Are the Brisk Sales at a Tiny Marfa Art Fair the Harbinger of a Post-Pandemic Buying Frenzy to Come? Some Dealers Think So

Among the attendees this year were Bill Powers, Nino Mier, and Yvonne Force Villareal.

Michael Phelan, the founder of the Marfa Invitational. Courtesy Marfa Invitational.
Michael Phelan, the founder of the Marfa Invitational. Courtesy Marfa Invitational.

If one of the first IRL art fairs in many, many moons is any indication, there’s plenty of pent-up demand to see—and to buy—art again.

The second edition of the Marfa Invitational, which took place from April 22 to 25 (the 2020 version was cancelled due to the pandemic), generated a lot of enthusiasm and steady sales this past weekend.

Organized by founder and contemporary artist Michael Phelan, and billed as “part art fair, part exhibition, part experience,” the event featured a very manageable list of nine invited dealers from around the world who welcomed guests taking advantage of no-fee admissions.

Alex Becerra, <i>Skull Pile VI</i> (2021) Image courtesy the artist and Half Gallery.

Alex Becerra, Skull Pile VI (2021). Image courtesy the artist and Half Gallery.

We did the inaugural iteration two years ago and were excited to make it an annual pilgrimage,” Bill Powers, the owner of Half Gallery, told Artnet news.

The gallery presented works by Alex Becerra, a Los Angeles-based painter and first-generation Mexican American.

“His painting vibe dovetails with the landscape here,” Powers said. “And then we had an exterior wall of works on paper by Leyla Faye. This was her very first art fair, so it felt auspicious to make her debut in such a sacred art destination.”

The gallery sold nine of Faye’s works on paper for between $1,000 and $3,500, and two large Becerra portraits and a few of the artist’s skull paintings, for between $7,500 to $18,000.

“I almost feel like this is a warm-up to Frieze New York next month,” Powers said.

Powers, when asked if he had concerns about attending an in-person event, brushed them aside.

“It’s a hike to get here, so even before the pandemic, there was an automatic social-distancing element inherent in such a far-flung destination.”

“This was our second year and the experience was one to come back for,” dealer Bill Brady told Artnet News. “Sales were brisk both years and this year’s sense of being together again was wonderful.”

Los Angeles-based dealer Nino Mier, another second-time exhibitor, was equally enthusiastic.

“Marfa is a special place and I wanted an excuse to spend time there while meeting the local artists and engaging with the community,” he said. “Michael Phelan and his wife, Melissa Bent, have done an extraordinary job hosting and promoting the fair. I think they are really bringing a new energy to this remote destination that will grow into something big in the near future.”

Mier showed works by Nikki Maloof in his booth, and others by Jake Longstreth in an off-site location organized by the fair.

“The fair has done a great job implementing health protocols,” he said. “The booths are very spread out, keeping everyone at a safe distance. This is our first art fair since the pandemic started with the upcoming Frieze New York as a close second.”

Among the attendees at this year’s fair were Yvonne Force Villareal and her husband, artist Leo Villareal, as well as Powers’s wife, fashion designer Cynthia Rowley.

Asked what the experience was like, Force Villareal, who owns a home in town, told Artnet News that it felt a bit like a homecoming.

“One of the reasons I wanted to attend was to greet newcomers to Marfa,” she said.


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