With a billionaire backer, an exhibitor list featuring some of the world’s largest galleries and a sports stadium as its location, the Seattle Art Fair is not a typical regional fair. The inaugural event, which opens today, 30 July, brings 60 galleries from 14 cities including New York, Miami, Hong Kong and Tokyo to Seattle’s CenturyLink Field Event Center (until 2 August).
Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft and owner of the Seattle Seahawks football team, is the driving force behind the fair. Allen’s investment company Vulcan Inc. is co-producing the event with Art Market Productions, which operates fairs including Art Market San Francisco and Texas Contemporary.
Seattle boasts a growing concentration of wealth in the tech and renewable energy sectors as well as major collectors including Allen, Jon Shirley, the former president of Microsoft, and Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks. With no other fairs in the Pacific Northwest region, “this will cover a lot of ground that hasn’t been covered before,” says Eric Gleason, the director of Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York.
The timing is also strategic: there are no other major fairs in July and Seattle offers an escape from the brutal summer heat. “It’s a great city and a great time of year to be here—these factors led to the growth of other fairs like [Art Basel] Miami [Beach],” says Max Fishko, the co-founder of Art Market Productions.
The fair also charges less to participate than many of its peers. Booths cost $26 per sq. foot, or around $6,500 for a modest stand. As a result, “you have galleries that have never shown at an art fair” alongside major dealers including Pace, David Zwirner and Gagosian Gallery, Fishko says. The exhibitor list includes 13 Seattle-based galleries.
The fair has organised projects throughout the city, including a life-sized diorama by the Portland-based artist Wendy Red Star in one of its parks. Meanwhile, a satellite event, Out of Sight, presents work by more than 100 artists from the Pacific Northwest, many of whom do not have gallery representation (30 July-2 August).
Works at the main fair range in price from around $5,000 to more than $10m, Fishko says. Donald Ellis Gallery will present rare Native American objects from the Pacific Northwest ($20,000-$250,000), including a Tlingit raven rattle from Southeast Alaska, around 1860.
Addie Wagneknecht, Black Hawk Paint, July 9, 2015. Courtesy of Bitforms gallery
In an effort to woo Seattle’s tech-savvy audience, Pace Gallery will present three projections by teamLAb, a collaborative of Japanese digital artists, alongside works by Tara Donovan, Sol LeWitt and others. New York's Bitforms Gallery will host a live performance by Addie Wagenknecht, who programmes drones to paint. The gallery will offer her completed drone paintings for around $8,000 each.
Others are betting on traditional media. Eric Gleason of Paul Kasmin, who is bringing new sculptures by Will Ryman and Ivan Navarro, says: “My hope is that some people who deal with the intangible all day will flock to wonderful tangible objects.”