As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the United States, affecting states in the South the most, the Dallas Art Fair in Texas—which had been postponed from April to October—was canceled this week. But the cancelation of the fair has left several exhibitors embittered by the way organizers ended up calling off the event.
In a statement sent to ARTnews, Kelly Cornell, the fair’s director, confirmed the cancelation, citing the rise of Covid-19 cases in Texas and restrictions currently in effect on international travel. “We are working with each gallery individually and offering credits towards future fairs,” she said. “We are an independently owned business and the fair was timed so close to the pandemic’s outbreak in the U.S. that our vendors had already been paid and we are operating at a significant loss. We are incredibly sorry we have had to make this decision and we hope we can work through this with each gallery one-on-one.”
Earlier this week, the Canvas newsletter reported that Dallas Art Fair exhibitors were alleging that the fair was refusing to reimburse them for fees associated with their booths. Several dealers confirmed to ARTnews that this was the case, saying that the fair would not fully refund them for their participation in the 2020 edition. Asked to confirm if the fair was not reimbursing exhibitors, a Dallas Art Fair spokesperson said, “Galleries are being offered credits towards future fairs in lieu of refunds.”
In an interview with ARTnews, one exhibitor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the gallery has always enjoyed participating in the fair because of the collecting community in Dallas. But with this edition and its cancelation, communication between the fair’s organizers and its exhibitors was “non-existent.” The exhibitor learned of the fair’s cancelation from a news article, rather than the fair directly, and told ARTnews that the gallery, which had already paid its fees in full, had not received any money back.
“More than anything we’re disappointed,” the exhibitor said, adding that they had heard that other galleries had had similar experiences. “Their success is our success and vice versa. We’re rooting for them to come back.”
The Dallas Art Fair, which is considered by some to be among the top fairs held in the U.S., is not the only event of its kind to have been canceled—Art Basel had previously called off its Hong Kong and Swiss editions, and hosted online viewing rooms in their stead. Frieze also canceled its New York and London fairs, and had a virtual version for its New York fair in Mary and plans to do the same in October to replace the London fair. These cancelations have not been greeted with the same outcry as the one the Dallas Art Fair is now facing, however.
“We appreciate the realities of the current climate, but there’s a way to do things and a way to not do things,” the exhibitor, who has participated in several editions of the fair previously, said. “The Dallas Art Fair should be a case study in how to absolutely not do things.”
New York’s Galerie Lelong & Co. said in a statement said that, though disappointing, the cancelation was “for the better safety for all of our communities.”
Galerie Lelong’s statement continued, “However, we are disappointed with the organizers’ unwillingness to return any portion of fully paid exhibitor fees to participating galleries. Other cancelled fairs returned part, or all, of the fees and we hoped the fair would offer fairer terms. While we are a well-established gallery, many who participate in the fair are not and the consequences for them are much greater.”
In mid-March, the Dallas Art Fair became one of the first fairs to announce the postponement of its in-person event. In April, the fair launched its online viewing rooms, which it touted as a preview of what collectors could expect to see in October.
Independent curator Bill Arning, who was selected as an exhibitor for the 2020 edition, said that he was happy for the exposure that the online viewing rooms brought. But he said the digital version of the fair could not replace the in-person one. “It’s clear the future of art fairs is really up for grabs at this point,” he said, “and I’m pretty sure a continuing slew of online viewing rooms is not going be the long-term answer.”
One gallery reported a more positive experience with the fair’s cancelation. In a statement emailed to ARTnews, Olivia Smith, the co-director of Magenta Plains gallery in New York’s Lower East Side, said she first learned about the fair’s cancelation via Twitter. Smith said she was later told by the fair that the gallery’s fees would not be refunded. Instead, the gallery could apply 50 percent of fees paid to a future edition of the fair.
“Due to the timing of the shutdown being so close to the fair opening and the fact that the fair’s expenses could not be refunded to them, it’s a cash flow issue,” Smith’s statement continued. “It’s unfortunate, but we have no other option than to accept the circumstances and maintain optimism for the future. Having known Kelly for over a decade, I have no doubt that she explored every option before arriving at this decision. Being that the situation is fluid, she has promised to continue to work to find solutions over the next few months.”