Will there be another Seattle Art Fair? We don’t know.
In April, Vulcan, Inc. — the late Paul Allen’s many-tentacled investment and philanthropic conglomerate — canceled the 2020 fair per the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, in May, Vulcan announced it was shutting down its Arts + Entertainment division, but that the future of Seattle Art Fair (Allen’s brainchild, which premiered in 2015) was a question mark.
It’s still a question mark. But 40 local galleries, 18 of them in Pioneer Square, have banded together to create the Seattle Deconstructed Art Fair, a DIY version of the summer’s major art event, which reported drawing between 15,000 and 22,500 people each year.
The idea is simple and barely a week old: galleries announce their own decentralized fair (each gallery hosting its own show in its own space for the month of August), build a group website, then do whatever they like.
“First Thursday isn’t happening, Seattle Art Fair isn’t happening, but we’re still here!” said Judith Rinehart, director of J. Rinehart Gallery. “We’re still showing art!” (Galleries are considered retail under the state’s coronavirus reopening rules, so are currently allowed to be open at 30% capacity.)
Some directors, like Phen Huang of Foster/White Gallery, will show the curated inventory it had originally planned for the 2020 Seattle Art Fair: paintings by Casey McGlynn and Alden Mason, plus sculpture by Calvin Ma, all of them playful and sometimes cartoony. (Foster/White will also host a pop-up gallery for the esteemed G. Gibson Projects, which closed its retail space in 2019, and will show Gala Bent’s more abstract work, partly inspired by black holes in the cosmos.)
Elisheba Johnson at Wa Na Wari will be extending a show that has been up since March (Lavett Ballard, Jamaal Hasef, Lisa Jarrett and Elise Peterson), but hardly anybody has been able to see. Greg Kucera (Greg Kucera Gallery) will build a replica “booth,” the kind of white-walled + sign you’d see at a fair, and hang work there.
“I’ve got a beautiful painting by Helen Frankenthaler [the lyrical abstract expressionist] we’ll be able to show more gracefully,” Kucera said. “The art fair’s lighting is only so good, their walls are scrappy — our walls are not scrappy and our light is not crappy.” (Kucera will also show work by Humaira Abid, Chris Engman and Anthony White, among others.)
A deconstructed, at-home art fair has other advantages over the more institutional kind: Gallery directors don’t have to apply (or suffer rejection letters), don’t have to travel or ship artwork back and forth, don’t have to play by art fair rules (like how much work they can cram into a booth).
And it costs a lot less.
Between booth fees, staff time and other costs, Seattle directors said they paid between $25,000 and $45,000 to participate in last year’s fair at CenturyLink Field — and that’s the cheap one, because it’s close to home.
“It’s $10,000 minimum to participate, for the smallest booth,” said Rinehart, whose Pioneer Square gallery was only 0.3 miles from Seattle Art Fair. “That’s fees, shipping, marketing, rentals. For Seattle Art Fair, you have to rent the lights you use, rent the walls, rent the table, rent the garbage can. You have to pay to use an outlet in the wall if you want one.”
Still, she missed this year’s SAF, which had been scheduled for July 23-26. “Locally, it helps galvanize the art community, and it opens us up more to national and international galleries so we could just see more stuff,” she said. “And, of course, the festivity and the spectacle is always a lot of fun, but the core of it, what we’re showing this year, is that it still exists — here.”
SDAF is building momentum fast. Kucera floated the proposal in a July 17 group email, after he and fellow director John Braseth (Woodside/Braseth Gallery) had kicked around the idea for a few months.
Overnight, dozens of galleries volunteered themselves.
“I was in the middle of installing a new exhibition and didn’t even have time to read the whole thing and absorb it, but I said yes,” said Dawna Holloway, director of studio e in Georgetown. “Everyone responded ‘I’m in! I’m in! I’m in!’ I’m always game.”
Kucera guesses the city will be, too. “I think people are starved,” he said. “The museums have been closed — people haven’t looked at art.”