Heres what another art fair by Art Market Productions looks like. This one is happening right now, Miami Project, and this is part of a solo show by Deborah Butterfield, represented by Seattles Greg Kucera Gallery.
  • Courtesy of the artist and Greg Kucera Gallery
  • Here's what another art fair by Art Market Productions looks like. This one is happening right now, Miami Project, and this is part of a solo show by Deborah Butterfield, represented by Seattle's Greg Kucera Gallery.

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 this 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 stages art on paper in New York, Art Market San Francisco, Texas Contemporary, and Art Market Hamptons.

Seattle will be unusual because it's half-commercial, half-curated.

Seattle Art Fair will be a fairly standard brick-and-mortar commercial 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 will go out Thursday, but applications are 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 email from Miami. "The organizers and the Vulcan team have been meeting for months. They are doing a fantastic job."

Says John Braseth, longtime Seattle dealer of regional historical work including the Northwest Mystics crew, "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 boat 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 of 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 New York Times reporter Brett Sokol wrote about this weekend in a story called "Art Basel Miami Beach’s Unfulfilled Promise." Some dealers and artists there say Basel's 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-mothership-landing-and-taking-off effect that can happen with things like this. It is plausible 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 change, as they say, on the dresser drawer. 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."

To see that happen, Fishko has organized a team of three Seattle-knowledgeable curators to run the non-commercial 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, 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 artists will be invited and 8 to 12 selected, probably one or two big names, one or two from the region from Portland to Vancouver, 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-advisors 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's had a mixed history with art fairs, most recently attracting the Affordable Art Fair. It arrived with much fanfare in 2012, continued in 2013, then abandoned the city.