This past weekend, the George R. Brown opened its doors to the art-loving, Houston community for the first ever Texas Contemporary Art Fair. Despite our previous knowledge of the size and layout of the GRB, we were still completely floored by how massive the art fair turned out to be. Over 50 different galleries from around the country set up shop, portioned off by stark white walls and repurposed shipping containers. Mixed in with the visiting galleries, several of Houston's own showed off their best talent. Local arts organizations and museums were also represented such as CAMH, MFAH, Blaffer and Art League Houston, among others.
Blending the cultural organizations into the fair was important to the fair's Managing Partner, Max Fishko, who sought out Houston as a destination because of the strength of its artistic community. "Houston has some of the best galleries and museums in the country," Fishko said, "and the people here can tell what good art is and support it."
It took Fishko and his team roughly eight months to plan the affair, beginning with finding the right group of dealers and galleries to participate. "We have a few repeat customers," Fishko continued, "but this isn't a traveling circus." Indeed, the artMRKT group, which has now produced three of these contemporary art fairs across the country, made sure to include exhibitors they felt were "relevant" to the Houston art scene.
As we took in the awe-inspiring amount of art, we couldn't help but be a little star-struck. We're not swooners by nature, but when we're right in front of purchasable, limited edition Rauschenbergs, Wayne Thiebaud paintings and David LaChapelle prints, we have to admit we got a little giddy.
In the center of the fair, several special installation projects commanded attention. The most impressive was a 33-foot wooden plane being carried by 1,000 scorched metal butterflies. Butterflies are sort of the artist Paul Villinski's "thing," so we were told by the dealers at the Morgan Lehman Gallery. Another Villinski on display, which we personally preferred to the glider, found the same butterflies exploding out of the neck of a cello.
Another featured artist, Tracey Snelling, presented by the Rena Bransten Gallery, erected model homes and buildings with video projections of movie scenes streaming out of windows and doors, inviting you to voyeuristically stare. Our favorite of hers was "Somewhere in Ohio," which looped the horrific "lotion in the basket" scene from Silence of the Lambs while playing Tom Petty's American Girl on repeat.
Other standouts included Chris Jordan's "Gyre 11 (Starry Night)," presented by the Kopeikin Gallery, an exact replication of van Gogh's renowned painting made from thousands of tiny, digitally constructed lighters. There was Sarah Frost's "Check Bottom of Cart II," a large-scale mosaic made from discarded computer keys, and Tom Birkner's "Heavy Metal," a shockingly rich and realistic portrayal of white trash at its best.
Despite the various mediums, sizes, forms and shapes, there was one thing that tied the entire fair together -- quality. Each gallery had brought out their Sunday best and it showed.
All in all, Fishko was very pleased with the response to the fair and the turnout. "Hey, when there's a line outside the door," he remarked, "it's a good sign."