Report from Texas Contemporary, A New Art Fair

Brooklyn-based managing partner of artMRKT Productions and heir to the Forum Gallery “throne” built by Bella Fishko, Max Fishko brought dazzle to Houston with his company’s third fair, Texas Contemporary, held from October 20-23. Jeffrey Wainhause (the other half of artMRKT) and Fishko expressed enthusiasm about Houston, describing the strong art scene, highlighted by renowned institutions like the Rothko Chapel, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, the Menil Collection and others. Further, Fishko said in recent NPR interview that Texas’ largest city has, “an incredibly vibrant [art] community, about 80 galleries and no galleries closing during the recession.” He continues on to say that the “vibrant market” is supported also by various non-profit organizations, museums and art centers (Project Row Houses, DiverseWorks immediately come to mind).

TX Contemporary—a circus of bright colors, and eye-catching art—was fun! The 55-dealer art fair, held at George R. Brown Convention Center, aimed to focus on conceptually driven art and new work with an emphasis on Texas artists. International artists were also featured, who fit the bill, and therefore the fair was formally cohesive in so far as fairs go.

Champion Contemporary's booth

In its inaugural year, however, TX Contemporary got some grief for riding on the coattails of the Houston Fine Art Fair, which occurred in the same location only weeks prior. It should also be noted that this double-teaming occurred, as reported on 29-95, due to a rift between once collaborators of the two fairs—the split causing multiple fairs at the same time in the same place. Galleries that could afford it, did both, like Moody and Sicardi. And, dealers at TX Contemporary expressed interest in having had them combined.

Reports from gallery owners on Sunday, after the fair had neared its end, were mixed. Muriel Guépin Gallery said there was a lot of talk and positive interest, with no follow-through—expressing disappointment, comparing TX Contemporary more to a museum exhibition than art fair. Like the Spice, also a Brooklyn-based gallery, shared similar sentiments, but with a positive undertone, saying that several buyers were interested, but not an amazing sales weekend. Further still, Champion Contemporary, Austin, reported no sales on closing day.

On the other hand, Turner Carroll Gallery of Santa Fe reported 11 pieces sold by closing day, and felt very up-beat about the experience, saying Kate Petley flew off the walls. Owner Tonya Turner compared TX Contemporary to the early days of Art Basel and sees the fair’s potential for growth.

Texas Contemporary Fair with Paul Villinkski's sculpture

It’s true. Houston—and the “friendship state”—has a first-rate art scene with the highest caliber museums and non-profits. I’d say the jury is still out, however, as to the long-term gains of TX Contemporary and growth of the contemporary market here. Dallas is working to make similar strides with panel discussions on the topic and the recent debut of the Dallas Art Fair, which is itself in infancy at 2 years old. I think Chris Byrne, co-founder of the Dallas Art Fair, would agree it’s not only about bringing amazing contemporary art to Texas, it’s also about expanding and educating a collector-base.

That said. TX Contemporary raised $20,000 for the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston. And, had over 3,000 visitors opening night.

As AdobeAirstream continues to report on the growth and/or recession of the art economy in Texas, I’ll be following-up on this topic, having further discussions with galleries on final sales from TX Contemporary.

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