Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why I Did the Pan Art Fair

Robert Boyd

Readers who have been wondering where the reviews are may be slightly irritated that the Pan Art Fair has dominated the attention of this blog. Now that it's over, I want to explain why we expanded the blog to include this event.


Part of the reason I publish this blog is to engage the local Houston art scene. And it is a great vehicle for engagement, but it engages in a certain way. It is about art. It thinks about art. That is only one kind of engagement--an important one, but after doing the blog for a while, I was interested in trying other kinds of engagement.

The social--getting to know artists and curators and dealers and collectors and various scenesters (not to mention other writers like Dean Liscum and Virginia Billaud Anderson, who joined this blog over time)--is a kind of engagement that arose organically out of the blog.

But two other kinds of engagement interested me. That of curator and that of impresario. I got to try on my curator's hat first with a small show at the 2010 Fringe Festival then with a show co-curated with Zoya Tommy of P.G. Contemporary called Pan y Circos in 2011.

The art fairs, Houston Fine Art Fair (HFAF) and Texas Contemporary Art Fair (TCAF) started in 2011. I had never been to an art fair, and I found them pretty fascinating. I thought about doing a hotel counter-fair last year, but didn't really have time to put it together. Later, I went to Frieze, Pulse and NADA in New York.  I liked seeing the smaller satellite fairs that showed a somewhat different range of artwork than the big fair. So I resolved to do it.

Pan Art Fair isn't a critique of TCAF. Quite the contrary, I'd say that our existence helps validate TCAF--a fair knows it has arrived when it attracts satellites. Our goals were identical, really--to show and sell artwork to the art-loving public in a concentrated place and time. The reason I did it was to engage art locally in a different way than I do with the blog--as an impresario. In a certain way I was a curator (I chose who would exhibit work) but in another way I was little more than a comic book convention organizer. And I think the latter is just as noble as the former. The idea of commerce here is just as important as the idea of connoisseurship. But most important was getting a bunch of people together--including a bunch of people I didn't already know--and having fun.


Brad Moody, Emily Jockers and drawer artist Aron Williams at preview night. Party Viking David Lake is in the background

Initially, I chose four exhibitors. My idea was to have two alternative galleries (the kind that would be too small to exhibit at TCAF) and two "un-galleried" artists--who due to their lack of gallery representation would also be frozen out of TCAF. This was how I saw the Pan Art Fair as being an alternative--it would show art that you couldn't see at the other art fair.

I had met Sharon Engelstein when Zoya Tommy asked her to be in Pan y Circos. I loved her gallery Front Gallery (in the front room of her house), so it was an obvious choice. But it turned out to be a fortuitous choice because she brought a combination of great local art and "blue chip" art. But even more important, she engaged me on the practical philosophy of running something like this--how to set it up, how to do the money part of it, etc.

Cardoza Fine Art is basically a gallery in a loft space run by Pablo Cardoza. I wanted him involved because I was a big fan of Chris Cascio's work (which I knew Cardoza could bring) but also wanted someone who was plugged into the street art scene in Houston. I figured that would be a genre of art underrepresented at TCAF, which in the previous year had demonstrated a somewhat narrow, focused conception of contemporary art.

Emily Peacock and Pablo Cardoza before they had a chance to pose

Lane Hagood and Emily Peacock are young artists whose work I admire a lot. Neither one of them need validation from me--they both have high reputations within the segments of the local scene that I most respect. But neither has a gallery and both of them need to break out into the consciousness of local collectors. So including them fit my mission for the fair perfectly.

At this point, I thought my job was mostly done. But other people disabused me of the notion. I thought this was my thing. It ended up being lots of people's thing, which was fantastic. First, Paul Middendorf approached me at an Art Palace event and asked if I was doing any performance. I had thought about it but hadn't really followed through. He had a germ of an idea and we made a deal. This became "Make It Official," which Middendorf performed out by the elevator doors on opening night.

Then at the Blaffer Gallery opening for Tony Feher, Devin Borden (owner of the eponymous gallery) asked me if I had rented out the dresser drawers. I thought he was joking, and he was in a way--but he was also making a serious suggestion. He said I should even describe them art fair-style as "project spaces." So with tongue in cheek, I offered up the drawers as "micro-booths" for $150 apiece. It was a joke--I never expected anyone to actually do it. And yet, I sold six drawers, including one to Devin Borden, who showed two small pieces by Geoff Hippensteil. The other micro-booths were taken by d.m. allison, who showed a perfect piece by Chris Hedrick; Jim Nolan who did a highly appropriate site specific piece called the process of failure/it's better to regret something you have done; Bryan Keith Gardner, who showed portfolio of drawings; Murray Goldfarb Fine Art, which showed a single piece by artist Aron Williams (who rented a room down the hall Thursday night, where the party went on until 2 am); and Solomon Kane who put a grab-bag of goodies in his drawer.

Murray Goldfarb's shoes

Jim Nolan, the process of failure/it's better to regret something you have done installation

Jim Nolan and his underpants--one of the pieces that sold

Someone on Facebook (and I can't remember who you were) suggested I do t-shirts. I pooh-poohed the idea, but then my sister Sarah requested one so I broke down and made 20 Pan Art Fair t-shirts--all of which sold.

Clifford Peck and x-ray artist Sarah Whately bestowed their cool capital onto the Pan Art Fair by buying t-shirts

The night before the fair began, I was at a party at Skydive when Emily Sloan and David McClain came up and asked me if the room had a refrigerator. They wanted to do an ongoing installation in it--it would be branded the Kenmore art space for the duration of the fair. Again, I resisted for a moment--it was the day before the fair started, after all. But I went ahead and let them do their thing, and of course it was great!

Urgent urgent urgent--Peter Lucas's tribute to 70s butt-rock

And finally, in the middle of the Pan Art Fair, Peter Lucas came by and without asking permission put in an installation of found objects (copies of the album sleeve for Foreigner 4). And the amazing thing is that he found the one "dead" spot in the otherwise very crowded suite. And is was hilarious and wonderful.

Two art lovers and a Lane Hagood

The thing I'm trying to express here is that except for picking the original four exhibitors, all the good ideas that were done for the Pan Art Fair were other people's ideas. If it weren't for Middendorf, Borden, Sloan, McClain, Lucas, and someone on Facebook who I can't recall, the fair would have been smaller and a little less interesting. I loved seeing how the local art community's hive mind worked to create a very interesting whole. Thanks to all of you who contributed your great ideas and art to the Pan Art Fair.


I lost money on this deal. Sales were meager. I had to take two vacation days from work to do it. So naturally, it is my intention to do it again next year--even bigger, if possible. See you then.



  1. Well done, Robert. I enjoyed the fair and admire and support the principles behind it. And I'm looking forward to getting my Jim Nolan undies in the mail.

  2. There were so many good reason to do this fair Robert...to many to enumerate. Recently my daughter asked me "why do you spend so much time doing your art?" And the only answer I could come up with was that I do it to find the answer to that question. This may sound cryptic but I think it is related to why your project took on a life of its own. Anyway thank you for inviting me to part of it.

    Side note: You didn't "lose" money Robert. You spent money.
    You are doing what artists do...spending time, money, energy in order find the answer to the question of why you are doing it.
    It makes sense to me!

    1. you gotta spend money to make money.

  3. The Pan Art Fair is an exercise into the past, Salons des Resfuses. As an art therapy trainer, I always maintained that artists could understand the alienation better than most psychologist. This fair brings that sense of being alienated from the big-top to the fore. The cryptic remark Sharon makes is that we exercise a "continuity of searching for the next." Searching into our sense of purpose. Robert, you have succeeded with that next effort and purpose. Just think how many satellite fairs you will have spawned by next year for both the TFAF and theTCAF.

  4. Sorry I couldn't make it by, but I was thinking about you and trying to send good vibes. I'm glad you had such a good time, and congratulations on making a big difference.