Martin Kline, Not About Albers, 2006
By early Sunday afternoon, more than 3,000 people had visited the inaugural Dallas Art Fair — 2,200 on Saturday alone — and the organizers said they expected the number to reach 4,000 by the end of the day. Co-founder John T. Sughrue, a downtown real-estate developer, was prepared to announce a second annual fair in 2010: “absolutely, same time next year.”
“People were buying hope until the doors opened Thursday night,” Sughrue said, talking about the galleries that took a risk in a bad economy as well as the Dallas art community that turned out. “It exceeded expectations on every level…It’s a phenomenon. The Los Angeles fair was last weekend, and we’re kicking their ass.”
The dealers I spoke to agreed that the fair had been a success — even the ones who hadn’t sold a piece — and several reported solid sales. They were especially impressed by the number of serious collectors who attended, their level of knowledge about art and the hospitality Dallas is famous for, including local collectors who opened their homes for private tours. Most said they like would come back next year but acknowledged that the economy was a factor.
“I’m very happy with the traffic, with how it was organized, with the visitors and the town. But in terms of sales, it’s a sign of the times — I’ll put it that way,” said Scott Richards, who owns a contemporary gallery in San Francisco that bears his name. “I came knowing I had clients here, and I know when they’re in a position to buy again they will.”
Would he come back? “I’d like to, but this is a business like anything else. I would say of all the fairs I’ve been to, this one is the most likely.”
“Most of the dealers are happy,” said Dallas dealer Kristy Stubbs, who sold a 1919 watercolor by Andre Lhote and a number of Laura Wilson photographs. She also landed a one-man museum show for her artist Jose Maria Cano. “Every good collector in Dallas who could be here was here.”
New York dealer Andrew Edlin said he was very happy with his sales but that’s not the only way he measured success. “I’m happy with the business we did and happier with the people we met. The organizers did a fantastic job. I’m definitely coming back.”
Pace Prints, a New York heavyweight showing Picasso and Matisse along with some lesser knowns, sold “enough to feel good about it,” according to director Kristin Heming. “And we have a lot of things pending. It was an interested audience and knowledgeable as well.”
Would she come back next year? “There’s a good chance we will. Let’s see what happens in the world between now and then.”
Art dealer Christopher Byrne, who co-founded the fair with Sughrue, pointed out that of the 40 or so galleries represented, “very few came down cold.” Most already knew collectors here and had sold work to them in the past. So even if they didn’t make a sale during the fair, they were re-establishing relationships.
Scott Peveto, director of McClain Gallery in Houston, said that was his reasoning. “Our collectors here don’t go to Houston as much anymore. And I’ve also been reconnecting with curators from regional museums.” Peveto talked about “good intangibles that don’t necessarily generate a check” right away, mentioning the organizers’ “concentrated effort to bring qualified art interest, not just bodies” to the fair. “I don’t mind educating people, but you have to do your homework.”
“The organizers were outstanding,” said Simone G. Joseph, director of the Jason McCoy gallery in New York. “They created an elegant environment, and for a first-time group it was far better handled than I would have expected. They have gone out of their way to bring in people.The attendance was intensely constant. People have been excited and inquisitive.”
Joseph showed a single artist, Martin Kline, who makes brightly colored encaustic paintings inspired by nature. And even though she had not sold one yet, she said, “I’m not worried about that.” Would she return next year? “I don’t know yet but it feels good — if they’ll have us back.”
How did Sughrue and Byrne draw so many serious art lovers? Sughrue credits $100,000 in print ads and public relations and a 9,000-strong email list, “9,000 you can build a business around…Now people understand what we can deliver, what the community can support.”