ADVERTISEMENT
The Week in Arts

Seattle Is Fucking Thirsty

"Ex Image" by Portland-based artist Damien Gilley

The inaugural Seattle Art Fair has come and gone. It lived up to the hype. It hushed naysayers. It was, simply put, a raging success.

On Thursday night, 4,000 people lined up to get into CenturyLink Field Event Center. Inside, the Seattle Art Fair looked and felt like a bona fide fair. Visitors were greeted with a giant, shimmering Yayoi Kusama pumpkin and Spencer Finch’s dangling sculpture made of rainbow-spangled fluorescent tube light. Greg Kucera’s booth was situated front and center, meeting the crowds with Vic Haven’s recent works on paper and one of Deborah Butterfield’s twisted, bronze driftwood horses. By the end of the first night, blue chip booths reported six-figure sales, including works by Iván Navarro, Oscar Murillo and Christopher Williams.

Playing to Seattle’s stereotypes (or in an attempt to lure young Amazon money), the fair emphasized tech where it could. bitforms, a New York-based gallery that trades in new media art, presented daily demonstrations by Addie Wagenknecht, who worked in a plexiglass chamber making paintings with the aid of small drones. Micah Ganske’s Ocular EVA Pod offered a spin through virtual reality. A satellite exhibit at the Living Computer Museum exclusively featured artists using new tech tools. But for the most part, the work being shown stuck to genres favored by art fairs—large scale photographs, small-scale sculptures and paintings, with only a smattering of new media works. It was certainly the former that was flying off the shelves. (Jeffry Mitchell’s ceramic elephants at PDX Contemporary were swarming with red dots.)

People kept asking how it compared to the other fairs, to Miami. Of course it doesn’t compare to Miami. There’s not enough cocaine and Ferraris in this town—not to mention satellite art fairs and events—to approach such established art bacchanalia. However it’s a start. By Sunday, more than 11,000 attendees had filtered through the fair’s maze.

Other high points included Spencer Finch’s Sunset, a solar-powered ice cream truck that offered free soft serve cones to fair visitors. Every few hours the color in the ice cream machine was switched to reflect the fading color in the sky. Thinking Currents, an exhibition curated by Leeza Ahmady, Director of Asia Contemporary Art Week, was installed inside CenturyLink, alongside the gallery booths. The videos and sound installations by 25 Pacific Rim-area artists were stunning and warranted multiple visits. Negar Farajiani’s monster blow up beach ball (titled Made In China) installed outside the front entrance invited lots of slapping and selfies.

 

 

At the end of the fair’s fist night, many people headed to King Street Station to view Out of Sight, Vital 5’s answer to Seattle Art Fair. Curated by Greg Lundgren, Sharon Arnold, Sierra Stinson and Kirsten Anderson, the expo spread out in the third floor of King Street Station and showed works by more than 100 artists. The opening night sold out 1,000 tickets and saw its healthy share of sales as well.

“Historically artists in this city would politely step aside and defer scheduling something that would compete with big events, like Bumbershoot,” said Matthew Richter, Cultural Space Liaison at Seattle Office of Arts & Culture. “Not this weekend.”

The work on view varied wildly. (Full disclosure: my gallery Roq La Rue exhibited some of my work at both Out of Sight and Seattle Art Fair.) Among the hits were centerpieces like Damien Gilley’s Ex Image, a sculpture made with thousands of hot pink threads attached to beams overhead, Justin Gibbens’ delicate watercolor of well-endowed, conjoined whales (titled Moby Dicks) and Mary Ann Peters and MKNZ’s impossible monument (on my eyes and my head), a 17-foot-long powdery carpet made of pressed flour embossed with lacy patterns. The space was transformed over and over. In the late afternoon sunlight, Casey Curran’s undulating panels of gold paper pyramids peppered the dusty brick walls with disco-ball scintillations. Jason Puccinelli took over one dark corner with an anamorphic sculpture designed for visitors to walk through.

For the four-hour duration of the opening party, Pol Rosenthal and Tim Smith-Stewart performed a piece by Alice Gosti called The Impossible Kiss, dressed in football helmets and pads, flinging themselves at each other passionately. By the end of the night, so many Rainiers had politely piled up by the door leading out as to form an altar to SDOT and other event sponsors.

 

As we emerge from the whirlwind of the weekend, the collective vibe is too amped-up to objectively assess how successful the fair was in financial, critical and cultural terms. At a party on Saturday night, representatives from Artist Trust were glowing. The proceeds from the Seattle Art Fair patron VIP ticket sales—which were entirely donated to the organization—amounted to $85,000. That number was three times what they expected. A representative from the Office of Arts & Culture gushed when describing his tour of the art fair and Out of Sight with Mayor Ed Murray. “The Mayor only meant to walk through quickly, but he was so impressed he stood up three meetings to spend the next couple of hours walking around, looking at art.”

At one point in the night Lundgren leaned over and buoyantly declared, “This is what Seattle craves. We didn’t know how thirsty we were for it until we got a fucking taste of it.” I typed the delicious quote on my iPhone to use at the close of this review. Then I found it in the New York fucking Times the next morning. He’s already planning Out of Sight 2016; and yes, there will be a Seattle Art Fair next year as well.

Despite the fanfare and figures, it’s the little moments like this that especially warmed me: Thursday night as I was walking between the art fair and Out of Sight, I was accompanied by a recent Seattle transplant and Amazon employee. He’d moved from New York less than a month ago. I’d met him by chance and invited him to come to the fair. He is—at least on paper—part of the “problem” that’s ostensibly turning Seattle into a housing nightmare by day and bro zone by night. Although I defend the cultural savvy of the tech sector to art colleagues who get grumpy about our new overlords, I found myself presuming he didn’t know a lot about art.

“This is wonderful,” he said as we walked. “I miss so much getting out of bed on a Saturday morning and going to Chelsea to walk through galleries. I had no idea Seattle had any of this, or where to find it.”

Without a doubt, Seattle Art Fair has helped to put Seattle art a little more on the map, even right at home.

ADVERTISEMENT