If every contemporary art hub in the U.S. had its own flavor, I think Dallas’s must be smoke. It’s in the barbecue and the mezcal, and a number of collectors who flock to the city like to to blow it.
In Dallas, wealth is worn on the sleeve, which makes the Dallas Art Fair’s VIP vernissage a compelling spectacle beyond just the art on the walls.
I met up with art advisor Sarah Calodney—over a smoke—outside the Joule hotel. We had just come from a lunch thrown by the Crystal Bridges Museum, about 350 miles north of Dallas in Arkansas. There, Annemarie Dillard, heir to the Dillard department store fortune and museum trustee, stood in front of a well-heeled group of collectors, advisors, and artists, including Christen Wilson, Jessica Nowitzki, Jammie Holmes, Janelle Pinnell, and Rob Teeters, and gushed to the audience about the museum’s upcoming gala.
“You’ll never believe how many celebrities make it out to Bentonville!” she declared.
As Calodney and I stepped into an Uber, she explained that about half her clientele are Dallas collectors. (She also ran Lehmann Maupin’s collaborative space with Carpenter’s Workshop in Aspen in 2021, making her one of the growing number of part-time Texas residents who enjoy the state’s lack of income taxes.) She said she loves working with the collectors who lives here. “Collectors here are generous and enthusiastic. No one is jaded about like, ‘bleh I have to be at this gala.’ People in Dallas are excited.”
En route, Calodney told me about some of the pieces she currently had on hold for clients at the fair—at Night Gallery, Perrotin, and local space Erin Cluley Galllery. She’s been coming to the fair for 15 years, and is routinely stunned by the treasures that abound. “Like four years ago you could get a Matthew Wong for $20,000. It’s badass; there’s such good stuff here.”
Rolling up to the Fashion Industry Gallery, the 74,000-square-foot exhibition space that houses the Dallas Art Fair, that excitement for discovery was palpable. Cowboy-booted, rhinestone-studded collectors—or were those all real diamonds?—gathered just inside the door.
We met up with Carolina Alvarez Mathies, director of the Dallas Contemporary, among the hubbub, who was bright-eyed and raring to have a look around. Our first stop was Lyles and King’s booth, where a Paola Angelini painting, inspired by medieval French tapestry, caught Calodney’s eye.
“Looks very Chagall, I love it!” she said. The work was on sale for $16,000, and Calodney left her email. Next door, at Erin Cluley, the Dallas Art Museum had already snapped up a work by Riley Holloway for $9,500; another one, for $6,000, was starting to pique Calodney’s attention when a loud noise distracted us.
“Stop!” yelled a security guard. Running straight toward me with a wild look in his eye and a bizarre smile on his face, was a man in a cowboy hat and soiled shorts. Approximately five feet away from me, the guard tackled him, and the entire floor seemed to fall silent. I’d later learn that this was not someone who broke into the vernissage, but in fact a collector who had been taking advantage of the bar a little bit too much. “There’s always someone up to no good in a cowboy hat in Dallas,” said Alvarez Mathies. Onwards.
Next stop was The Hole, where director Ray Bulman showed us a marble sculpture by Adam Parker Smith, for which the dealer had to travel to a quarry in Italy three times to procure the material. While this fascinated me, Calodney’s eyes were on a vibrant Pedro Pedro still life, where cigarettes and pill bottles hid among succulent fruits.
“I like painting thats refers to other painting. What a good take on still life,” said Calodney of the piece. “There’s a long wait list for that one. It’s going for $40,000,” said Bulman. Calodney whispered the name of her client in his ear. “Oh, I’d prioritize giving it to her for sure,” he said.
All around us, more sales were humming along. Fabienne Levy sold three paintings by Ben Arpea in a range of $7,000 to $14,000. Carl Kostyál’s larger-than-life booth of Mike Shultis’s mixed-media paintings of buffalos and horses nearly sold out.
Shultis’s works were far from the only cowboy-themed art at the fair. I counted 12 paintings with cowboys in them, 19 paintings of horses, and one donkey. The spirit of Texas was certainly reflected in the art brought to the fair.
Calodney realized she’d left her cell phone in the Uber and needed to go fetch it before hitting up a party at collector Janelle Pinnell’s house later. She was kind of happy to have lost it: “This way, I can keep things on hold for longer!”