Arts / Museums

The Ridiculous and the Sublime

Hijinks and High Points at Houston Fine Art Fair as Changes Loom

BY // 09.17.15

Wrapping up the fifth edition of the Houston Fine Art Fair, I spent an afternoon at the Fair this past Friday. The day began with a presentation of the second annual Illumination Award for Arts Education to the visionary Michelle Barnes, co-founder of the Community Artists Collective nonprofit, and an original champion of African-American artists working in Houston. Talents from Robert Pruitt to Annette Lawrence — both Whitney Biennial exhibited — have all shown at the CAC (founded 1987), while Contemporary Arts Museum Houston senior curator Valerie Cassel Oliver got her start in the art world as an intern of Miz Barnes.

After visiting the Community Artists Collective booth following my Q-and-A with the honoree, I had a chance to dig into the Fair. I confess to spending the afternoon swayed by the charms of Art League Houston‘s quirky installation replicating a deer blind and hunting camp where an entry by Randy Bolton mashed up against Paul Middendorf in his role of game master, holding court with talents such as sound artist Lina Dib and painter/chef Michael Macedo Meazell. Also, I became part of Mat Kubo‘s performance piece, typing away on a vintage ’70s machine, then leaving with an onionskin creation to commemorate our back-and-forth unspoken dialogue over a typed page of text.

Another high point was discovering a cache of prints by Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Alphonse Mucha at Galerie Fledermaus‘ booth, which was exquisitely installed with an aesthetic that channeled turn-of-the-century Vienna.

In contrast to these expressionist and Nouveau splendors, Sandy Skogland‘s strange ’70s-era photographs stood out at Yvonamor Palix Fine Art; the images by this pioneer from pre-Photoshop days were exercises in pattern and contrast employing such domestic tropes as frozen peas or luncheon meat and a laminated kitchen counter.

Breaking business news also arrived. While HFAF founder Rick Friedman will remain on as consultant, the Fair, has been acquired by Atlanta trade show entity Urban Expositions, which itself has been acquired (as of September 1) by UK-based Clarion Events. Clarion, a firm founded in 1947, produces shows throughout world — as billed on its website, 200 events in 35 countries and five continents  — including a slew of antique shows in the U.K. and a travel show in association with Conde Nast, also in the United Kingdom. What this means for Houston Fine Art Fair going forward: an infusion of capital and the ability to attract additional dealers of the quality of Galerie Fledermaus, while spanning more of art history.

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