When you hear the phrase “art scene,” Seattle’s likely not the first city that comes to mind. Tech, coffee, rain, Kurt Cobain, sure. But art? Not so much—at least, not until now. Art Basel has been the majority shareholder in the U.S. art fair scene since the stateside satellite of the Swiss fair made its debut on the sticky streets of South Beach in 2002. But like most things that start off small and cool (Coachella, Facebook, the Lower East Side), the annual December event in Miami has progressively lost its fundamental sense of underground credibility—one blue-chip gallery, Kimye cameo and Banksy sighting at a time.
Make no mistake: Jay Z dropping $20,000 on an up-and-coming artist is a good thing. But the fair’s growth inevitably eclipsed the palpable feeling of grassroots creative energy that pulsed through Wynwood and Miami Beach every December as recently as a few years ago. Likewise Armory, Frieze and POW! WOW!
Enter Seattle Art Fair, now in its second year. The brainchild of billionaire Microsoft tech giant, Seahawks owner and avid art collector Paul Allen, the 70,000-square foot, 84-gallery event brought 18,000 visitors to the Emerald City last weekend. A cursory rundown of SAF’s stats, which included an exhibitor list of heavy hitters like Pace and David Zwirner, presents like a fully formed Art Basel air-dropped on the West Coast via Jeff Bezos-commissioned drone, but it was the wave of companion fairs and satellite exhibits that elevated Allen’s main event from what could have been an impressive-yet-boring gathering to a unique addition to the contemporary art scene.
A slew of local players and international tastemakers used the weekend as an opportunity to piggyback off of the visibility of Allen’s event, from Greg Lundgren’s Pac Northwest-focused companion fair Out of Sight at the nearby King Street Station, to Superflat, a melting pot of international artists co-curated by Juxtapoz’s Evan Pricco and the prolific Takashi Murakami.
In Seattle, people really focus on the work. It’s honest.
All combined, the weekend’s artist list offered a wildly diverse mix of names ranging from celebrities like Fairey, Banksy, Damien Hirst and Adrien Brody (who knew?), to masters like Basquiat, Picasso, Warhol and Jasper Johns, to counter-culture illustrators like R. Crumb and Raymond Pettibon, to less known, graffiti-influenced gems like Fonse and Aerubs, to West Coast talents like the function- and process-focused Ben Venom and Akihiko Miyoshi.
Why Seattle and why now? In addition to the fair’s billionaire patron, Seattle houses a huge population of artists doing interesting things in a city without the art-world prestige of L.A., Miami or New York.
“In Seattle, people really focus on the work,” says Greg Lundgren, the man behind SAF’s primary companion fair (whose professional credits also include fine art tombstone maker) and owner of retro Seattle nightlife staples Vito’s and the Hideout. “It’s honest. It comes from a place of deep contemplation. We have all the ingredients to really start an interesting national and international dialogue. And I think Seattle Art Fair is that thing.”
“Not all art needs to be in nerve centers,” adds Juxtapoz’s Evan Pricco. Of his choice to mount Superflat here, he says, “It’s someplace where we can get a big space and try some things out, [while coinciding] with the Fair so it gets a little bit of the energy.”
Pricco has a similar reasoning for the “how” as he does for the “where.” “I’m on the Internet,” he says. “I’m on my phone. I look at art in a way that’s so not the way that people looked at art in 1950s.” Whether it’s a smart-phone screen or an album cover, “it’s a different flow,” Pricco explains. “I’m a fucking 34-year-old man who likes ceramic art. [This is] also the reason why Seattle’s important—not all art needs to be in nerve centers.”
If Lundgren and Pricco are right, Seattle’s combination of untapped talent, proportionate ego and cash have created a fertile ground for authentic creative energy. The takeaway? Seattle and Seattle Art Fair are the newest contenders-to-watch in the country’s contemporary art scene, at least for now.
Below, check out our roundup of seven of the weekend’ s most exciting art and artists.
Mixed media and collage on Fabriano Rosapina
28 x 39 inches
Acrylic on canvas
914 x 1219 mm
TRENTON DOYLE HANCOCK
Acrylic and mixed media on canvas
72 x 108 inches
Po-lice Misconduct Misprint, 2016
Pigment print on paper
12 x 9 inches
Monument to Thieves, 2016
Hand-made Quilt with Recycled Fabric
95 x 67 inches
GREAT AMERICAN MUSE #50, 2015
Acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 inches
Liz Suman is a research editor at Playboy magazine and has been a freelance journalist since 2006. Find her at www.elizabethsuman.com.