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Dallas Cowboys

ALL I EVER KNEW ABOUT DALLAS WAS DALLAS, the soap opera of the 1980s, when the city itself was actually quite depressed. These days that business-friendly town is as awash in money and power as the fictional J.R. Ewing ever was. It has a mess of Fortune 500 companies, more shopping malls than any other city in the country, the Texas Rangers, and George W. Bush. It also has a concentration of collectors who are mad for contemporary art.

Last week, on the occasion of the fourth Dallas Art Fair and the first Dallas Biennale, they opened their homes (and in one case their closets) to visitors from New York. It was no surprise to find houses grand and collections deep—this is the Big D, after all, the place where people say, “The higher the hair, the closer to God.” It was the nature of those collections that surpassed expectations. If people in Dallas toe the conservative line in most other ways, they go hog-wild for the provocative when it comes to art.

And they’re really nice people. Over four days spent looking at art in museums, private homes, and the fair, every single person I met exuded genuine warmth and passion. Take Alden and Janelle Pinnell, a young couple who established a very cool, alternative exhibition space called the Power Station last year. Inspired by Dia’s Minimalist aesthetic, they commission a site-specific exhibition from a single artist every few months. On April 11, they held an opening for Jacob Kassay.

The art fair held its welcome party at the Crescent Hotel, a weirdly ornate, retro limestone pile inside a commercial complex that bears absolutely no evidence that its architect, Philip Johnson, ever put his hand to it. In the lobby of the office building next to the hotel, E. V. Day had installed “exploded” Metropolitan Opera costumes from her Ascending Divas series, celebrated with champagne from Ruinart, also a sponsor of the fair.