Like most everything that involves a hoard of strangers accreting in an indoor space to share opinions freely and droplets potentially, the Seattle Art Fair didn’t happen this year. In fact, because Vulcan (the fair’s producer) ended its arts and entertainment division, Art Fair might not return at all.
In its place, last week about 40 local art galleries kicked off Seattle Deconstructed Art Fair (SDAF). It’s basically this: A bunch of art spaces—Greg Kucera Gallery, Studio E, Martyr Sauce, Columbia City Gallery—opened or continued exhibitions. They'll run until the end of August. Sometimes with an array of artists. Sometimes solo shows. How’s that different from a typical month, where you can check out the new exhibitions at First Thursday or Second Thursday, and see them the rest of the month? At least in terms of viewing experience, it’s not.
The “deconstructed” bit is a savvy bit of branding—a way for a bunch of local art spaces to say We’re Still Here. But the role of art fair was that it’s a central hub—a glut of art in a huge space. That's gone. Nearly half of SDAF's galleries are in Pioneer Square. To see the rest, you have to bounce not just from the Central District to Georgetown to Ravenna, but out to Bainbridge Island, Bellevue, Bellingham.
With SDAF, the fair aspect exists only online. I’ve long wanted a central website where you could easily see what most of the galleries in the city are showing that month, instead of skipping around to individual sites and Instagram pages that may or may not be updated. Now such a hub exists. And it even has a map. The site is great; I hope it continues.
Because of the pandemic and social distancing and masks, physical gallery visits come with rules. Galleries limit entry to a few people at a time. Some are open by appointment. You will likely smell some Purell. Gallery hopping has less party energy than a typical pre-pandemic art walk: no sparkling wine, no handshakes and schmoozing, no noise. But that’s kind of rad.
In the past week I stopped by some galleries. I got to walk the spaces mostly in silence. No one jostled for position in front of a painting. Alone at Wa Na Wari, I got to quietly fall into a Lavett Ballard collage—with its layered sepia images capturing the way memory feels. At Vermillion, I watched John Behr’s austere constellations of dots—perfectly imprecise, so they appeared alive with motion. In these spaces, unlike at art fairs past, it was quiet enough that I could actually see what I was looking at.