The Eyes Have It — Allese Thomson

Artforum, 01.13.2017

THE JOULE HOTEL was the nexus of activity during the sixth edition of the Dallas Art Fair. Everyone from Heidi Klum to artists like Richard Phillips and Will Boone and dealers including James Fuentes and Max Levai spent the week in its sleek rooms. Across the street, a leviathan, thirty-foot-tall eyeball gazed directly at the building. Richard Phillips’s new girlfriend—Liza Thorn, Saint Laurent muse and lead singer of STARRED—told me she couldn’t sleep at night: “It’s there watching me, all the time.” The sculpture’s maker, Chicago-based artist Tony Tasset, said he conceived it as a kind of conscience, or even God. “Texans like things big,” he shrugged before the fair’s final party on Saturday night. That circus-like fete, billed The Eye Ball, took place on a grassy knoll around the orb and featured waiters and bartenders with multiple eyes painted so deftly over their faces that it was difficult to tell which eye was real and which was false.

Dallas is a city of collectors, and many say its private collections are among the best you’ll ever see. A number of these are in Highland Park, a private neighborhood designed by the same people responsible for Beverly Hills; many of the city’s patrons live there, including the Roses, who are among a trinity of families that have bequeathed their collections to the Dallas Museum of Art, promising to make it one of the best museums in the nation.

Deedie Rose hosted an open house on the first day of the fair. (The two other families, the Rachofskys and the Hoffmans, were out of town, but happily the former’s collection is public and the latter’s groundskeeper was kind enough to show people around.) “You have to think of contemporary art like Shakespeare,” Rose said as she led us through her impressive holding of Brazilian art. “When you know the language, it can change the way you see the world.” The house—like most I saw in Dallas—seemed to have fewer walls than windows, some of which soared several stories high.

A gala for the Dallas Art Fair was held that night and was attended by women in sweeping, jewel-toned gowns and men in crisp shirts. Many of the dealers in town for the fair—Jonathan Viner, OHWOW’s Mills and Al Moran, Jose Martos, Michael Nevin of The Journal—mentioned that they were here to place work with Dallas collectors. Paris dealer Frank Elbaz declared that because it was Dallas, he only brought art by Americans. Among some of the most elegant booths were those by Churner and Churner, CANADA, James Fuentes, Clearing, M+B, and The Green Gallery, the last of whom brought an enormous mobile-like sculpture by Michelle Grabner and Brad Killam.

The night before, the Power Station—a nonprofit space that has previously held shows by Matias Faldbakken, Oscar Tuazon, Jacob Kassay, and Virginia Overton—opened an exhibition of work by Fredrik Vaerslev. His cool abstractions were based on the colors of the Dallas Cowboys and aimed to be an affront to the viewer. “He creates antagonistic paintings,” said the space’s artistic director Rob Teeters as he stood before the fifteen-foot tall, two-foot wide banner-like paintings, the lower half of which were left entirely blank, so that you had to crane your neck to see the stripes of paint. “He denies the gesture and forces you to look. Fredrik is a painter with a capital P.” Originally, Vaerslev had installed the paintings over the windows, but everything got too dark. We headed to the afterparty at an apartment rooftop, which functions as both offices and a place for artists to stay when visiting. There, in a conversation about George W. Bush’s debut as a painter, Power Station founder Alden Pinnell laughed: “Those have to be hardest paintings to get in the world.” He paused. “Dallas is a unique place. After Bush came back, there were billboards everywhere reading THANKS FOR KEEPING US SAFE GEORGE AND LAURA.”