Fair shows Houston thriving as fine art market

Sep 15, 2012

An enthusiastic crowd of about 3,000 filled the aisles of the second annual Houston Fine Art Fair at Reliant Center for Thursday’s opening party, and plenty opened their wallets. More than a half-dozen of the 80 dealers exhibiting said they made sales in the first hour.

Dealer Sebastian Campos quickly had reserves on two laser-cut works in Plexiglas by the highly collectible Argentinean artist Gustavo Diaz. This is the first art fair for Campos’ 2-year-old Chicago gallery, THE MISSION. Campos, who grew up in Houston, was elated. “It’s a good homecoming,” he said.

The scene was quieter Friday, but visitors seemed focused. The fair continues through Sunday.

Collector Marshal Lightman, who is on the fair’s advisory panel, was surprised by the pace of sales.
“Serious collectors usually don’t buy until Sunday. They look at the work, then do a little homework and come back,” he said.

Big local market

Art world insiders call Houston the nation’s third- or fourth-leading market, based on the number of collectors and sophisticated galleries here, as well as the thriving museum scene and the world-class Core Program at the Glassell School of Art.

This year’s fair has drawn more internationally known exhibitors, but most already have Houston clients.

Fairs aren’t really optional, they say.

“It’s a way to tap into a market you would not be able to replicate in a gallery setting,” Los Angeles dealer Luis De Jesus said.

That holds true for local galleries as well.

“You need to give as much visibility as you can to your artists,” Houston dealer Roni McMurtrey said.

PG Contemporary owner Zoya Tommy quickly sold an oil painting by Houston artist Guus Kemp to a couple from the Heights who didn’t know about her Midtown gallery.

Fairs have become a such a force, art is being made about them, said Los Angeles dealer Paul Kopeikin, pointing out a print in his booth from superstar Andy Freeberg’s series “Art Fare.”

Kopeikin says regional fairs are becoming increasingly important, and he’s thrilled with the Houston show.

“You have people on the ground who know this community better than I ever could. You never see that at any other art fair. And the community is small enough that it can be personal,” he said. “These are people who believe in art as part of their life.”

‘There’s a nice mix’

Artist Frank Hyder, showing with Philadelphia’s Projects Gallery, was amazed by the high quality and diversity of works on display.

“Frequently, fairs are about what’s hip or saleable,” he said. “But there’s a nice mix of cutting edge, classic, established and emerging artists here.”

Cernuda Arte, a Coral Gables, Fla., gallery with a fine exhibit of pieces by 20th-century Cuban modern master Wifredo Lam, also hopes to sell Frida Kahlo’s “Display Window in a Street in Detroit 1931” for an anonymous U.S. client. At $2 million, it’s one of the fair’s priciest gets - although by no means the flashiest, at 12 by 15 inches.

“Fridas are very hard to come by,” gallery owner Ramon Cernuda said, noting the painting by the legendary Mexican artist is one of only about 20 that can be sold on the open market.

Just a few steps away, however, those with shallower pockets will find watercolors of about the same size by Glassell School Core Fellow Tatiana Istomina for $500 to $750.

‘Houston’s time’

De Jesus, who declined to enter the fair last year, was glad to be participating this time.

“We’ve done a lot of shows all over the world,” he said, “and this is as good as it’s going to get.”

Lightman agreed. “This is Houston’s time, and if we blow the art scene, it’s our fault,” he said.

Lightman was among the early buyers, nabbing a piece by John Adelman from DARKE|Gallery. It seemed ironic, since he lives almost around the corner from dealer Linda Darke’s space, which specializes in Houston artists. But it wasn’t an impulse purchase.

“I’ve been following Adelman’s work for three years,” he said.