How Ree Willaford Brought Galleri Urbane to Marfa and Dallas

“When you think about it, department stores are kind of like museums,” Andy Warhol famously said—likely inspired by his early experiences working in the display department at Pittsburgh’s Horne’s department store. Texas art dealer Ree Willaford had similar beginnings, and she’ll be the first to tell you, “I didn’t start out like your typical gallerist might.” While she began dressing window displays at department stores and retail jobs in L.A., her duties spanned design, merchandising, and acquiring art for corporate collections. “I find it interesting that a lot of artists, like Warhol, began their careers in similar job situations. I recently found out that Ed Ruscha had a similar start,” she explains. The California native left city life following her marriage to artist Jason Willaford, and after running a juicebar/coffee house in Tampa, Florida, the couple landed in Silver City, New Mexico, opening Galleri Urbane in the front rooms of their Victorian home in 1999. Fifteen years later, we catch up with Willaford in anticipation of the Dallas Art Fair, as her gallery thrives, from Marfa to Dallas.

Drawn to the burgeoning art scene in Marfa, Texas—particularly institutions including the Chinati Foundation, the Judd, and Ballroom Marfa—Willaford tested the waters there during Chinati’s Open House weekend in 2001 and 2002 with pop-up exhibitions. “Knowing it was the right place to be,” Willaford explains, “we bought a building and moved the gallery to Marfa in 2003, and in 2009 expanded to Dallas.” While maintaining her Marfa outpost with new shows every two months, Willaford explains that Dallas is now the primary focus. “The last two years in Marfa I was watching Dallas, Houston, and Austin to see who and what was trending and coming to Marfa. A lot of these new people who were coming were from Dallas.” Attracted by the city’s “energy for visual arts,” Willaford established her presence there, bringing with her a dynamic roster of emerging and established artists. She advises, “people should pay attention to Dallas collectors. They collect everywhere and they do start trends.”

Willaford says of her Dallas Art Fair presentation, “Galleri Urbane will be showcasing the work of emerging and established artists who work in a wide variety of subject matter and materials. From the quilted and sewn repurposed vinyl billboards of Jason Willaford and minimal interior landscapes of Gail Peter Borden to the vibrantly printed text of Susan O’Malley and the surreal altered environments of Irby Pace, each artist uniquely explores and documents the human condition and experience.”

Booth highlights include repurposed, vinyl billboard works by Jason Willaford from his “InfoNation/OverLoad” series, inspired by the information overload brought on by the internet; works by Claire Ashley, including large-scale inflatable sculptures and an installation on view at the fair’s entrance; and 78-year-old Tamarind Institute master printer Theo Wujcik. In the late 1960s and ’70s, Willaford explains that Wujick “made countless prints of friends and peers in the art world,” including Ed Ruscha, Robert Rauschenberg, and John Altoon and “now, in 2014, Wujcik’s most recent paintings signal a return to these portraits.” On view will be one of the works from the artist’s recent show “Blue Chip,” which drew the artist’s old friends, Ruscha and James Rosenquist to Galleri Urbane.

What’s up next for Galleri Urbane?

“This year I am excited to continue to find young artists doing work that is not only fresh but well executed and has a strong point of view.”

...and what’s exciting about the Dallas art scene right now?

“There is a strong presence of DIY galleries and shows that have been popping up in Dallas, featuring works by young artists from all over that have either come to live in Dallas for the first or that are returning after being away at MFA programs across the country. There is never a shortage of art to see.”

Galleri Urbane, Dallas Art Fair, Texas, Booth A2, Apr. 10th–12th, 2014.

Explore Dallas Art Fair on Artsy.

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