ArtSEA: Previewing the Seattle Art Fair and its indie alternatives

In addition to the main event at Lumen Field, satellite shows are popping up in vacant Pioneer Square spaces.

installation of 4 lifesize cardboard paper dolls

Dawn Endean’s “Never Better” (here, in progress) is one of 17 installations at ‘The Exploded View,’ a new pop-up exhibit coinciding with the Seattle Art Fair. (Brangien Davis/Crosscut)

It’s time once again for the Seattle Art Fair, where art-curious onlookers and big-time collectors alike immerse themselves in the massive sea of gallery booths at Lumen Field Event Center (July 27 - 30; $65 for a four-day pass, $35 daily). 

This year marks the seventh edition of the fair — originally founded by Paul Allen and now produced by Art Market Productions — and as usual it has spawned several satellite exhibits. The aims of these co-incidental shows: capitalize on main-event hubbub, highlight the abundance of artists in the Pacific Northwest and generally amp up the arty vibe across the city.

ArtSEA: Notes on Northwest Culture is Crosscut’s weekly arts & culture newsletter.

My favorite satellite shows are those that pop up in vacant city spaces. Like curatorial raccoons, these organizers find homes in our ever-expanding urban environment. New to the parade of pop-ups this year is The Exploded View (July 27 - 30; free), featuring 17 local artists known primarily for printmaking who are bursting from 2D into large-scale 3D pieces. 

Exploded View has commandeered the raw ground floor of a forthcoming office building jauntily called The Jack. When I stopped by earlier this week, the tall-windowed Pioneer Square space was hemmed in on both Jackson Street and Alaskan Way by giant orange construction lifts emblazoned with the words ULTRA BOOM. “They’ll be done in time for the opening,” noted co-curator Jane Richlovsky. “I hope.” 

Eventually this high-ceilinged space will house retail, but this weekend the offerings include Eva Isaksen’s giant tapestry of collaged prints, Seneca artist Linley B. Logan’s linocut bird boxes, Esther Ervin’s big handmade book that opens into a pinned map of Underground Railroad sites and Fulgencio Lazo’s abstract wood-carved sculptures.

Amid the beeping of backing-up construction trucks, Richlovsky showed me more: a jewelry box “from the perspective of a cat” by Mary Anne Carter; “Never Better,” a gathering of Victorian women made of multilayered paper (a comment on the Roe reversal) by co-curator Dawn Endean; and Richlovsky’s own sheer-fabric sculpture peppered with colorful CMYK dots, which she described as a “deconstructed Jell-O salad.” Ultra boom, indeed.

At the Forest for the Trees satellite exhibit, several local painters work on large pieces together on the first floor. In front, an in-progress piece by Moses Sun. (Brangien Davis/Crosscut)

Next I walked from the waterfront toward the stadiums, planning to check out the latest installment of Forest for the Trees (July 27 - 30; free) — the “indie alternative” to the Seattle Art Fair that occupied seven floors of the RailSpur development during last year’s event

On the way I bumped into Joe Nix, an artist (and Jupiter bar owner) who is nestling into another empty Pioneer Square space: the Court in the Square (401 Second Ave. S.), recognized primarily by its towering glass atrium. Nix is revamping the former wedding event venue for his latest endeavor, Europa Events. And the grand opening includes a four-day art party called AFTER / BEFORE (July 27 - 30; free; see highlight reels for lineup). 

“We’re probably canceling the marching band,” he said while running through his robust weekend plans. (He was not kidding.) Still on the docket is an exhibit of Northwest oil and spray painters including Baso Fibonacci, Crystal Barbre, Mary Iverson, Moses Sun, Neon Saltwater and Stevie Shao, plus many live performances in the soaring atrium space, including opera singer Roxanna Walitzky, multi-instrumentalist Eric Vanderbilt and soul singer Shaina Shepherd

“This will be like a ‘time out’ space from the craziness,” he said, gesturing toward the cool, quiet atrium surrounded by old brick walls. “Just come in and take a break.”

Christopher Derek Bruno’s “Simple Present - Tents” occupies the entire sixth floor of the Forest for the Trees satellite exhibit. (Brangien Davis/Crosscut)

If last year’s Forest for the Trees event was any indication, that site (one block west of Europa Events, at 419 Occidental Ave. S.) will reflect more of the fair’s frenzied side, as hordes of artgoers traipse up and down seven floors. (Floors 2 and 3 of the new building are otherwise occupied, but there’s still tons to see.)

Organizers Gage Hamilton and Dominic Nieri showed me around, starting with the ground floor, which includes a cluster of on-site artists creating new 10 x 10 foot paintings. Moses Sun was at work on a blue and red abstract piece, and Kevin Cosley was busy creating one of his crystalline flower explosions. Samantha Wall was perfecting segments of her piece in the alley, while paintings by Amanda Manitach, Nikita Ares and Becca Furman awaited completion.

The fourth-floor exhibit comes courtesy of Vanishing Seattle, which has collected archival signage and artifacts from Seattle’s pop-culture past. Old-school Seattleites will spend most of the walk-through as I did, uttering fond outbursts upon spying sights of yore (“Oh my god, RKCNDY!” I exclaimed. “Sunset Bowl!”). In addition to inspiring nostalgia, Hamilton said the show celebrates classic sign-making traditions. 

The fifth floor is deliberately darkened to showcase several short videos. But the sixth is full of bright color, thanks to Christopher Derek Bruno’s stunning installation Simple Present - Tents. Bruno has filled the space with a tent encampment of sorts, creating rows of pup tents made with white vinyl sheets adorned with rainbow washes of color on the undersides. You can climb inside and take a technicolor nap, or buy one with proceeds going to homelessness relief efforts. 

Like last year, the top floor is devoted to a huge group show, exhibiting way too many artists for me to list here and augmented with live performances. Just go, and be sure to step out onto the leafy roof deck, where you can look west over Elliott Bay or south at the fair that sparked all these outlying events.

The Seattle Art Fair draws many thousands over its four-day run, and inspires multiple satellite shows hoping to latch onto the artful energy. (Courtesy AMP)

As always, I’m running out of space and time to cover the incredible range of Seattle Art Fair companion happenings!

One more: The Museum of Museums on First Hill is hosting The Official Unofficial Art Fair Party (July 29, 8 p.m.; $25), which includes Twelve Nights on Heaven's Headrest, a new show by Seattle artist Monyee Chau, plus live screen printing and music by Emerald City Soul Club. And if you haven’t yet seen the astonishingly good ceramic installation by Emily Counts, which I wrote about in June, it’s a perfect time to do so.

Of course the main event is a must-visit too. Avant-garde outfits are appreciated (especially by me), but just be sure you are wearing sensible shoes — those concrete floors at the Lumen Field Event Center are unforgiving.

This year’s fair boasts 20-some Washington galleries, from longtime Seattle venues such as Greg Kucera and Woodside / Braseth to newer spaces like The Vestibule and AMcE Creative Arts. All will be putting their best and most provocative work forward to entice viewers inside their booths.

Also on deck are several “public projects” located in the common spaces, including installations by two Black Arts Legacies artists: Tariqa Waters, whose 4th Sunday features large-scale replicas of paper church fans; and Marita Dingus, who presents an expansive showcase of her inventive sculptures made entirely from cast-off materials (update after seeing Dingus’ piece in person: it’s fantastic!).

As you embark on your arts adventure, consider Mistakes Made, Nothing Learned by Dinos Chapman, in which fairgoers can come away with an original artwork — on their skin. Yes, you can get a permanent tattoo to mark this occasion. The catch is you won’t be told in advance what it is.

It’s a good metaphor for how to approach the art fair events: even if you don’t know exactly what to expect, take a breath, open your mind and see what happens.

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