Report from Texas Contemporary Art Fair 2016

My first image of Houston was from Wim Wender’s movie Paris, Texas. The city is depicted as a geometric jungle of glass and concrete, like a dreamland of the future. I have come to know Houston much better since then, and become familiar with hubbubs of Houstonians; nevertheless, that image still resonates.

The Texas Contemporary Art Fair, which concluded Sunday, somehow reminded me of Wim Wender’s Houston.

This was the second time that I visited the fair- with one year’s absence. This time, it was, if my memory holds, smaller and quieter.  Texas roots matter — local galleries had some of the strongest presence. Moody, Inman, David Shelton and Art Place showcased not only established Texas artists like Melissa Miller or Mary McCleary, but also introduced younger generation like Nathan Green, or Vincent Valdez. As a Dallasite, I was happy to see works by Kevin Todora and Sarah Williams, who moved to her home state of Missouri a few years ago. Art fairs, for me, can be formidable. Sometimes, a string of uneasy works may trigger a questioning of one’s aesthetics. Familiar works bring comfort.

Texas Contemporary Art Fair
Texas Contemporary Art Fair

But the ultimate goal of an art fair is to explore. Many galleries, especially the local ones, emphasized variety. The kaleidoscopic display works when names are not just another tag on the wall for local collectors.

A few galleries mounted solo or duo exhibitions, a risky move indeed. I have always preferred this approach, especially for out of town galleries. While a single image may entice looking, it is a body of works that reveal the thought process of artists. I am not here to blame the getting-the-best-ones-out-of-each approach. Art fairs are a competition against visual fatigue among limited resources. Granted, there are follow-up and post-fair sales from serious buyers; nevertheless, it is the first look that matters most.

Texas Contemporary, in particular, seemed to cater primarily to the entry- and mid-level, a level that can be confusing between decorative and fine art. Like most visitors or any box store shoppers who start by turning left and walking clockwise, any subtlety in colors and humor from the last row of galleries became overly splashy or crude, after the first two hundred imageries. To some extent, individual work’s own sharp edges are nothing more than a blur when the whole contemporary art world seems to follow a few generic formula and concept.

There are works that truly stand out. They run like a hymn in my mind that cannot be gotten rid of. Perhaps, I better spill it out.

Had I been there to buy with abundant cash and an empty interior space large enough for a tree, I would have in no doubt got the work by Miler Lagos. A Colombian who recently had a show at SITE Santa Fe, Lagos transforms newspaper (literally tons of them) into a giant tree with a dominating physicality. Metaphysically, it is a nirvana of recycled material, into a manifestation of its true origin. The tree looks monumental, yet you can still lift individual pages (of the same print). And what a sensational feeling to sift through all the identical pages!

Another Colombian, Luis Roldan, is represented by Henrique Fine Art Gallery of Buenos Aires, specializing geometric abstraction of central and South America from 1960 ‘s to contemporary. Roldan’s paintings and wood sculpture (more like objects) are equally intriguing in that they communicate with a sense of storytelling even though the artwork isn’t narrative like that of Lagos. His use of deep-hued colors seeps into the objects themselves, while aged wood blocks turn and join into a playful form, eager to liberate itself from its seriousness. I noticed that many visitors spoke Spanish with Mr. Herlitzka in his booth – a phenomenon rarely seen in Dallas Art Fair.

dsc_0131To be fair, I didn’t come home empty-handed. I was intrigued by paintings of Georgia Nassikas, who raises bees to make her encaustic paintings. The purchase was not a hard decision. The work was affordable. And because it was small, it invited me to look closer to examine the intricate surface.

That intimacy was not always there as Eric and I walked through aisles. Before we headed out, I looked back. The Convention Center was the right venue. The polished concrete was shimmering with subdued colors reflected from paintings on the wall. Like Wim Wender’s Houston, the show was sleek and attractive but somehow missed a note. I walked out the door only to be greeted by the warm October light. It was another near 90-degree day.

But, inside, nothing has chilled my spine, except the air conditioning of the Bayou City.

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