When the Dallas Art Fair officially canceled its 2020 edition earlier this month as a result of pandemic-related restrictions, many exhibitors voiced concerns because the fair was not planning on offering refunds to galleries that had already paid their booth fees. Now, 34 galleries who were going to show at the 2020 fair have sent a letter to its organizers demanding that the fair distribute refunds.
In the letter, which was addressed to the fair’s chairman John Sughrue, the galleries called on the fair to “refund a substantial portion of our fees” and threatened to not participate in future editions of the fair if their demand is not met.
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“Your decision shifts the financial burden of the cancellation of the fair solely to the galleries,” the letter reads. “Only once you agree to refund a substantial portion of our fees will we consider participating in future editions of the Dallas Art Fair. The value of your business and our engagement with it are inextricably connected. We now ask you to make an investment in the future of your fair by making this right.”
The letter, which was obtained by ARTnews, is signed by galleries who had already paid their booth fees in full, including New York’s Galerie Lelong & Co., London’s Carlos/Ishikawa, Dallas’s Barry Whistler Gallery, New York’s James Cohan, London’s Richard Saltoun, and others, as well as other dealers who signed in solidarity with those who had lost their booth fees.
In a statement sent to ARTnews on Wednesday, the Dallas Art Fair said that it is “not in the financial position to issue cash refunds to our dealers” and reiterated that it plans to offer credits “equal to their payments” to exhibitors at “future fairs.”
In today’s statement, the fair continued, “Dallas is a city with a strong sense of community and where relationships matter, and we are grateful to the many exhibitors expressing their support for the future success of the Dallas Art Fair. … Those dealers willing to invest in our community are the ones rewarded with the support of our community.”
In an email to ARTnews, Elizabeth Denny, a partner of New York’s Denny Dimin Gallery, one the exhibitors who had paid their fees in full and had signed the letter, said that the galleries who had signed the letter were, in fact, “deeply invested” in Dallas’s art community, but they had banded together to write the letter because they felt “betrayed” by the fair’s organizers.
“Galleries have a lot of choices about which art fairs to do and they are a huge investment of time and resources,” Denny said. “We need to be confident that those investments are reliable and supportive. In the future, it will be even riskier to do art fairs, economically and in terms of health and safety, so we will want to be especially careful in our choices.”
When the Dallas Art Fair announced that it would cancel the 2020 edition, which had been rescheduled from April to October because of the pandemic, it said that it would offer galleries whose fees had not been refunded credit toward future fairs. Many exhibitors learned of the fair’s cancelation through a report by the Canvas newsletter and initially described a disappointment in the fair’s lack of communication with exhibitors. In the letter addressed to Sughrue, the galleries said they did not find those terms acceptable, citing fairs such as Art Basel and Frieze, which “value their partners.”
Frieze and Art Basel have both canceled multiple editions this year because of the pandemic, and when they have done so, they have offered extensive refunds. When Art Basel canceled its Hong Kong fair, for example, it repaid exhibitors 75 percent of the fees already submitted by exhibitors. Ahead of the cancelation of its Swiss edition, Art Basel promised to go even further, offering full refunds. And when Frieze called off its New York edition, it undertook a similar measure, repaying exhibitors in full over the course of two installments.
Calling comparisons to Art Basel and Frieze “misguided,” the Dallas Art Fair said in its statement today that it “is a small, independent business, and our revenue base is less than many of our participating gallerists. Despite that, we have continuously provided a vital service to our dealers in facilitating access to an ever-growing and enthusiastic collector community.”