The Coming of Seven to the Dallas Art Fair

Going Behind the Scenes

Catherine D. Anspon
April 04, 2013

Behind-the-scenes tales of how Seven came to be, and how and why one of the most-talked-about grass-roots fairs of all time arrives in Dallas this April — at Dallas Contemporary — as a surprising, unorthodox, yet brilliant addition to the Dallas Art Fair 2013 lineup. 

Pierogi’s Joe Amrhein talks Seven with BravinLee programs’ John Post Lee.

John, I remember you contacting me four years ago, some time after Art Basel Miami was over, wondering if BravinLee could fit into the presentation that Ronald Feldman, Hales Gallery and Pierogi had been putting together in Miami over the three previous years. At the time, it wasn’t Seven but a group of three galleries working without a name. Later, we were in contact with P.P.O.W, Winkleman Gallery and Postmasters Gallery, who were interested in joining forces. With you, that made seven of us, which became our name — Seven. What was your interest in this, and why did you want to get involved? Pierogi, Hales and Feldman started the ball rolling, and the other four galleries — Postmasters, Winkleman, P.P.O.W and BravinLee — approached them about joining up. While I am certain that each of us would answer this question in a different way, I think we were all dissatisfied with the conventional concept of the art fair and saw the opportunity to improve and adapt the way we were doing business with our clients and general visitors. The concept of the art fair is a valuable one, and Seven is not against them, but it’s about enhancing the experience for us and for the visitor — and, very importantly, it’s for the artists to see their work installed to its best advantage.

After we all got together in 2010, Seven’s first year, how do you think we stood out from the other fairs or satellite fairs? The experience of visiting any Seven installation should feel more like visiting a museum group show. It’s a contrast to the typical visitor experience of hopping from one ice cube to the next in the tray at an art fair. That said, I think the art fairs themselves are in the process of adapting to these same concerns that we have. We have taken over the role of being the art fair organizer. We do it all ourselves. In Miami, we rent a large vacant factory building in the Wynwood section, we install the lights, even the AC, and spread the work out over many rooms. The space has a flow, and the art has room to breath. We share all the responsibilities and look out for one another’s interests when someone asks a price or about the artist.

Importantly, Seven rejects the one-gallery/one-booth mentality of the art fair and prefer to share the space among the Seven participants, juxtaposing and commingling our artists with only one thing in mind: making the art look its best. Seven represents colleagues supporting one another. We appreciate and embrace the reality of the art world and art history as a competitive playing field but we recognize the potential of sharing and generosity as a model to achieve our goals. Each of the dealers in Seven would answer these questions with their own opinions and emphasis. But ultimately it isn’t what I say about Seven or what my partners in Seven might say, what matters is what our guests say and what our artists say.

Last year, when Frieze came to New York, we all had the same idea of presenting Seven during Frieze. How do you think staging Seven in New York worked for us? The Seven project during the time of the Frieze art fair took place at The Boiler, a large open space in Brooklyn. Though some people construed it as such, calling it anti-frieze, we didn’t think of it in terms of being a response to Frieze. Frieze is an amazing fair and New York City is a 24/7 art fair anyway, so what we did just added to this dialogue.

I thought that the installation at the Boiler in Brooklyn was very clear as a representation of Seven’s cooperation, in that each gallery presented one artist from each gallery. The size of the space focused our presentation. I think Dallas will have a similar feel. I know we’re all in the process of developing this idea now but what’s your thinking of how we’ll stage this at the Dallas Contemporary? The normal way we do things is to stay very fluid. The installation of the space in Miami is a give and take between the dealers — and the final installation comes into being as a result of a polite wrestling match of possibilities, in a free-flowing exchange. For Dallas, we will figure all this out beforehand. 

I know we’re considering a concept or theme based on fiction or the influence of fiction on reality. But as you say, it’s a give and take where the result is a real exchange of ideas. The Seven group of galleries has changed a little from our last collaboration in Miami. At the Dallas Contemporary, we’ll be working with two new galleries: Catharine Clark from San Francisco and Inman Galley from Houston. For various reasons, some of the members of Seven will not be participating, and we have invited other galleries to show with us. A young or beginning collector will most certainly find things they are attracted or fascinated by. But remember that finding art that you want to own requires seeing past the art that you dislike or don’t understand and being willing to stay open and alert.

I know a number of galleries are still working out who they want to exhibit and how they might work into a group concept. I know that Postmasters is showing Franco Mattes, Catherine Clark was talking about Walter Robinson, and Pierogi is interested in showing Brian Conley. Have you thought of whom you’ll be presenting in Dallas? BravinLee Programs will be exhibiting large photographs by London artist Boo Ritson.  I have been showing Boo since 2007 and recently took over representing her. Boo has a mid-career survey that opened on February 25 at the Marfa Contemporary so with all of this going on, it seemed like the right match for the Dallas Contemporary.  

Looking back to our 2010 presentation in Miami, which wasn’t that long ago, how has Seven changed or developed for you since then? I did a lot of business and felt that I did it in a way that was uncompromising. Dealers have very high standards for how they hang the art in their own galleries, and these standards may get thrown out the window in an art fair setting. It felt good to use the same standards in Miami as I would in my space in NY. It proved to me that you could sell well and have a great time without selling out your values — that you can sell without selling out. The different locations now have been challenging, but I hope and pray that Seven stays the same on its most intrinsic levels.

I agree. The presentation that Seven takes changes with each venue. I never thought of this possibility when we started out in 2010. Now that we’re going to the Dallas Contemporary, we have a new opportunity. Do you foresee any surprises? One year, we had plumbing issues in Miami, and the bathrooms backed up — so I hate surprises!

Oh, yeah, I’ll never forget that. So, now we’re in Dallas, which won’t have any of those problems since we’ll be at a museum. This all started with a conversation I had with Chris Byrne. He was interested in what we were doing in Miami and thought that as a concept in itself it could be presented at the Contemporary during the Dallas Art Fair. The idea of showing Seven in a museum during a nearby fair and as part of that fair but an alternative to it was very interesting; it’s about developing possibilities and not competition. This was presented to the group and after a little back and forth here we are. Yes, Chris Byrne’s vision for this was totally coherent with our own desire to have autonomy but to evolve our concept into being part of Peter Doroshenko’s programming at the Dallas Contemporary as well as to be an unusual stand-alone annex of the art fair. It is exciting and creative, and Chris Byrne and Peter Doroshenko deserve to be taken out for many drinks for understanding how cool, innovative and conceptually provocative and worthwhile this will be.

I’m very interested about who we’ll be meeting in Dallas in terms of the Dallas art community since this is the first time we staged this outside Miami and New York. What are you excited about in terms of the Dallas art community? I’m sure the Seven crew all have various different ties to the Texas art community and specifically to Dallas. I’m always looking forward to seeing friends in Dallas and meeting new ones. I am told by my colleagues who have been doing the fair for years to expect a great experience and that the hospitality and energy in Dallas is tremendous! I grew up in Philadelphia, am an Eagles fan, so I am not a Dallas Cowboys fan, to say the least. But I am secretly jealous of all their great teams and players over the years, starting with Captain Comeback, Roger Staubach. One of my goals for Seven at the Dallas Contemporary is to meet Mark Cuban and Jerry Jones.

Seven at the DC

BravinLee programs, New York

Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco

Inman Gallery, Houston

Pierogi, Brooklyn

Postmasters, New York

P.P.O.W, New York

Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York

“The idea of showing Seven in a museum during a nearby fair and as part of that fair but an alternative to it was very interesting; it’s about developing possibilities and not competition. This was presented to the group, and after a little back and forth here we are.”—  Joe Amrhein, Pierogi, Brooklyn

“This project is an examination of how art world systems impact regional artists and how they can navigate the art world waters. Much like the Dallas Biennale, [Seven’s] Caja Dallas is a curatorial investigation that will only happen once and serve as an important educational platform ... since art fairs are not going to go away anytime soon, how can artist’s engage art fairs in different ways to benefit their careers? It’s all about creating options for artists.” —  Peter Doroshenko, director, Dallas Contemporary