Add two annual art fairs to the list of attractions that recently led Forbes to name Houston America’s coolest city.
We say “annual” with some confidence, since both fairs that debuted in 2011 are back. The Houston Fine Art Fair is Sept. 14-16, this time at Reliant Center; and the Texas Contemporary Art Fair returns to the George R. Brown Convention Center Oct. 19-21.
Both events drew enthusiastic crowds of 10,000 last year despite some confusion caused by their baggage, a rivalry between the producers, Hamptons Expo Group and artMKT, who also compete in San Francisco; the Hamptons, N.Y.; Aspen, Colo.; and the Miami area.
Some of the participating Houston galleries still have their loyalties, although Sicardi Gallery, Sonja Roesch Gallery and Wade Wilson Art will exhibit at both. While the October fair may have done a better job of localizing last year, both producers now wisely lean on local advisers.
Melissa Grobmyer and Janet Hobby of MKG Art Management took on the Houston Fine Art Fair for Hamptons Expo Group after former director Fran Kaufman shifted to a creative role, and they’ve given it a new attitude.
“We’re totally different from Miami, totally different from L.A. How can we define that? Texans have a great curiosity, a great openness, joie de vivre, a sense of humor, hospitality. They’re not particularly snobby. How can we take all these great qualities and make this art fair reflect that while also providing a sophisticated platform for galleries from all over the world?” Grobmyer said.
They upgraded the show’s logo and graphics, applied a tighter curatorial eye and gave an advisory committee of area curators and collectors a say in whom to invite. As a result, Margaret Thatcher Projects, Pavel Zoubok Gallery and Von Lintel Gallery have joined the New York contingent; Western Project and Luis De Jesus are coming from Los Angeles; and Talley Dunn Gallery will head down Interstate 45 from Dallas. (It represents the fair’s artist of the year, Houstonian Trenton Doyle Hancock.)
The fair’s diverse selection of paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, photography and installations will come from about 70 galleries — including 18 from Houston — representing 11 countries and 31 cities. MKG kept the fair’s Latin American presence strong to showcase Houston as an international art market, but other, new features emphasize local talent.
“We don’t need a New York fair coming to Houston. We need a Texas fair drawing New York to Texas,” Grobmyer said. “We feel like this is an opportunity for Houston. We just have to be smart about how we develop it and make it something more than a commercial venture; something that becomes a part of the landscape here.”
Core Factor, a show curated by collectors Victoria Lightman and Brad Bucher, features graduates of the Glassell School of Art’s internationally known Core Program. Its artists will receive 100 percent of their sales. The fair’s new Foto section recognizes the importance of FotoFest with a photography section.
Younger and smaller dealers have a more economical way in with the new Fahrenheit section for galleries younger than 5 years old. Small Focus booths showcase single artists. The full slate of lectures includes a talk by actor Cheech Marin, a major collector of Chicano art.
Grobmyer and Hobby also mustered a bevy of private dinners and special events called Artweek to entertain and engage VIP visitors and out-of-town dealers. “There are parties every night of one kind or another,” Grobmyer said. “An art fair has to have people coming in from out of town to have longevity. If we’re going to play with the big boys, we need to play with the big boys. We certainly have enough going on in Houston.”
Houston Fine Art Fair
When: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m.- p.m. Sept. 16. VIP opening Thursday.
Where: Reliant Center, 8400 Kirby
Tickets: $25-$125; houstonfineartfair.com 
Texas Contemporary Art Fair
When: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Oct. 19 -20; noon-6 p.m. Oct. 21. VIP opening Oct. 18.
Where: George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Avenue de las Americas
Tickets: $20-$40; txcontemporary.com/texas