Outside the VIP opening of the Dallas Art Fair last Thursday night, there stood a regiment of valets, on high alert, three deep to the sidewalk, rushing forward to catch the doors swinging open from Maseratis and Bentleys, as the nipped and tucked and Spanxed spilled out, all frozen blondeness and blockbuster sparkle, into a scene lubricated by champagne and the giddy chatter of people goosed by the belief that this is quite surely it.
In its seventh year, Dallas has swelled into a destination fair. And even in Texas, that doesn’t mean just bigger. It is an excess of all things: shinier names, deeper pockets, longer nights, deadlier hangovers. The week kicked off with a blockbuster at the Dallas Contemporary, where, alongside shows by David Salle and Anila Quayyum Agha, Nate Lowman installed a massive map of America, each state its own painting, viewable from metal bleachers that warmed the country heart in anyone who has spent quality time with Friday Night Lights. The unofficial afterparty, at a haunt of wide disrepute named Double Wide, was appropriately honky-tonk. The artist and his incorrigible gang of assistants, along with the likes of Aaron Young and Leo Fitzpatrick, scandalized the locals with feats of endurance and exhibitionism.
But for a town that still runs dry on Sundays, Dallas is not quite the basic bastion of conservatism that one is led to think. Its collectors may not be keen on certain provocations—agog at the serious business going on at the fair, one artist, known for his homoerotic streak, joked, “I should make easier art”—but a less obvious sensibility is afoot. It encouraged the New York dealer Nathalie Karg to hang a number of paintings by Kristine Moran in her booth—they read as lovely abstractions at first glance, downright lewd female nudes at second. Of course, there is still an awful lot of painting at the fair, from the glittery job by Devin Troy Strother at the very entrance to the blocky work of Mernet Larsen, who was being shown by both Johannes Vogt, of New York, and Various Small Fires, of Los Angeles. In her booth, VSF’s Esther Kim Varet stood stunned, gaping at a woman walking away who’d been snapping a picture of the dealer. “That was Maria Cornejo,” said Varet, in her Cornejo dress.
The dresses were fitted quite a bit closer at the MTV RE:DEFINE benefit auction, at the Goss-Michael Foundation. Being honored was Michael Craig-Martin, the British artist who acts as a godfather figure to the YBA generation. (Appropriately, a big old Damien Hirst painting was on the block.) At his table, the artist’s daughter, Jessica Craig-Martin, who is known for her photographs of excessive wealth, remarked drily, “Dallas is so perfect for me.” Then she got up to take pictures of the ladies who lunch and sit on museum boards.
The Dallas Museum of Art’s Art Ball was the next night, a black-tie behemoth in a town that really likes to gala. But much of the art world that flocked here skipped the dinner to take down some BBQ at Lee Harvey, a parking lot with picnic tables fenced in by chain-link a block away from And Now, an upstart gallery concealed in an unassuming ranch house that was hosting an opening for Dan Colen. The artist’s Gagosian handler, Sam Orlovsky, stood on the rickety porch, can of Modelo in hand. But for his suit, it would’ve been so very Texas.
Much of the week followed this trajectory, from gala to gutter. Doors were opened at the tony homes of the city’s megacollectors, and there was a visit to the Meyerson Symphony Center to witness a collaboration between the French conceptual artist Claude Rutault and the Dallas Symphony (a promo concert for next month’s Soluna Festival), but there were also less sanctioned outings for some much-needed local color, like queso with Arden Wohl and Erin Wasson at a Tex-Mex dive (“Velveeta is good news!” said one artist present), and the expedition one dealer led to XTC, a truly Texas-sized strip club.
By the time the Eye Ball, held under Tony Tasset’s enormous eyeball sculpture in front of the Joule Hotel, rolled around, everyone seemed to be partied out. But just when this art world crowd, perhaps jaded by the increasing Coachella-izing of the international art fair circuit, needed someone to remind them of how they all ended up here in the first place, along came Phil, an employee of the Cowboys’ football stadium who could easily be mistaken for a linebacker. Eight years ago, he knew nothing about art, until he was assigned to be the artist liaison for the stadium’s truly impressive collection, with its monumental commissions from major artists like Olafur Eliasson. (The world’s biggest domed stadium, with the world’s biggest TV screen, probably will also have some of the world’s biggest art.) Now, Phil’s friends make fun of him for being an art geek. “What kind of a job is that?” they asked him. Phil replied, “The kind of job where you be happy every day.”