A Mall of Art
The Great New Art Fair with the Bad Name
"Will you be at the fair?" That's the question everybody in Seattle art is asking this week. You hear this question every November—usually it means "Are you flying to Art Basel Miami Beach [held in early December]?" But now it means "Are you going to Seattle Center?" Easier commute.
This weekend is the first art fair in Seattle since the late '90s, when a locally run outfit ran a fair for six years—it arguably gave great exposure to local artists, drawing dealers from far and wide, including New York powerhouse Gagosian (imagine them setting up a booth in Seattle today).
This new fair is called (unfortunately) the Affordable Art Fair, it includes around 50 galleries featuring the most prominent Seattle players—with notable boycotters—and the rule is that none of the art can cost more than $10,000, and the majority has to be priced between $100 and $5,000.
Art fairs are fun, hectic, and weird. "We're excited," said Linda Hodges, owner of the longtime Pioneer Square gallery that currently features a great show of arch landscape paintings by Fife-based (!) Jeremy Mangan. For the duration of this weekend, you'll be able to find Mangan and the rest of the gallery's artists both down on First Avenue and up in Seattle Center, within the fair's maze of hard white walls. The advantage of a fair is it's all in one place. It's First Thursday in one building, a mall of art. This commercial advantage is precisely why some people despise fairs; decide for yourself.
You'll see Seattle artists like Jeffry Mitchell and Jaq Chartier, represented by local galleries including ArtXchange, G. Gibson, Prole Drift, Blindfold, M.I.A., Traver, Platform, and James Harris. Harris semi-led the charge to make locals accept the fair after an early pass of the idea was pooh-poohed by the members of the Seattle Art Dealers Association—of which several of the above galleries are members. Harris turned the tide because, "I thought, if there is a fair in Seattle, I want it to be the best fair it can be." Harris is organizing satellite events for out-of-town collectors, a vital part of making a fair like this successful—both in selling work and getting Seattle artists broader exposure. In addition to the Seattle contingent, there'll be out-of-town galleries and artists coming from Bozeman, Portland, Tokyo, Barcelona, Toronto.
Affordable Art Fair is a company owned by a Brit named Will Ramsay. He held his first fair in London in 1999, and Affordable Art Fair has grown to 15 venues around the world. Seattle is the third American city (New York and LA are the other two). At a local launch event in August, Ramsay, who is charismatic and likable, and fair director Jennifer Jacobs, also gregarious, emphasized accessibility in a weak economy.
While it's great to send the message that art can be affordable, it's utterly stupid to suggest that this fair is an aberration. Pretty much every dealer I talked to expressed irritation at the name—because, among other things, it insults their regular business practices. Greg Kucera is doing two new fairs this year, in Houston and Miami, but he's sitting out Seattle's Affordable Art Fair.
"The name just suggests it appeals to the lowest common denominator," he wrote in an e-mail. "Seattle's galleries couldn't be more open or more demystified than they already are and have been for over 30 years now."
Richard Thurston of 21-year-old gallery Grover/Thurston put it simply: "We're already in Seattle. Why pay rent in two places at once?"
"Also, that fair is not that affordable—renting a booth is expensive," Susan Grover said. "But we'll go. I'm looking forward to it, and I hope it goes well for those who are there."
Platform Gallery's Stephen Lyons at first turned down the fair, then agreed to sponsor an artist, Chartier, since booths are required to be dealer-sponsored (otherwise, any artist can just set up shop, potentially making the experience more vanity than curated). Ramsay's company also owns the more established PULSE fair, held annually in Miami and New York. "I wish they'd bring PULSE here," Lyons said. Me, too.
Platform this month has exquisite drawings for $700. Gallery4Culture this month has exquisite watercolors for $250. Art is already affordable in Seattle. But see you at the fair.