Visual Art

Weird Things We Saw at the Dallas Art Fair

Yesterday we learned that attendance for the Dallas Art Fair last weekend broke the record, with 12,500 people passing through the halls of the Fashion Industry Gallery on Ross Avenue. In its eighth year, the fair seemed more vital than ever. 

As we mentioned in our coverage of the fair last year
, it's still a great way to learn about contemporary art in a low pressure environment, with lots of people casually milling about and gallerists on hand to discuss the work with visitors. There's something truly inspiring about a Dallas event where you can overhear a mélange of foreign languages as you take in art that's been brought in from locales as distant as Paris, Dubai and Hong Kong. Carts bearing Champagne and Top Pot doughnuts passed by throughout the day, adding to the sense of glamour.

And if it was glamour you were after, there was even more of that to be had at the exclusive, VIP events — like the Eye Ball at the Joule — associated with the fair throughout the week. But we liked the more egalitarian feel of the fair itself. Sure, those with a few hundred thousand dollars in spending money lying around had opportunities to dispense of it on works by famous artists such as Kandinsky and Warhol in the Heritage Auctions space. But local galleries such as Ro2 Art came through with more reasonable options by lesser-known artists, some priced in the low hundreds. The real fun was in window shopping the up-and-coming artists who comprised the bulk of the exhibits and were likely entirely new to most visitors.

W Magazine even came to check out the fair, and proclaimed it proof that we're gaining on Austin in the cool department. If Austin knows anything about cool, it's that the cool is in the weird. Yes, although though the Dallas Art Fair has come and gone, the frighteningly lifelike dolls and other weird artworks we saw there remain with us. Let's take a look at a handful of them.

Rachel Lee Hovnian's "Perfect Baby Showroom" (see above)
You may have recently craned your neck at a billboard on the Dallas North Tollway promising the opportunity to acquire genetically perfect human specimens. That billboard was a sly advertisement for Rachel Lee Hovnian's exhibit at the Dallas Art Fair, presented by New York's Leila Heller Gallery, where visitors had the opportunity to cradle six incredibly lifelike baby dolls. For extra realism, participants had to first sanitize their hands and put on lab coats. After selecting either the Morgan, Jordan, Joey, Alex, Evan or Chris model, a nurse would inform you of your child's traits and future. Would you prefer a star basketball player with a modest disposition, or an assertive child with a talent for musical instruments? "Perfect Baby Showroom" is part of Hovnian's larger work, Plastic Perfect, which draws a connection between the sugary cereal that was marketed as time-saving and fun beginning in the '60s, but which we now know to be garbage for the body, and our current dependence on technology. In what as-yet-unknown ways will this habit change us in the future, perhaps for the worse?

Joshua Goode's "Restored Pog Chainmail"
Dallas' Ro2 Art came through with a lot of amusing art this year, not the least of which were Brian Scott's paintings of couples mid-coitus, one called "Toe Lunch" (it's what you might guess) and another called "Nervous Excitement of the New," which showed both people biting their nails while love-making. But for the nostalgia factor, this piece of medieval armor made of Pogs, the popular ' 90s game, took the prize. Physically it might not offer much protective value, but we once heard that pretending to be mentally unstable is a good defense against predators. So perhaps wearing this would do just the trick. But really, it's a cool representation of the past and the recent past clashing. The '90s are considered remote enough that we're already "bringing back" its fashion, but when placed in the context of medieval times, the '90s seem laughably current.
Calvin Marcus' "Martini Shirt (Sloan's Dry Cleaners and Laundry: 'Clean and Fresh')"
Los Angeles' David Kordansky Gallery showed work by a single artist, Calvin Marcus, that explored three modes of self-portraiture: painting, ceramic and ... shirt? On opposite walls hung two similar shirts decorated with a martini and olive motif.  Marcus designed the pattern that was silk-screened on the shirts — he made 15 of them — and wore them while he worked and played around the city, accumulating unique stains on each one. He then took them to the dry cleaner where the works of art were "completed." If this shirt is just what you need to complete an outfit, it can be yours for only $4,000, we heard.  

Ed Templeton, "Repent" 
We included this work by Ed Templeton, which could be seen in the space belonging to Antwerp's Tim Van Laere gallery, largely because it reminded us of the very expensive fight the city of Dallas is currently waging to keep the Exxxotica porn convention out of the Kay Bailey Hutchison convention center. This painting has it all, scantily clad women posing for pictures and eyeing the protestors, a lecherous-seeming dude eyeing the ladies (interestingly, no one is facing the view), and a trio of hostile, Bible-beating protestors. Sure the scene is vain and even gross, but the protestors, who have hilariously equipped their crucifix with a wheel, are no less creepy and self-obsessed. As the old saying goes, if you can't take the skin, get off of the beach and out of the porn convention. Or something.

Ken Kagami "Snoopee drawings"
Tokyo-based Misako and Rosen Gallery presented an assortment of Ken Kagami's "Snoopee Drawings" at the fair. Kagami takes items in popular culture that connote innocence and perverts them for a disturbing, jarring and often funny effect, like in the case of this Sharpie image of a sad Charlie Brown head imposed on a reclining woman's naked body, with a disembodied Snoopy head floating in the corner. Kagami has said in an interview with social merchandising company The Hundreds that he also chooses these characters because they're easy to draw and customize. Kagami notably made the cover art for Deerhoof's album Milk Man.

"Tunnel #7" by Chul-Hyun Ahn 
A few galleries displayed art that used fluorescent lights and mirrors to create the illusion of infinite space, such as this work by Chul-Hyun Ahn in Baltimore's C. Grimaldis Gallery. The gallery showed a number of Chul-Hyun Ahn pieces, several of which seemed familiar from last year. They all begged for visitors to take selfies in them. But thinking of "Repent" by Templeton, your dear author resisted the urge with only a small amount of regret.
Bill Haveron, "Why Don't You Wear This Dress Anymore?" 
This work by East Texas artist Bill Haveron being shown by Kirk Hopper Fine Art was one of our favorites from the fair for the way that it seamlessly integrates traditional Asian art with a contemporary, cartoon-like style. The woman on the left appears to be offering a traditional garment, perhaps Dutch or German, to the woman who is reclining on the couch, having sacrificed history to embrace a consumption-oriented American identity. The painting raises salient questions about the way feminine identity and respect for heritage have evolved over time but does it in a manner that's also playful. Could such a fine colored pencil drawing of a Taco Casa takeout sack and empty beer bottles be anything else?

Tony Matelli, "Jesus" 
Remember how we said Dallas Art Fair is so accessible cause everyone is dying to talk to you about the art they're showing? Well, Marlborough Chelsea from New York didn't cough up a lot of information about this cast bronze and concrete statue of Jesus covered in crab claws — perhaps they were worn out from dealing with the hordes — but needless to say it has an irreverent, perhaps even sacrilegious vibe. Matelli likes to create unusual juxtapositions with sculpture, which invariably look strange when decorated. As to the choice of crab claws, Jesus was the ultimate fisher of men, so maybe that's a clue?
Faig Ahmed, "Essence" 
The craftsmanship that goes into weaving an oriental rug is already impressive, but the ones New York's Sapar Contemporary brought to the fair took the artistry a step further. Faig Ahmed uses ancient carpet-weaving techniques at the service of contemporary ideas, resulting in rugs that appear to be warped and melting. Trippy.