Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Chelsea Manning, Probably Chelsea at the Seattle Art Fair. Photo by Anna Imperati, courtesy of the Seattle Art Fair.
What happens when a mechanism under unprecedented scrutiny—the art fair—collides with an emerging market for which the art world has (possibly unreasonably) high hopes? The answer is the Seattle Art Fair, which closed its fourth edition to the public on Sunday.
The occasion reflected growing pains in dealers’ evolving approaches to both the event-driven art market in general and Seattle in particular, which is home to a considerable number of tech millionaires and billionaires, but comparatively few major-league art collectors.
In a pressure-cooker like this, it’s not surprising that impressions of the event varied. Organizers of this year’s fair boasted “strong sales and high public engagement,” while some observers grumbled that they had traded quality for size. (There were more galleries than in the 2017 edition, putting the largest-ever total at 106, a move some complained diluted the caliber of exhibitors and resulted in a less focused display.) Notably, several major players, including Pace and Perrotin, did not return for this year’s edition.
The shifting exhibitor list is representative of a moment when many dealers are taking stock of their spending and priorities. “Given the the time and the money it takes to participate in a fair, I’d rather focus on some of these other avenues of production which feel experimental, and exciting,” Sharon Arnold of the Seattle-based gallery Bridge Productions told artnet News of her decision not to return.