Dallas Cowboys

Linda Yablonsky at the 4th Dallas Art Fair and the 1st Dallas Biennale

Left: Artist Claude Lévêque and dealer Jessy Mansuy-Leydier. Right: Artist John Gerrard.

ALL I EVER KNEW ABOUT DALLAS WAS DALLAS, the soap opera of the 1980s, when the city itself was actually quite depressed. These days that business-friendly town is as awash in money and power as the fictional J.R. Ewing ever was. It has a mess of Fortune 500 companies, more shopping malls than any other city in the country, the Texas Rangers, and George W. Bush. It also has a concentration of collectors who are mad for contemporary art.

Last week, on the occasion of the fourth Dallas Art Fair and the first Dallas Biennale, they opened their homes (and in one case their closets) to visitors from New York. It was no surprise to find houses grand and collections deep—this is the Big D, after all, the place where people say, “The higher the hair, the closer to God.” It was the nature of those collections that surpassed expectations. If people in Dallas toe the conservative line in most other ways, they go hog-wild for the provocative when it comes to art.

And they’re really nice people. Over four days spent looking at art in museums, private homes, and the fair, every single person I met exuded genuine warmth and passion. Take Alden and Janelle Pinnell, a young couple who established a very cool, alternative exhibition space called the Power Station last year. Inspired by Dia’s Minimalist aesthetic, they commission a site-specific exhibition from a single artist every few months. On April 11, they held an opening for Jacob Kassay.

Left: Alden and Janelle Pinnell. Right: Artist Erick Swenson and Jeremy Strick.

The artist had arrived two days earlier to rip out all the light fixtures in the 1920s brick industrial building and insert a spare, elegant installation of sculpture and painting on two of its four stories. “Jake’s a very formal guy,” said the affable Alden. “And I’m a very serious collector.” He’s been at it for twenty years, having made his fortune at a tender age by capitalizing on his dermatologist father’s face cream and selling it to L’Oreal.

On the patio, Kassay’s New York dealer Augusto Arbizo clicked beer bottles with Joel Mesler, Tom Solomon, Michele Maccarone, Jessica Silverman, and Sarah Watson, all in town for the fair. They mixed easily with locals like Nasher Sculpture Center director Jeremy Strick, private dealer John Runyon, and David and Rachel Kelton, who described themselves as novice collectors, though experienced enough to have bought a Tom Friedman from his last New York show. “Alden’s been teaching us how to live with art and children,” said Rachel. “We just say, ‘Don’t let the hockey pucks hit the Warhol!”

I would see the same faces every day, at every event, and every night in the bar of my hotel, the Mansion, Dallas’s answer to the Bauer in Venice. But that Wednesday, dinner came first—actually several dinners. The Pinnells served barbecue on the Power Station roof, with a view of the Texas state fairgrounds and the Cotton Bowl, while collectors Howard and Cindy Rachofsky welcomed dealers to drinks and snacks at a taco joint a few minutes away. Among them was a jet-lagged Erwin Wurm, fresh from installing a show opening at the Dallas Contemporary a couple of days later, and Melissa Meeks, director of Two x Two for AIDS and Art, an annual event that raises money for AMFAR and the Dallas Museum of Art at the Rachofskys’ Richard Meier–designed house.

The Rachofskys don’t actually live there; they just rotate their collection. Eventually part of it will go, with the house, to the museum. Their new installation, by adviser-in-chief Allan Schwartzman, was “all edge-of-perception stuff,” Howard said. “That’s why I like it.”

Left: Dallas Contemporary trustee Patrick Collins. Right: Collectors Kerrey and Eduardo Brittingham.

The art fair held its welcome party at the Crescent Hotel, a weirdly ornate, retro limestone pile inside a commercial complex that bears absolutely no evidence that its architect, Philip Johnson, ever put his hand to it. In the lobby of the office building next to the hotel, E. V. Day had installed “exploded” Metropolitan Opera costumes from her Ascending Divas series, celebrated with champagne from Ruinart, also a sponsor of the fair.

Its odd-couple cofounders, graphic novelist Chris Byrne and real estate developer John Sughrue, were also on hand the next morning for a quick preview of the seventy-eight stalls crammed into the Fashion Industry Gallery, a concrete bunker in the downtown Arts District. A buffet lunch for patrons of the Dallas Museum, a block away, followed. Christen Wilson, the youngest member of the board, took a table with a prime bunch of other supporters. One of them was Cindy Schwartz, who explained that the unusually collegial collectors in Dallas buy art for Dallas, not themselves, donating work to the museum and pulling for other institutions and schools.

Every collection I saw was distinct from every other, as opposed to deep-pocketed art lovers elsewhere, who seem to compete for the same trendy things. The museum is just as adventurous. A walk-through with curator Jeffrey Grove turned up a Mark Manders show that would be more typical of, say, MoMA PS1. Later on, I dropped into Wilson’s Highland Park home for a look-see, only to find Maccarone and dealer Brad Waywell already there with Adam McEwen, consultant Alex Marshall and Watson close behind. And suddenly it was a party, amid one of the freshest and most intelligently considered installations of art I’ve seen anywhere.

Left: Collectors John and Gayle Stoffel. Right: Dealer Perry Rubenstein.

Marguerite Hoffman has been in the collecting game longer, but it was still amazing to see an undulating brick wall painted by Sol LeWitt running down one side of her garden, and all the Twomblys, Cornells, and Duchamps inside the house. “Art is the language that binds all of us,” she said, opening one of several illuminated manuscripts she’s cottoned onto recently.

Deedie Rose is another kind of character. Her five-level Brutalist manse in Preston Hollow has ten thousand square feet of space—just enough to exhibit her collection of painting and sculpture and still have room for her modernist furnishings. It also has a catwalk that extends some distance outside the house for Rusty Rose, her husband of forty-six years, to do the bird-watching he loves as much as she loves art. She’s also keen on costume jewelry and high fashion. “Jewelry,” she said, “is another way to look at art, another way to see the world.”

After a tour led by her assistant, Angela Walsh, past the staircase LeWitt and works by Lygia Clark, Blinky Palermo and Roni Horn, beyond the Gordon Matta-Clark photographs, the barely breathing rat and panda of Fischli & Weiss, and the Chicken TV by Nam June Paik, we came to the bedroom. Before I could blink we were in the closet, threading through the jewelry and pleading with the diminutive Deedie to pull out the Gaultiers she’d bought for the designer’s recent retrospective at the DMA. Yet, she said, if she had it to do all over again, she might be an urban planner.

I would see Wilson, Rose, the Rachofskys, and the Schwartzes at the fair’s opening on Thursday, when a thousand other Dallas art aficionados showed up in all their finery. These Texans are not casual dressers. Nor are they in any hurry to decide what they want. The opening was purely social. Serious business would take place the next day, though Jonathan Viner did sell out a booth full of Dan Rees paintings immediately, and crowds bunched around Chris D’Amelio’s booth to check out a 1986 Cady Noland that had never been seen publicly in America before.

Left: Collectors Nash and Miriam Flores. Right: Dallas Art Fair cofounder Chris Byrne.

The following night it was McEwen’s turn to shine at the Goss-Michael Foundation, where his fake obituaries, graphite sculptures, and gum paintings were on view in a show curated by Aphrodite Gonou. The sister and brother patrons Joyce and Kenny Goss were having people over to Kenny’s house, but the evening’s program also included the opening of Erick Swenson’s solo project at the Nasher. That’s when I realized he was the only local artist I had come across as yet. Was Dallas the only city in the world where the collectors outnumber the artists?

A large man with a booming voice approached and shook Swenson’s hand. He turned out to be Jim Mullen, the architect who cofounded the Container Store. “I really admire artists who achieve this level of technical skill,” he said of Swenson’s flayed resin animals, which included a Bavarian beer stein encrusted with moist snails. “Are they real?” squealed Jo Marie Lilly, former president of the board of the Dallas Contemporary, a noncollecting museum with an ultra-ambitious program about to unfold.

Under the direction of Peter Doroshenko, this enormous former metal-bending plant in the Design District wasteland was also featuring the opening of a one-off international “biennial” to end all biennials. Curated by Florence Ostende, it had nineteen artists making work for eleven different locations, including Sylvie Fleury’s neon signage in the windows of Neiman-Marcus. Time and stamina kept me focused on the Contemporary, where Claude Lévêque had created a theatrical open-air bat cave out of broken black umbrellas, whirring black fans, and high-pitched squeaks. A big side room had a suite of large portraits from the Mae Wested series of photographs by Zoe Crosher, a Los Angeles artist inspired by the archive of a former call girl who made pictures of herself in various personas. In the last room was Wurm’s Beauty Business, his ultrasexy show of fat building parts and melted Guggenheims, gorgeously installed by Doroshenko.

After stops for shows by biennial artists Mike Smith and a chain-smoking Hugues Reip, I departed in Wilson’s Bentley for the McEwen party. Surrounded by the work of mainly UK artists like Hirst, Emin, Lambie, and Linder, guests helped themselves to tacos in the dining room and drinks on the patio. “It’s nice to relax after a long day of business,” said Milwaukee dealer Jake Palmert, though appearances indicated the sun hadn’t set on any of that.

Left: Dealer Michael Kohn. Right: Curator Amanda Walsh with dealer Brad Waywell.

After all this, the Dallas Museum’s black-tie Art Ball on Saturday night promised only anticlimax, but it went way over the top. The theme was “Wanderlust.” Chinese dancers cavorted on the plaza, Berber sentinels welcomed guests inside, and all of Dallas seemed to turn out to shake newbie director Maxwell Anderson’s hand. The number was actually about seven hundred, all dressed in their finest Valentinos, Lanvins, Cavallis, Posens, and whatnot. The auction here was not for art but for trips on Ed Hawes’s private yacht and someone else’s private jet. (The yacht drew the higher bid.)

Dinner was held in galleries painted blue, red, and yellow, each with a separate theme art-directed by Douglas Little. Auntie Mame was screening in one room—the dinner had its own theme, “Life is a Banquet”—while I followed jolly Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings to seats in the scarlet “Butterfly” room among a pack of Republicans.

None of this beat the scene in the ladies’ room. There, all ages of the female cohort helped themselves to hair spray, blush, mascara, and lipstick from sponsor Mary Kay Cosmetics, primping hair, laying on eyeliner, pushing up bras, puckering lips, and checking each other out in the mirrors all the while. No movie ever had it this good.

An afterparty at a club owned by the main moneyman, Tim Headington, sent me spinning back to the Limelight of the ’80s and quickly to bed. Looking through the eyes of Texas, this jewel of a night had indeed delivered another world.

Left: Dallas Contemporary director Peter Doroshenko with Roskolana Karmazyn. Right: Dealer Augusto Arbizo.

Left: Dallas Biennale curator Florence Ostende with artist Mike Smith. Right: Chris Worley, architect and Container Store cofounder Jim Mullen, Dallas Art Fair cofounder John Sughrue, and Anne Mullen. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: Dealer Jonathan Viner. Right: Dealer Chris D'Amelio and Contemporary Arts Museum Houston director Bill Arning.

Left: Dealer Jessica Silverman with her mother and sister, Jan Silverman and Lesley Silverman. Right: Artist Zoe Crosher with collector Dan Pritchett and Natasha Mosier.

Left: Collector Deedie Rose. Right: Dealer Althea Viafora with collector Sid Bass.

Left: Collector David Kelton with Power Station cofounder Alden Pinnell and collector Rachel Kelton. Right: Dallas Contemporary trustee Jo Marie Lilly.

Left: Collectors Armand and Cindy Schwartz. Right: Musician and designer Briana Lance with dealer Olivier Antoine.

Left: Collector Christen Wilson with Dallas Museum curator Jeffrey Grove. Right: Nasher Sculpture Center director Jeremy Strick with dealer Sarah Watson.

Left: Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. Right: Dealer James Salomon with artist E. V. Day.

Left: Artist Erwin Wurm with Two x Two for AIDS and Art director Melissa Meeks and collector Cindy Rachofsky. Right: Collector Howard Rachofsky with dealer Lisa Cooley.

Left: Artist Adam McEwen. Right: Collector Joyce Goss with Goss-Michael Foundation curator Aprhrodite Gonou and collector Kenny Goss.