s forgotten its roots. “Dallas is always going to be known for the big hair and glam, and I don’t think we should do anything to dissuade that,” said Cris Worley, Dallas it-girl and gallery owner of the same name. “That’s part of our identity. And how we follow on in terms of cultural interest is yet to be determined, but there are a lot of people here interested in seeing our city grow culturally.”

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Kelly Wearstler

THE WINTER EXPERIENCE ISSUE
2023

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With FOG Design+Art taking place in San Francisco last week, we’re turning our attention to the best exhibitions on view this month. Don’t miss these solo and group shows at Jessica Silverman and ICA San Francisco.

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Go inside the worlds
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