Falling for Houston’s Second Inaugural Art Fair

Hey, wasn’t there one of those first annual art fairs at the George R. Brown just last month? Art retailer and barkeep Bill Davenport teases out the differences between that one and the smaller Texas Contemporary Art Fair that took place over this past weekend:


From my limited vantage point behind the bar at the Glasstire Saloon . . . this fair was more spacious, more relaxed, and infinitely more interesting than the Houston Fuddy-Duddy Art Fair last month. If THAT show was a big furniture store, THIS show was a big furniture store with ideas.

Like all second children, everyone was anxious for this event to succeed, but without the pathetic hand-wringing given the firstborn fair. This fair was fun, which makes it seem less likely to return next year, because something went wrong: successful art fairs are not fun.

Where are the wire-tense collectors hectoring harried gallery assistants for first dibs, or the dazed crowds of footsore curators and student art-stars pressing their noses on the glass display window of the artworld they read about in magazines?

What we’ve got here is a Houston-style art fair: slower, looser, and less crowded than fairs in high-pressure places where things matter. Unexpectedly sophisticated, with time to think a bit before reaching for your wallet. I hope it sticks.

Photo: Glasstire

8 Comment

  • Went to both fairs and I, too, preferred the texas Contemporary Fair. Had such a good time I went Thursday night, Saturday, and Sunday. Looking forward to the return of both next year.

  • The only Houston art fair I’ve been too was in Baldwin Park (Midtown) this spring. I was lured out by the urban renewal/street transformation thing, but both the art fair and the street thing were lame, lame, lame. I bought some small, kitchy yard art just to justify my time, but definitely would not go back in the future.

    Does that mean it was a successful art fair? Because it sucked?

  • Superdave: The art fairs referred to here are like comic book conventions except with very expensive “blue chip” art galleries setting up booths instead of comic book dealers. They are usually held indoors at convention centers. There are relatively few items for sale at each booth, but each item is priced very high.

    This is different from an arts and crafts festival, which is what it sounds like you saw. The Bayou City Art Festival is a notable example of the latter. They are usually set up out-doors, and the booth operators are usually the artists/craftsmen themselves (as opposed to an art gallery). Quality can be pretty variable, but the BCAF pretty carefully vets its exhibitors, so their quality is pretty high. These places tend to be a lot cheaper than the art fairs mentioned above.

    So why do these distinct categories exist? I think it’s kind of unintentional, but it’s ultimately about market segmentation. Arts & crafts festivals appeal to middle-class homeowners looking for a little unique home decoration or gifts. Something they can’t get at Pottery Barn. The art fair clientele comes from upper middle class to the very elite (let’s call em the 1%) and are willing to spend many thousands of dollars on a piece of art. (I’m talking about the paying customers, not the lookie-loos like myself.) They depend a lot on expert advice when purchasing.

    And the art in each venue is kind of different. The art in an arts & crafts festival tend to be fairly accessible. The work at an art fair might be a bit more abstruse. But in both venues, eye-candy does well. And there is a certain amount of overlap in styles of art presented.

    The weird thing is that these events–arts and crafts festivals and art fairs–are both key elements of the art economy, but they have almost nothing to do with one another. If you are a participant of one (as an organizer, dealer, or artist), you probably aren’t a participant of the other (as far as I can tell).

  • And I have been schooled…

  • Heh. Sorry to be so windy. It’s just something that I spend a lot of time thinking about, for some damn reason.

  • No prob – I enjoyed the lesson.

    Besides, you dissuaded me from going to the high falutin art fairs – those sound a bit out of my league (and price range).

  • They’re fun to look at though.

  • Mark this thread for future reference – a civilized, thoughtful, informative exchange on Swamplot.

    Congrats, guys!