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The Dallas Art Fair kicked off with steady sales during the VIP preview on Thursday (20 April), dealers said, as the Dallas art market enjoys a boost from a rapidly-increasing local population and growing interest in collecting.

Now in its 15th year, Texas’s flagship art fair has developed a reputation for its convivial, laid-back atmosphere that reflects the South’s slower pace. Dealers say they often close on deals several days into the fair, and there’s less of a rush to buy during the VIP preview. Collectors often visit stands multiple times over the run of the fair before making purchases.

“It’s intimate. It has a very different feel than other art fairs,” says fair director Kelly Cornell, who grew up in Dallas and started working at the fair as an intern. Dallas residents have displayed Southern hospitality by opening their homes and private collections to visitors and hosting dinners for out-of-town guests, she says.

With around 90 exhibitors, this year marks the largest the fair has been since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, and Cornell says the event has bounced back after several years of rebuilding. She adds, “The bruises are gone.”

For the first time, there’s even a satellite fair. The Dallas Invitational Art Fair, put on by local dealer James Cope from the gallery And Now, will run Saturday and Sunday (22-23 April) across the street from the Dallas Art Fair and feature galleries from New York, Los Angeles and across Europe showing their artists’ works in hotel rooms.

Hannah Fagadau, co-owner of Dallas-based 12.26 Gallery, pictured next to a work by artist Masamitsu Shigeta acquired by the Dallas Museum of Art through the Dallas Art Fair Foundation Fund.

On Wednesday (19 April), before the fair opened to the public, Dallas Museum of Art curators selected 12 works from fair exhibitors to acquire for the museum’s permanent collection thanks to a $100,000 gift from the Dallas Art Fair Foundation. By Thursday evening, other sales were pouring in. At Perrotin’s stand, Hans Hartung’s T1975-R22 (1975) and Tavares Strachan’s Another Country both sold in the range of $150,000 to 300,000. Luce Gallery, based in Turin, Italy, sold a Hugo McCloud painting for $215,000, along with pieces by Peter Mohall, Ludovic Nkoth, Johanna Mirabel and Zeh Palito for undisclosed prices. New York-based Sundaram Tagore Gallery sold four works by Karen Knorr for $39,200 each, one by Miya Ando for $84,000 and another by Edward Burtynsky for $19,000.

Los Angeles gallery Shulamit Nazarian sold out its solo stand of works by painter Daniel Gibson. London-based Carl Kostyál’s stand of mixed-media sculptural tableaux by Mike Shultis was nearly sold out by the end of the fair’s VIP preview. Fabienne Levy, a gallery based in Lausanne, Switzerland, sold three works by Ben Arpea ranging from $7,000 to $14,000 each. Dallas’s Cris Worley Fine Arts sold works by Joshua Hagler, Marc Dennis, Kelli Vance, Johnny DeFeo and Celia Eberle for undisclosed prices; the gallery also placed four sumi ink scrolls by Dallas-based artist Nishiki Sugawara-Beda with the DMA through the acquisition fund.

A strong collecting tradition

With a population of 1.3 million, Dallas is the third-largest city in Texas and has traditionally boasted the state’s most robust art market thanks to its resilient economy, a committed set of local dealers and a strong tradition of art collecting. The city is home to important institutions like the Dallas Museum of Art and Nasher Sculpture Center, as well as the Kimbell Art Museum and Modern Art Museum in nearby Fort Worth, which have contributed to the area’s appreciation for the arts.

“Their great-grandparents and grandparents were collecting art here in the 1920s and 30s with banking money and oil money, and donating art. Their kids have grown up with it,” says Jason Willaford, who co-founded Galleri Urbane with his wife, Ree, and moved to Dallas in 2009. And for residents who did not grow up around art collections, the fair itself has served as a powerful educational tool.

“A lot of people in Dallas might not necessarily come to my gallery firsthand, but they’ll come to an art fair because it’s a specialised event. Then they find out about me, and come to the gallery. It’s a great opportunity for introductions,” says Cris Worley, who opened her namesake gallery in the city’s Design District in 2010.

The Dallas Museum of Art acquired a set of four works by Dallas-based artist Nishiki Sugawara-Beda from Cris Worley Fine Arts using funds from the Dallas Art Fair Foundation.

Local dealers say the already strong market in Dallas has boomed over the past few years. While Dallas County’s population remained stable through the pandemic, the city’s surrounding suburban counties saw growth as high as 10% between 2020 and 2022, according to US Census figures, while Texas was the top US destination for Americans moving out of state in both 2021 and 2022. Nell Potasznik Langford from Cluley Projects, an offshoot of Dallas’s Erin Cluley Gallery that serves as an incubator space with a focus on regional and underrepresented artists, says transplants coming to Dallas are interested in adding work from local artists and galleries to their collections.

Incoming collectors

“The huge influx of East Coast [and] West Coast clients are wonderful because they are educated, they’re cultured, they’re well travelled,” Langford says, adding many are already familiar with collecting art. Cluley Projects opened during the pandemic, but was well received by the local community, she said.

“Even when the economy is not so great elsewhere, it’s always thriving in Texas because of all the different industries that come together here. It’s really conducive to a very successful art market and we’re really seeing that,” Langford says. (While Dallas is often most associated with Texas’s $320bn oil and gas industry, the area also has strong technology, defence, healthcare, transportation and finance sectors.)

Artist Ricardo Partido, Martha’s Contemporary co-owners Meredith Williams and Ricky Morales and artist Wes Thompson at the fair.

The Dallas Art Fair has also supported Texas’s overall art market: along with ten stands from Dallas dealers, this year’s fair features five more galleries from Houston, Austin and Fort Worth. Ricky Morales, the co-founder of Martha’s Contemporary, a gallery based in Austin, said he was excited to come back to the fair after taking part for the first time last year.

“The Dallas Art Fair is one of the better fairs in the country,” Morales says. “Dallas is obviously a budding scene, and there are a lot of collectors here. It has helped lift the Texas art scene into a more national realm and that definitely helps us.”

Politically, Texas has long been a conservative stronghold, and in recent years state lawmakers have come under fire from both residents and Americans in other states. Abortion in nearly all cases was outlawed in Texas last year after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and Texas is one of the US states where drag queen performances have been targeted by lawmakers. Last year, a free speech organisation found Texas banned more books from school libraries than any other state, and a bill proposed earlier this year in the state senate would ban nearly all gender-affirming healthcare for transgender Texans.

However, many areas of Texas have a strong culture of activism and artists who work hard to champion progressive causes, Morales says.

“There’s a lot of people here who we need to stand up for and build up,” he says. “Texas has a lot of diversity. The only way we can protect the vulnerable communities is if we stand with them, and not just label Texas as a piece of shit.”

  • 2023 Dallas Art Fair, until 23 April, Fashion Industry Gallery, Dallas

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