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Reporter’s Notebook: At Seattle Art Fair, the Interaction Between Technology and Modern Life

What the fair says about Seattle, and whether its art community was sufficiently represented, with 18 Pacific Northwest galleries on the roster — and only 10 from Seattle — remains a continuing debate.

A satellite festival, called Out of Sight, organized last year by Seattle artists and galleries who felt squeezed out of Mr. Allen’s big tent, was back again this year, filling 21,000 square feet in a historic train station within walking distance of the main fair. What started partly out of frustration, artists and gallery owners said, has now become an established platform for local work.

“If there’s going to be all this energy, and all these collectors coming in from out of town, and critics and press talking about it, we can either, as an art community, sit on the sideline and watch the spectacle, or we can participate and ride that wave. I’m not one to sit out a big opportunity,” said Greg Lundgren, Out of Sight’s founder.


Paul G. Allen, the Microsoft co-founder who started the Seattle Art Fair, with the director of collections, Mary Ann Prior. Credit Evan McGlinn for The New York Times

Other private galleries in the city, like Roq La Rue, were timing the opening of shows this year to coincide with the fair.

“People are really trying to rise to the occasion,” said Kirsten Anderson, Roq La Rue’s owner and founder. “I haven’t heard as much complaining this year,” she added.

Carl and Jeannette Pergam, both retired physicians who were visiting the fair from a Seattle suburb, said they were struck by the high prices, which they said spoke to them partly about the art’s quality, but also about the wave of wealth in Seattle from the explosion of growth at technology companies like Amazon and Microsoft.

“When you see a Frankenthaler, you say, ‘that’s a Frankenthaler,’ and you know you can’t afford it — Paul Allen can afford it,” said Mr. Pergam, 74, referring to Helen Frankenthaler, the painter. They were on their way to a local gallery that had, they hoped, more work in their price range. Ameringer McEnery Yohe, a New York gallery, offered a 1987 acrylic by Frankenthaler, titled “Groundswell,” for $ 1.25 million at the Seattle Art Fair.

Nicole Vartanian, who took a day off work to visit Out of Sight before heading to the Seattle Art Fair, said she was struck by the political power of many of the pieces at Out of Sight, like Paul Rucker’s life-size recreation of a Ku Klux Klan rally with mannequins in brightly colored robes and hoods, called “Birth of a Nation.”

“The ones I would put up on my wall are sparse,” said Ms. Vartanian, 47, a cancer researcher who lives in Seattle. “But there’s a lot of important work here.”


Wynne Greenwood’s outdoor public composition, “In Loving Memory.” Credit Evan McGlinn for The New York Times

Mr. Allen said in an interview that he pushed no particular vision of what the fair should be about, but that he likes the interplay of intellect and emotion.

“There’s always this interesting tension between fairly intellectual pursuits like science, and more visceral pursuits like art, and how they respond and bond to each other,” he said. He also deeply appreciates, he added, the simple joy of the unexpected.

“I remember the first time I saw a Lichtenstein, at the Tate in London — just that you could be so surprised,” he said. The canvas that so stunned him was Roy Lichtenstein’s 1963 pop art painting, “Whaam!,” which captures a fighter pilot during midair combat.

Laura Fried, the Seattle Art Fair’s artistic director, said that she gravitated to what the artists were trying to say about the connection between technology and modern life.

“The conceptual underpinnings are more what I find interesting,” she said.

Wynne Greenwood’s outdoor public composition, called “In Loving Memory,” for example, seems barely touched by tech at all, at least on the surface. In a square near the fair where people gather for lunch, Ms. Greenwood, 39, installed big white foam cushions with clip art images, found on Google by searching for emotions and ideas inspired by the cities in Washington State where she has lived. Whether visitors understand the connections and images, she said, is less important than how they react to the cushions themselves, and use them.

“The way that we are arranging our world is changing, with digital space merging with physical space,” she said. “I really love thinking about softness in public.”

Ms. Kasper said she thought about the human stories behind the objects in assembling her cymbals project. Her fantasy was that a musician would walk through “Star Formation,” recognize some well-worn cymbal that he or she once owned, pull her aside and tell her a great back story about the night it got cracked.

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