Houston Fine Art Fair
Houston -- This city along the Gulf Coast is positively bustling, with a booming employment rate that makes New York City look like a pauper. And with the teeming slate of sales at the inaugural Houston Fine Art Fair, Sept. 16-18, 2011, at the George R. Brown Convention Center, the city, topping up at 6,000,000 in population, is a new destination on the global art circuit. In terms of art world bravado, dynamite museums and contemporary collectors, Houston just may give Miami and Los Angeles a run for their money.
Brilliantly directed by Fran Kaufman, who roped in 80 dealers from 13 countries, including Haunch of Venison, Hollis Taggart, La Casona from Havana, Douglas Dawson of Chicago, Schuebbe Projects of Dusseldorf, Meredith Long of Houston and others hailing from Bogota and Sao Paolo, Hamptons Expo Group honcho Rick Friedman's new fair is staged in a startlingly handsome Centre Pompidou-like high-tech convention center.
The opening night vernissage drew a hefty 3,000 and by Sunday sales were sealed for a number of dealers. Robert Goff, director of Haunch of Venison in Manhattan had closed a deal on a 1963 Untitled Leon Ferrari drawing for a Lone Star price of $250,000. Ferrari, who is 90, now has a new collector. Goff also sold a 2010 picture titled Old Faithful by the young New York color painter Isca Greenfield-Sanders. “Every fair has a different rhythm and we were initially disheartened,” said Goff. “But the tide has turned dramatically,” he said.
Riva Yares, who heads up galleries in both Santa Fe and Scottsdale, brought a fleet of museum-worthy Milton Avery oils dating from 1941 to 1963 priced up to $1.8 million and Joan Mitchell’s dynamite Rufus’s Rock from 1966. That Israeli-born Southwest dealer notched some serious offers on the table.
María Ines Sircadi, the Argentinean-born dealer who set her roots in Houston 17 years ago, and who is the only Texan with a booth at Art Basel Miami Beach, also achieved sales. Her stable is known for classic moderns like Gego, Jesus-Rafael Soto and Carlos Cruz-Diez.
Also responding to the South of the Border beat were clients at the Miami Design District-based Arevalo Gallery with sales of Cuban modern, including Amilcar de Castro’s cut steel Um Dobra Dois Cortes, 1974, at $45,000. The de Castro is akin to an early Anthony Caro.
Lower-priced fare was also moving and Pavel Zoubok Gallery from Chelsea sold three collage landscapes from 2010 by the Swiss artist duo Kohn/Klein at $5,500 a pop. Center stage in the Zoubok booth -- we know the man is planning a museum devoted to collage in the wilds of Pennsylvania -- is William Wegman’s riotous collage landscape painting with a tabby Cat on a Walk, 2006.
Also gleeful with sales is Schroeder Romero & Shredder, another young Chelsea stalwart. Packed up for collectors is a Man Ray gelatin silver print Untitled, 1929, for $40,000. The gallery wares also include gold and silver textile works by Brice Brown and porcelain guns by Susan Graham. “For a first-time event, Houston is a hit, so far,” said gallery staffer Mark Shortliffe.
Driving sales is the rather phenomenal art world sophistication of this city. On view are 480 public artworks, whose number includes Claes Oldenburg’s 1979 Corten steel Mouse in Disneyiana red, performance artist Dennis Oppenheim’s Radiant Fountains of towering brilliant lighting, and a massive Henry Moore bronze.
But wealth is also a factor. “We’re a young city, a business city home to NASA along with thriving oil, (natch), gas and aeronautics industries,” said Jonathan Guss, director of the powerhouse Houston Arts Alliance. Under his leadership, the city is giving support to young artists.
The city has no less than 12 museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the famed Menil Collection with the nearby Rothko Chapel. Houston Contemporary Art Museum director Bill Arnig was spotted touring the fair with trustees and patrons in tow.
Contemporary art collectors like auto dealership magnate Lester Marks, whose holdings are vast, also took in the fair. “We needed a fair like this,” said Marks.
”Houston’s got the Queen Marys of culture and a vibrant gallery scene,” said Terrie Sultan, who steers the Parrish Art Museum on Long Island, with its new Herzog & de Meuron building under construction.
With the Houston Fine Art Fair, you might say the Houston art scene is complete. Except that Friedman’s arch-rival, fair founder Max Fishko, is bringing his new Houston fair to town next month, the Texas Contemporary Art Fair, Oct. 20-23, 2011.
BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.