Seattle is already recognized as a great city for the arts, but this new fair debuting this week has attracted some of the most influential art galleries in the world.
The names Gagosian, David Zwirner and Pace might mean little to many. Art aficionados, however, revere those names as being among the world’s biggest and most prestigious art galleries. Gagosian and Pace boast 15 and eight worldwide locations, respectively.
The fact that all three are exhibiting at the Seattle Art Fair, to be held this weekend (July 30-Aug. 2), is a big deal.
“It shows a real leap of faith on the part of Gagosian and Zwirner,” said Greg Kucera, director of the 32-year-old Greg Kucera Gallery in Seattle and a member of the art fair dealer committee. “It’s a great signal to this art fair and to this city that they’re both here. And don’t forget Pace.”
IF YOU GO
Seattle Art Fair
Preview party/benefit for Artist Trust, 6 p.m. Thursday, July 30, $150; fair is 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday-Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday (July 31-Aug. 2), CenturyLink Field Events Center, 800 Occidental Ave., Seattle; $20-$35 (seattleartfair.com).
The trio’s presence stokes the hopes of co-producers Vulcan and producer Art Market Productions that the fair will become an enduring event that promotes Seattle’s arts scene and the artists who populate it.
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“It’s a showcase of the amazing arts and culture scene that’s here in Seattle already,” said Max Fishko, managing partner of Art Market Productions and fair director. “It’s a platform for connection between Seattle and the rest of the world, including the Pacific Rim, and the strength of those connections.”
The idea for the fair originated with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, also a co-founder of Vulcan and an avid art collector.
“The fair was really his idea, coming out of traveling to see [Miami Beach’s Art Basel and the Venice Biennale art fairs] a few years ago and wondering, ‘Could Seattle produce something similar or perhaps a composite of the two?’ ” said Kucera.
Seattle has already been recognized as a great city for the arts. It ranked eighth on both Forbes’ 2014 list of America’s most creative cities and on the recent National Center for Arts Research list of U.S. cities with the most vibrant art scenes.
The Seattle Art Fair organizers are tapping into that vibrancy by making the city itself a platform for art. Before and during the run of the art fair, two billboard-size artworks and six art installations will be put up across Seattle.
“We’ve been very interested in trying to reach out to put these pieces out there, so that [the fair is] not something that you have to walk inside … to really appreciate everything,” said Greg Bell, who is Vulcan’s senior curator and curator for the Seattle Art Fair.
These installations will be constructed at Volunteer Park; the future Denny Substation site in South Lake Union, known currently as All Rise; Myrtle Edwards Park; the Living Computer Museum on First Avenue South; the Tashiro Kaplan Artists Lofts in Pioneer Square and the multipurpose South Lake Union art hub MadArt.
“It’s going to be really interesting to have each one of these things and have people stumble upon them,” said Bell.
Many other events will be held concurrently with the main art fair, on-site and off.
Artists will talk about their work in a four-part series, “Talk Contemporary,” while “Creative Lab” invites attendees to watch artists create with technology, such as 3-D printers and drones.
Even with these events, Art Market Productions and Vulcan plan on the art fair itself being a major draw.
More than 60 galleries will exhibit inside the 200,000-square-foot CenturyLink Event Center: 13 from Seattle, four from Portland, 37 from elsewhere around the country and seven international galleries.
The Seattle and Portland galleries will give Northwest art a prominent place. One Seattle gallerist who is among the fair’s exhibitors believes this region’s art has distinctive qualities that set it apart from others.
“I think the topography and the geography particularly make [Northwest art] rich,” said John Braseth, owner of Woodside/Braseth Gallery, who will be showing works by Northwest Mystics Mark Tobey and Kenneth Callahan, among other artists.
“Most of the artists here are influenced by nature or by the human figure. And the nature paintings that are produced here are some of the finest in the United States.”
Local gallerists agree that the art fair is a great way of getting both galleries and their represented artists broader recognition.
Art galleries create contracts with artists that allow them to exhibit, market and sell the artist’s work, often exclusively. Galleries commonly collect a 50 percent commission on each contemporary work’s sale. Past schools’ work, such as Modernism, can yield lower commissions.
Art fairs, in turn, allow galleries to meet a diverse, even international audience that they typically wouldn’t be able to reach.
“The more valuable effect that all of us hope to see is that the art that gets made here gets seen in the larger, more international context,” said Kucera.
Exhibiting at the fair is a costly and competitive process. Organizers wanted the right mix of prices, origins, reputations and styles.
Kucera said when applicants were turned down, it wasn’t usually due to lack of quality; it had more to do with lack of visibility in the art community.
“It’s somewhere between a popularity contest and a beauty contest,” he said.
Once accepted, dealers paid $26 per square foot for a booth, with an average booth costing about $5,000-$6,000, said Fishko. He and Bell declined to elaborate on any other costs of the fair. Bell noted that Vulcan is shouldering some of the fair’s costs.
“[It’s costing] a substantial amount of time, money, thought, energy and effort,” Fishko said. “And it’s definitely going to show in the finished product.”
Art Market Productions produces fairs in New York City, San Francisco, Miami Beach, Houston and Bridgehampton, N.Y. Fishko said that after Vulcan staff visited his Texas Contemporary fair in Houston, they called him about staging an art fair in Seattle.
Fishko said the United States’ major international art shows — the Armory Show in New York City and Art Basel Miami being the most prominent — take place on the East Coast. He expects between 10,000 and 15,000 attendees total for the three days of the Seattle Art Fair and believes it could become those shows’ western equivalent.
“So far, there have been good art fairs and some great art fairs on the West Coast,” he said. “But there hasn’t been a real international magnet on the West Coast of the United States, from a fair perspective. And I think we have an opportunity to do that here.”