On Wednesday, curators from the Dallas Museum of Art gathered at the Dallas Art Fair to decide which works they would acquire for the museum using the $100,000 raised for the Dallas Art Fair Foundation Acquisition Program. And then the haggling began.
DMA curators who acquire works through the fund can expect up to a 30 percent discount on works picked up the day before the fair begins. In the end, the curators were able to buy 12 works from 9 artists: Chelsea Culprit, Uuriintuya Dagvasambuu, Karla Diaz, Michael Dumontier & Neil Farber, Riley Holloway, Yifan Jiang, Yowshien Kuo, Masamitsu Shigeta, and Nishiki Sugawara-Beda.
Donors, usually Dallas-based collectors, get a sneak peak into the proceedings as DMA staff, led by senior curator Anna Katherine Brodbeck, walk through the fair one last time before making their final decisions, with selected gallerists and artists preparing short talks on the work.
“It’s a real thrill for collectors to get a peak into a curator’s process,” said Marlene Sughrue, a fund donor who is married to John Sughrue, the fair’s founder. The day the fund’s allotment is spent on artworks also functions as an informal first-choice VIP day, with collectors running off to start making their own selections before the rest.
“We joke that they’re like little kids, and we need to start getting them all to hold hands so we can get through it more efficiently,” said Sughrue.
The Dallas Art Fair Foundation Acquisition Program began in 2016, inspired by a similar fund that enables the Tate Modern to acquire works from Frieze London. Since then, $775,000 has been raised for the DAF, supporting not just the museum’s growth but also helping to launch the careers of many young artists.
When the DAF bought a work from Matthew Wong in 2017, ahead of his death two years later and before he was widely famous, they nabbed his work for just $15,000. Today, the late artist’s work goes for millions. His retrospective at DMA just closed earlier this February.
Selections for the year’s picks can be years in the making. Erin Cluley, who runs a namesake gallery in Dallas, has been showing DMA curators Riley Holloway’s work for the past three years. Records on Repeat (2023), a painting on view at the fair that shows a man and child relaxing, listening to records in a living room, was selected for acquisition.
“We invested a lot into making studio visits with curators happen, so I know they had looked at and learned a lot about his work,” Cluley said. “I didn’t have any expectations but I was hopeful, especially as it seems that they’ve been more seriously considering Dallas-based artists for the fund in the past couple of years.”
Though there are no guarantees, Cluley had a sense that Holloway’s work was on the shortlist when DMA curator Vivian Li stopped by to talk through his work earlier in the week. Li’s attention was also taken as a good sign when she stopped by the booth of Meliksetian | Briggs to discuss Yifan Jiang’s painting, Pelican (2023), which was made during an artist retreat in Roswell, New Mexico. During these visits, artists have an opportunity to talk through their work and process with DMA curators, making it all the more likely that when the day comes to pick up work, they’ll have someone in their corner.
“Li was a champion of Jiang’s work,” said dealer Anna Meliksetian. “But they’re very tight-lipped about it. We only really knew it was going to happen when they put the work on hold.”