The Dallas Art Fair (DAF) makes two unspoken promises that, prima facie, seem at odds — untenable in the coupling of the radically new and the easily recognizable. The DAF proposes to be the most hip, happening, and avant-garde event of the year while also simply being a marketplace, a mall for art and its denizens.
In the history of art, the avant-garde has consisted of those who buck the norms of bourgeois politesse. Similar to the unforeseen movement of an atom swerving away from the straight downward shuttling of all other atoms, they attempt to remove themselves from all the rest, or what Nietzsche called the “herd.” Why would the local artistic avant-garde want anything to do with the officially nipped-and-tucked of the DAF? It is not so important whether or not the avantgarde, if it exists, wants to be part of the market or not because the market precedes all, at least in the developed world. To follow the syllogism at work here, you are already nipped-and-tucked even if you thought otherwise.
Undoubtedly, the artistic avant-garde and market exist in a tenuous if not tortured relationship, at least by the weathered and worn definition of the term. In reality, the avant-garde is nothing other than capitalism in raw form. It is the cool and chic object, performance, or thinker doing its thing proverbially outside-the-box. As capital inchoate, that thing does not so much get sucked into the box but relocate the box itself, giving it a fandangled, more easily consumable appearance. And so, the avant-garde is what capitalism looks for in its hunt for ever-greater expansion, whether in the form of real estate or brightly colored gewgaws.
In writing about modernity, the French poet Charles Baudelaire called it nouveauté, or novelty. The French context of the mid 19th century, Paris to be precise, gives to us the earliest instance of the artistic avant-garde and, at the same time, the most forthright and perhaps elegant articulation of the interwoven fellowship between the established power of the capitalist State and the rising power of the avant-garde. Since the early 18th century, the French had been holding in Paris an official exhibition each year— the salon — showing the best and most prized works of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, the state sanctioned school of art. In 1863, Emperor Napoleon III, leader of the French state, sponsored le Salon des refusés, the Salon of the Rejected, an exhibition showing thousands of paintings rejected by the official jury.
So emerged the (officially State-sponsored) avant-garde.
There will be a mingling of establishment and renegade forces come the weekend of the DAF, April 13–15 at downtown’s Fashion Industry Gallery, with the many high caliber galleries from around the country exhibiting their wares at the DAF and our very own Salon des refusés in the form the Dallas Biennial, or DB12. Also known as Dick Higgins (named for the Fluxus protagonist and the coiner of the term “intermedia”), DB12 will host events and show the work of artists off-site at the Oliver Francis Gallery near Fair Park. They are notably not rejects of the DAF but simply ancillary.
In short, an avant-garde measure is one taken against or outside of the majority. The placement, relevance, and importance of an artistic avant-garde within any given city, including the Metroplex, is discussed below by gallery owners participating in the DAF and DB12.
Katherine Gray, Sue Scott Gallery, New York, NY
A critical approach that doesn’t accept the prevailing modes of art production is always necessary to reassert the changing needs of successive generations and what they require of culture. Over the past few years Dallas has invested in the arts on a level that is both admirable and inspiring. The DAF is a manifestation of that tremendous commitment, and, quite simply, it allows both Dallas patrons and those from outside the community to participate in the transformation an art fair can bring. As a catalyst for that change, DAF can help reorganize the art scene locally and nationally at an important time for galleries as they reassess their roles in the global art market.
Laura Greene, Valley House Gallery, Dallas, TX
As a gallery, we are drawn to the expressive individuality of the artist. We seek the avant-garde on an individual level, rather than seeking the avant-garde for avant-garde’s sake. Artists who develop their own expression, rather than trying to follow the collective, trending avant-garde, are to us the most interesting kind of avant-garde. Each of the artists [we will show] has developed their own personal visual iconography. Each of these artists is experimental in that they are inventing new ways of visual expression that reflect their individuality. They are innovative in that they are each following their own artistic voice, which strikes us as non-conformist in the purist sense.
Hudson, Feature Inc., New York, NY
There really isn’t an avant-garde any longer. That was an intellectual and esthetic discussion, a notion that disappeared some decades ago. You are probably referring the cutting edge, which is more about trends and what’s hot. There are numerous art worlds/art markets and change occurs swiftly, every year or two, all of which is market driven.
Nancy Whitenack, Conduit Gallery, Dallas, TX
Pushing the edge, thinking out of the box, daring to go beyond the current prescriptions are necessary to a vital, energetic art scene. Dallas is no exception. Work that questions existing attitudes, i.e. politics, morality, commerce, need to be examined, and artists must find ways and places to put forth those ideas. In truth, The DAF and the avantgarde have little room for relationship. An art fair is driven by commerce…the need to sell works of art. More conservative work has been shown in art fairs the last several years, due in large part, to the economic downturn. As the economy improves, galleries are willing to be more risky and show challenging work that pushes boundaries. The DAF this year, with a roster of young, brash new dealers may prove to be quite interesting. DAF could encourage avant-garde ideas by having lectures and discussions during the fair which question art-making and it’s relationship to the political climate, and to the community. I believe the role of the DAF is one of building a larger, more involved local community who are willing to look at a broad range of artworks and ask questions about underlying themes and artists’ intentions rather than deciding to “like” or “dislike” a work of art. It’s a commercial endeavor to bring more people to the city and discover the richness of the arts here.
Stephanie Wilde, Stewart Gallery, Boise, ID
The question of the place of the “avantgarde” is important to any city — especially now — forward thinking is a must. The arts have been affected greatly during this economic time. To bring attention to the visual arts on the level of the Dallas Art Fair is a reflection on the city. A good political, community and commercial move. The founders of this particular Fair invite highly respected dealers, this process keeps the Fair at a certain level and sets a precedence. This is a thoughtful group that knows what they want and how to accomplish it. When you bring energy like the Dallas Art Fair to a city — with its events that are educational, insightful and enjoyable— everyone wins. This fair is becoming something that is discussed in my circles
with such a positive attitude, from the generousness of every person that you deal with on the team of the Dallas Art Fair — an all inclusive attitude towards the dealers and the exchange of ideas. We, of course gain by reaching a larger audience,recognition for our Stewart, our artist and new clients.
Cris Worley, Cris Worley Fine Art, Dallas, TX
Experimental art movements, happenings and phenomena are important to any group, and society at-large, for a multitude of reasons. In the larger art historical schema they often act as a mirror to current events and societal trends, giving us greater perspective on a zeitgeist. As in any place, to be a well-rounded city, Dallas must foster both the norm and the anti-norm. It’s a healthy intellectual balance that should occur in culture much like the balance we find in science and the natural world. In general, art fairs are primarily centered around commercial and consumer endeavors. It’s important to be clear that this is true not just of the Dallas Art Fair, but all art fairs, and there’s no reason to be bashful about this fact. After all, it is a forum in which dealers travel to locations outside of their own cities, countries, and galleries to promote their artists to a larger audience. This is an essential part of the art world – promotion.
Michael Mazurek, DB12/Dick Higgins (Oliver Francis Gallery), Dallas, TX
I’m uncertain of the existence of the artistic avant-garde as a concept in our present moment. The classic concept of the avant-garde attempts to exist outside the limitations of a strictly commercial framework. From the time of the earliest avant-garde experiments until now the world has become increasingly even more commercial and market dominated. For no fault of its own the DAF appropriately represents this market. Within the confines of the DAF, viewers may find exceptions to the rule. However, for the most part art fairs typically exhibit and promote works that are made of a certain size and scale that does not normatively attempt to dismantle the status-quo. Unfortunately most artists I know do not look to the legacies of Dada and Constructivism as their source.
— CHARISSA N TERRANOVA
The Dallas Art Fair, April 13–15, features more than 70 prominent national and international
art dealers and galleries exhibiting paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints
and photographs by modern and contemporary artists in the revitalized downtown
Arts District. Information at www.dallasartfair.com.
The Dallas Biennale is a discourse concerning past, present, and future exhibition
practices, along with a large-scale, city-wide, international exhibition as context for
those discussions. The Biennale will show at various North Texas locations throughout
the year, including at the Oliver Francis Gallery beginning April 13. Information
at oliverfrancisgallery.com and www.dallasbiennial.org.