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Is Seattle Art Fair the New Art Basel?

Aug 11, 2016

By Liz Suman August 10, 2016


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.

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