"It would be criminal," said Greg Lundgren, Seattle's go-gettingest artist/impresario/glass-tombstone-maker/art-bar-proprietor, "not to try to do something with all this attention."
Lundgren said it standing in a construction zone of his own making, surrounded by an army of 100 local artists coming in and out at all hours to set up their art for the exhibition Out of Sight. Out of Sight is about wanting to be seen, and the view from its windows is the stadium where the Seahawks play—a place that will roar instead for artists this weekend.
Starting Thursday, galleries from around the world will be showing at the inaugural Seattle Art Fair, the 70,000-square-foot mini-world at the stadium's events center that's sponsored by billionaire collector/Microsoft cofounder/Seahawks owner Paul Allen. And Lundgren's mini-world responding to Allen's mini-world is Out of Sight, representing the hopes and dreams of dozens of Seattle artists and happening right next door at King Street Station.
"I really want to have that side-by-side discussion," Vulcan Inc. senior curator Greg Bell told me. Bell is a double agent. He's a Seattle artist, too (and has been a local champion for decades), though his work won't be there.
"There's just really good artists here, you know?" Bell said, speaking on one of the few subjects that, as a Vulcan employee, he hasn't signed a nondisclosure agreement about. "How come they don't have the same recognition? It's because they just haven't been noticed."
Inside the fair at the stadium, 13 Seattle galleries, from Greg Kucera and James Harris to Roq La Rue and G. Gibson, will stack up against 21 galleries from New York, five from Los Angeles, four from Portland, five from the Bay Area, two from Tokyo, two from Miami, two from Vancouver, BC, and one each from Seoul, Hong Kong, New Orleans, Boston, Albuquerque, and Sun Valley.
Max Fishko of Art Market, the Brooklyn company administering the fair, estimates an audience of 10,000 to 15,000 comers. He's getting queries from "major-league consultants from New York, Dallas, LA," he said. "This is the beginning of something that could become the Art Basel Miami for the West Coast," Fishko told me in his "really, really confident" days leading up to the opening.
This is not Seattle's first art fair, but it is the first sponsored by a billionaire collector. Three of the monster trucks of the art world, as it were—Gagosian Gallery, David Zwirner, and Pace of New York, which almost never show up at small regional fairs—decided at the last minute (or were prevailed upon by their billionaire friend?) to sign on.
Less than two years ago, Allen had an inspiring time at the Venice Biennale and decided abruptly that he wanted to see an international art event in Seattle.
"It's funny," Lundgren said, "because just as Paul Allen was inspired by Venice, King Street Station's clock tower was inspired by the tower in San Marco in Venice."
When King Street Station opened in May of 1906, it was the tallest building in Seattle. In the 1980s, Norman J. Johnston, an architecture professor at the University of Washington, said the problem with Seattle buildings is that, like King Street's iconic tower, they "respond to the precedents set by other men in other places."
Out of Sight may be about visibility and greatness, but it's also a feat of sheer will, hard labor, and diversity of mediums, talents, and styles. To create it, Lundgren assembled a team including three other curators: independent presenter Sierra Stinson, artist-organizer Sharon Arnold, and Arnold's Roq La Rue co-dealer/founder Kirsten Anderson. (When the fair's going on, Arnold and Anderson will spend time inside the stadium, where Roq La Rue has a booth, and in the clock tower.)
Each curator offered about 100 names, and together they whittled the list down from 400 to 100. They asked the artists for their best new or newish work. Some made pieces for the occasion, like the large painted murals and photomurals by Jeff Jacobson, Baso Fibonacci, and Cheyenne Randall; Mandy Greer's seven-foot fabric chandelier; George Rodriguez's life-size ceramic sarcophagus; and C. Davida Ingram's project with text about where black women are safe, interspersed with photographs of her ass as she bends over into a heart shape. Last week when I visited, only some of these things existed yet. A coming installation by MKNZ and Mary Ann Peters, for instance, was portended by a taped-off area and a few sacks of flour. Casey Curran knelt on the floor assembling his glinting wave made of gold triangles and mechanical parts.
"Something of everything" is how Arnold described Out of Sight. The "theme" might be Seattle artists, which is no theme. Out of Sight is a hundred individual artists each grabbing the mic. I hope they're taken that way.
King Street Station itself is Seattle's Grand Central, even designed by some of the same men (and seven years earlier). It opened to the public in 1906, a palace of marble, granite, carved plaster, and chandeliers, blindingly gold and white. In the 1960s, it was altered and mangled, and when it needed seismic upgrades after the Nisqually earthquake in 2001, the railroad company that owned the building decided it wasn't worth the cost and in 2008 sold the whole station to the City of Seattle for 10 bucks. Five years and $46 million later, the Seattle Department of Transportation reopened the station in full historical form. Taking Amtrak is glamorous here.
Upstairs on the third floor, where Out of Sight is happening, the walls are exposed brick, girded with new steel crossbeams painted a dreamy light gray. In the center of the many-windowed, 24,000-square-foot room, Damien Gilley created a delicate hanging sculpture. It's made of sheets of hot-pink strings, loose in the manner of sheets of rain. Gilley hand-painted each string so that, seen together, they add up to a frail, ghostly white X in the middle of the pink force field, echoing the Xs of the new crossbeams, which themselves might seem burly until you consider that their opponent is the shaking planet itself.
Lundgren was able to talk his way into borrowing the space because nobody's rented it yet. He'd like to see the whole floor taken off the market and used for art in perpetuity. Matthew Richter, cultural space liaison at the City of Seattle's Office of Arts & Culture, said there might be room for studios or showplaces, something SDOT senior policy adviser Bill LaBorde added "we're definitely open to." If Out of Sight helps attract tenants, art will have earned a good turn.
Come Monday, the fair will be gone. The artists will still be here.