June 12, 2017

Twice As Nice

The co-founders of Galleri Urbane Marfa + Dallas run galleries in two very different locales

Jason and Ree Willaford received some weird looks when they showed up in Marfa in 2001. The husband-and-wife team (from Florida and California, respectively) had rented an empty building for a pop-up gallery during the Chinati Foundation’s Open House weekend. “That was before anyone was doing things like that,” says Ree. “They thought we were crazy because we paid the landlords $500 for the weekend.”

Jason and Ree Willaford
Jason and Ree Willaford

The Galleri Urbane Marfa pop-up became an official space in 2003, and was the gallery’s central hub until the Willafords headed east to Dallas in 2009. But by no means have they abandoned their Marfa outpost. “Because we were there for over seven years, we still want to maintain a footprint in Marfa,” says Jason. “We feel like it’s part of us and the business and how we started in Texas.” The gallery now exhibits in the lounge of Marfa’s Thunderbird Hotel. “It’s a great little exhibit lounge,” says Jason. Although it isn’t staffed, visitors can still view the particular tastes of the Willaford/Urbane clan, with exhibitions rotating approximately every three months. Work by the Arkansas-based artist (and U.N.T. grad) Loring Taoka is on view for the duration of summer 2017.

The space gives the gallery the rare distinction of concurrently existing in two towns more than 520 miles apart. To put that in geographical perspective, it’s the equivalent of running one gallery in Manhattan and another in Columbus, Ohio—not exactly practical for most small business owners. The partners have comical stories about the cost of doing business in a place that’s in many ways the opposite of a metropolis like Dallas. Receiving ne art shipments isn’t easy in the unforgiving clime of a mountainous desert. There’s the tale of a private jet–filled with art enthusiasts from San Francisco and New York—unable to find a single Marfa runway that could accommodate a 747. The group finally showed up to a cocktail party at midnight, having taken a bus in from neighboring Alpine. That’s the sort of adventure attracting collectors to the West Texas town in increasingly larger numbers. According to the Willafords, Marfa’s remoteness brings a certain humility to its high-profile visitors, as it often draws celebrities of every stripe. “You’re talking to people who you’d never get past their front desk in New York or L.A.,” says Jason. “They’re coming to you. Everything is on a level playing field.” —Chris Mosley

The Details: 2277 Monitor Street. galleriurbane.com