Paul Allen is getting into the art fair game. For four days this summer—July 30 to August 2—his company, Vulcan, is sponsoring Seattle Art Fair.
"It's really two projects happening simultaneously," says Max Fishko, the fair's director. I reached him by phone at Art Basel Miami Beach, that mother of all American art fairs, happening last week. In Miami, Fishko's four-year-old company Art Market Productions runs the satellite fair Miami Project. Art Market is a respected outfit that at other times of the year produces Paper in New York, Art Market San Francisco, Texas Contemporary, and Art Market Hamptons.
Seattle Art Fair will be a fairly standard, brick-and-mortar, half-commercial, half-curated art fair, featuring 40 to 50 galleries representing local to international dealers with an emphasis on the West Coast and the Pacific Rim. A broad art-world call for applications went out November 27, but applications were already open. The venue is the CenturyLink Field Event Center, which Fishko says is about 60,000 square feet of high ceilings and polished concrete floors.
"I am considering [applying]," venerable Seattle contemporary dealer James Harris wrote via e-mail from Miami. "The organizers and the Vulcan team have been meeting for months. They are doing a fantastic job."
John Braseth, longtime Seattle dealer of regional historical work, including the Northwest Mystics crew, says: "It sounds exciting. I think we'd seriously consider being part of that for sure."
The other half of the fair will be 8 to 12 temporary exhibitions by individual artists spread across Seattle at indoor and outdoor venues, inspired in part by Allen's experiences visiting biennales around the world, including at Venice, where, as Vulcan curator Greg Bell points out, everybody is always noting Allen's megayacht, Octopus, parked out front during the festivities.
"We want to draw people's interest beyond just another fair," Fishko says. The idea for a hybrid event came in part from looking not only at the grande dame that is Venice, where exhibitions happen in every nook and cranny of the walking city, but also at smaller-scale, more imitable events like Prospect New Orleans and the Berlin Biennale.
What Fishko wants to avoid is what reporter Brett Sokol wrote about in a November 28 New York Times story called "Art Basel Miami Beach's Unfulfilled Promise." Some dealers and artists there say Basel is great—for the week it happens. Fishko says he has no opinion on Miami, "no dog in that race." But with the Seattle Art Fair, he's "trying to avoid this alien-mother-ship-landing-and-taking-off effect that can happen with things like this."
To that end, Fishko has organized a team of three Seattle-knowledgeable curators to run the noncommercial aspect of the event: Scott Lawrimore, director at UW's Jacob Lawrence Gallery; Eli Ridgway, formerly of Seattle and San Francisco galleries; and, in the leadership role, Greg Bell, Vulcan's in-house curator.
That team is now winnowing a list of artists who'll be invited to submit proposals for the fair. About 30 will be invited and roughly a dozen selected, probably one or two big names, one or two from the Northwest, and the rest falling somewhere in between in terms of exposure and experience, says Lawrimore.
Technology is emerging as an overarching theme, and the commercial fair will also include "a hands-on creative center where visitors can explore new technologies and their influence on art's mediums, methods, and processes," according to Art Market's press release.
In addition to local management by Kira Burge and Vulcan art collections director Mary Ann Prior, there's also a trio of dealer-advisers to the commercial fair: Eric Gleason of Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York, James Cohan in New York, and Seattle's leading dealer, Greg Kucera. "I think the fact that Vulcan is in support of it is a considerable boost to the credibility of the fair," says Kucera, who speaks highly of Art Market Productions, too. Kucera is part of Miami Project.
Seattle has had a mixed history with art fairs, most recently attracting the Affordable Art Fair, which arrived with much fanfare in 2012, continued in 2013, and then abandoned the city. Max Fishko says he has other plans. "It is plausible," he says, "that you wind up with this scenario where there's an explosion of interest and happening and intervention and excitement, and all of a sudden it vanishes and there's money, as they say, on the dresser. We don't want that. We really want to make sure that we make this into something that is both for Seattle and of Seattle."