A Bigger, Better Dallas Art Fair

There’s a sense that Dallas is becoming much more important than it has been. Rents and real estate are up, the food scene has gained complexity, more and more languages are spoken, the arts venues are top-notch, the art we see is more inclusive and international, the museum plans a major expansion and it seems the Dallas Art Fair has grown into one of the most important in the country.

Now in its 14th year, the 2022 fair is a little smaller than it was before the pandemic but considerably larger than a condensed, delayed edition held last November. (The 2020 fair had been canceled).

This year we visited the fair twice, thanks to some kind soul who sent us complimentary admission for the opening day (priced at $200 and good for readmission throughout the weekend). As with each visit, we found some of the expected and made some delightful discoveries.

A New York artist with Texas roots, John Alexander is represented by two galleries (Marlborough and McClain). A few large-scale paintings and drawings explore the psychological feelings of shipwreck, through the physicality of mark-making of thick impasto. I wish the largest canvas, located in the hallway, had more space for absorption. It is one of those pieces that gives reward for contemplation – the thrills, the fear, and our subconsciousness of danger at the sea can be brought out by just standing there,  in the middle of a crowd.

Long-embraced in her Houston hometown, a deceased artist with a growing reputation, Dorothy Hood has a prime spot at McClain Gallery. An unusual green-toned painting has the canvas divided into two sections. At the bottom, the flat turquoise green is sharply delineated from the emerald and forest green through a thin wash. The top features a brunette reddish butte formation piercing through a dark sky.

Ree Willaford, the owner of Galleri Urbane, told us there was a lot of “competition” at the fair. In an event ambition to see it all forces collectors to speed up, this painting is like an oasis begging one to stop and take in the moment.

Turner Carroll Gallery has a few works from Hung Liu, who passed away last fall, just before her major retrospective at National Portrait Gallery. While her work is widely known and reproduced online, seeing them in person to understand the scale and the texture of her work makes a huge difference. Hung, a Chinese American who emigrated to the US in 1984, likened her work to looking into Chinese art from the outside. In her work, the symbolism in traditional Chinese culture (duck, fish, or plum flowers) enriches her main subject, often women of the lower class (field laborers or prostitutes).

Visiting Valley House Gallery, we look forward to seeing new work by Miles Cleveland Goodwin. Miles created a large work just to be shown at the fair. It may depict three states of being. The wolf is agitated, the bull is complacent and the human figure is removed from the situation by being occupied with work. It’s one of the largest paintings we have seen from this Georgia-based artist. Just as captivating are his human subjects including this one he apparently calls “a French artist.” Apparently, that means painting outside the borders and onto the frame, an effect that makes this work more engaging and endearing.

And for the discoveries…

We turned to leave this booth and noticed a domestic scene by Jackson Denahy and asked about the artist. It turned out we were asking the artist, who must have been happy his work was being noticed. He’s not the only emerging artist working at the fair, but perhaps one of a handful whose works were on display. 

Scott Miller Projects of Birmingham Alabama presented large figural works by artist-chef Roscoe Hall. Roscoe was in the booth on our second round and we spent some time talking about his portraits of Botham Jean and police officer Amber Guyger. Jean was shot in his apartment by Guyger who claimed to have mistaken it for her own. This pair of portraits may be somewhat of an outlier. Most of his works draw on his own life experiences – the tragedy in Dallas was something that impacted him personally through the media retellings.

A quiet interior scene with a lone mentally occupied figure by Laura Karetzky led the way around the corner to several larger works by this Brooklyn-based artist. These works depict the experience of the pandemic, and lately a slow reemergence from it. We recognized Carnegie Hall and learned she is married to a concert pianist. The monotoned audience and a bench without a performer may represent the experience of being without music, or without an audience, during the pandemic.

We’ve known the work of Vanessa German for quite a few years now but hadn’t seen it at the fair before this year’s edition. This work features a figure in the midst of a balancing act, holding a bar of white soap. She makes us all stop and ponder what it might be like for a black woman to live in a white world.

Perhaps one of the largest testament to the success of the fair is the increasing number of off-site events springing up to try to lure visitors away during the weekend. This year that included an opening with works by Vicki Meek at Talley Dunn Gallery, a series of shows around the city featuring local artists and billed as Art 214 Juried Exhibition, and a group of the three entrepreneurial artists who set up a show called AVOWAL including Eli Ruhala (work shown below), Matthew Napoli (work shown above) and Enrique Nevarez. We made it to the latter two, and if the Dallas Art Fair instigates these energetic outsider events, we’re all for it.

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