Artists and gallery owners gear up for the second Seattle Art Fair, founded by Paul Allen, this weekend, Aug. 4-7, 2016. Expect more glitz, parties, panels and, of course, art.
Last summer, two weeks before the inaugural Seattle Art Fair, Mariane Ibrahim was in New York, catching up on the blue-chip galleries in Chelsea.
Ibrahim, a gallerist who moved to Seattle from France six years ago, was surprised and amused to overhear so much Chelesa chatter about Seattle’s fair. “This is what everyone was talking about,” she said. “?‘Are you going to Seattle? What’s going on in Seattle? What is this secret world in Seattle we don’t know about?’?”
Ibrahim is on the committee that selects which dealers will have booths at Seattle Art Fair — and, in the moments before the doors opened for its first day last year, she and the other 60-some gallerists from around the country felt “a little bit of anxiety. Are we good enough? Will anybody come? But there were people!”
IF YOU GO
Seattle Art Fair
8:30-11 p.m. Thursday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon-6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 4-7; CenturyLink Field Events Center, 800 Occidental Ave. S, Seattle; $50 Thursday, $20 one-day pass, $50 weekend pass (Friday-Sunday) (seattleartfair.com).
Out of Sight
11 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5-28, King Street Station, 303 S. Jackson St., Seattle; $10, $50 opening-night celebration (6 p.m.-midnight, Thursday, Aug. 4) (outofsight.space).
10 a.m.-9 p.m. Aug. 4-7 at 220 S. Jackson St., Seattle; free (incontextseattle.com).
Juxtapoz x Superflat
Aug. 4-7 at Pivot Art + Culture, 609 Westlake Ave N., Seattle; free (206-342-2710 or pivotartandculture.org).
Find more information about satellite art-fair events at satelliteseattle.com
In the end, fair organizers reported 15,000 visitors to CenturyLink Field Event Center, with bigshot gallerists from across the world, works by famed artists from Richard Serra to Takashi Murakami, a giant sculpture of Elvis’ head lying on the floor, Al Farrow’s model of a famous Belgian synagogue made of Uzis and bullets, Tlingit shaman rattles — plus glitzy parties.
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It was an international flurry of art and commerce launched by Microsoft billionaire and art collector Paul Allen, whose new gallery Pivot Art + Culture has given the public a peek of his reportedly massive collection. (This year, the fair is copresented by the insurance corporation AIGand The Seattle Times, among others, is also a sponsor.)
“Everyone walked away happy or just simply relieved,” said Seattle gallery owner Greg Kucera, who is also on Seattle Art Fair’s selection committee.
The second Seattle Art Fair, Aug. 4-7, will include more than 80 booths for the thousands of visitors — some of them high-octane collectors, some simply art lovers, some see-and-be-seen gawkers — expected to stream through the doors. Major international galleries this year include Pace (New York), Roberts & Tilton (Los Angeles) and Kaikai Kiki (Tokyo).
There will be work by artists you may have heard of (Kehinde Wiley, Kazumi Nakamura, James Turrell, Dale Chihuly) and artists you haven’t, fancy parties, gritty parties, panels and performances, and a handful of satellite fairs.
“That week, Seattle has an international spotlight,” said artist and gallerist Greg Lundgren, taking a break from setting up Out of Sight, his own satellite fair on a cavernous upper floor of King Street Station. “And it’s not often that we get that spotlight. You want everyone to show up, come out of their art studios, not go camping, not hang out at the lake.”
Last year, Out of Sight was a renegade, independent project; this year, after some negotiating, it’s officially affiliated with Seattle Art Fair and will show 110 Northwest artists including Tariqa Waters, Lead Pencil Studio and Rodrigo Valenzuela.
The success of last year’s fair, Ibrahim said, had “global significance … Maybe people who are a little scared to push open the door of a gallery are not so scared to go to a fair.”
But some gallerists have mixed emotions.
“I feel both enthusiasm and ambivalence,” said John Braseth of Woodside/Braseth Gallery, who spent around $50,000 last year just to rent a booth and move his staff and prize artworks a few blocks south, from his gallery to CenturyLink. (He also trucked in furniture from his home and set up a lounge.) “But I feel privileged to be part of it.” Braseth said this year he’s presenting a “family” theme, with work by George and Gerard Tsutakawa (father-and-son artists) and the painters Jacob Lawrence and Barbara Earl Thomas.
Among artists and gallery owners, the enthusiasm-versus-ambivalence arguments break down into a few main themes.
On the upside: Art fairs are glamorous events that attract new audiences (Seattle’s tech nouveau riche, for example) and heavy-hitting international collectors who fly into town and might wander into a nearby gallery and fall in love with an up-and-comer. And, as Chris Byrne of the Dallas Art Fair put it, well-run fairs “galvanize a city’s art community, not just for four days, but hopefully for the rest of the year.”
On the downside: Art fairs are grossly commercial (“shopping mall” was a commonly used phrase in interviews), where the glitz can upstage the art, and a financial burden for gallery owners who feel obliged to run around the international art-fair circuit. “These days, we de-emphasize the gallery, we put the emphasis on art fairs and the internet, while my gallery burns 100 light bulbs a day,” Kucera said.
Fairs, he added, are “a party thing. That is the gimmick used to gather the attention of young people these days. They don’t want education or intellectual engagement. They want a party thrown for them.”
He hopes this fair will emphasize “the art rather than the entertainment, collecting art instead of collecting 100 images on your cellphone that you’re never, ever going to look at again.”
Still, he’ll be going — he’s on the committee, after all. “Here I am, ambivalently doing this thing I’m ambivalent about,” Kucera said. “But I want to be part of something that’s good for my city.”
A rough poll of the some of the city’s artists (including Jeffry Mitchell, Sherry Markovitz and Barbara Earl Thomas) reflected similar feelings. “My concerns,” Earl Thomas said, “are how we get a good thing like the art fair to spread its fairy dust out beyond the hallowed walls of the actual event.”
And then there’s the indelicate but inevitable question: How much money changed hands at the fair in 2015?
“Oh, I can’t give you those kinds of numbers,” said Max Fishko, co-founder of Brooklyn-based Art Market, which produces Seattle Art Fair and five other fairs around the country. “Look, the dollars and cents that walk out the door at the fair is just the beginning.”
He told a story about a New York dealer who attended last year and left disappointed because the gallery didn’t sell enough to cover its costs. “Four months later,” Fishko said, “a guy he met at the fair came and bought a sculpture for a quarter of a million dollars.” (Local dealers have had similar experiences. John Braseth estimates that three quarters of his 2015 fair-related sales came after the event, when people who’d seen his booth approached his gallery later.)
Ibrahim isn’t worried about dollars and cents for her booth this year — there won’t be anything to sell. Instead, she’ll feature an overflowing installation of black film strips by Clay Apenouvon, who’s made similar installations in a Paris church and an opera in Rome.
“It’s like suddenly a huge volcano erupts and explodes and the lava is coming and takes over my entire booth, turning everything black,” she said. “The walls, the tables, the pens, the floors, everything.” Apenouvon’s installation, she explained, is a meditation on Black Lives Matter, the migrants who drown trying to cross the Mediterranean and “all the death happening in the world.”
But Seattle Art Fair, she added, is an excellent chance to support artists. “Without their vision, this would be a dead world. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to take our eyes off the horrible things going on — the ugliness, the stupidity.”