Bigger and better: Seattle Art Fair and its little brother Out of Sight are back this weekend

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Three years ago, Paul Allen helped launch Seattle Art Fair – and local impresario Greg Lundgren launched Out of Sight, an ambitious satellite fair. They’re both back with an ambitious roster of artists, from painters to BMX stunt bikers.

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At this very moment, while you read these words, Seattle artists Ben Beres and Jed Dunkerley might be crammed into a Pioneer Square bathroom with a small mountain of Sharpie markers, covering its white walls with graffiti.

Among the hundreds of words and images: a tongue, “it takes awhile to know who to blame,” a rotund woman with a camper-van parked on her back and, right next to the mirror, “take a selfie bitch I dare you.” When I visited that bathroom last week, Dunkerley perched on Beres’ shoulders to draw a picture of Dunkerley perching on Beres’ shoulders.

“So you’re decorating the bathroom?” I asked.

IF YOU GO

Seattle Art Fair

Aug. 3-6, CenturyLink Field Event Center, 1000 Occidental Ave. S., Seattle; $5 (teens)-$150 (collectors preview) ( seattleartfair.com).

Out of Sight

Aug. 3-27, 115 S. Jackson St., Seattle; $10 (general)-$100 collectors preview ( outofsight.space).

Beres sighed dramatically and rolled his eyes for comic effect. “Ugh! No! We’re making art, maaan.”

He was only half joking. Beres and Dunkerley are serious artists making the playful graffiti mural for Out of Sight, a 110-artist satellite exhibition happening just a few blocks from the third Seattle Art Fair, the Paul Allen-founded answer to fancy, art-fair rodeos like Art Basel Miami and Tokyo International Art Fair.

Seattle Art Fair is an international aesthetic extravaganza at CenturyLink Field Event Center, presented by Paul Allen, Art Market Productions, insurance company AIG, Delta Air Lines, J.P. Morgan and a few other corporate partners – but Out of Sight also roared out of the gate three years ago, as both complement to and a cheeky, more locally focused riposte to the bigger event.

This week, the fairs will be Seattle’s major art events, with dealers from Tokyo to Cologne to Pioneer Square showing artwork, hosting talks, throwing parties and hoping to court collectors – who may or may not buy anything. But, as longtime Seattle dealer Greg Kucera said, the dollar value of an art fair (whether it’s in Basel or New York or Seattle) doesn’t always materialize during those few hectic days when gallerists try to look cool and calm while secretly fretting over the cost of renting the booth space and paying staff members to hang around and smile at people.

“You develop relationships with collectors,” he said. And those relationships can pay dividends months and years after a collector drops by a booth and a dealer hands her the first glass of Champagne.

Some FAQs

Whenever culture writers cover a major art fair, their editors and casual arts readers typically ask the same questions. Let’s dispense with those in a quick Q&A, based on answers from Cultural Counsel, the New York City-based firm running interference for Vulcan and Paul Allen:

Q: How many people attend Seattle Art Fair and how many galleries have booths?

A: In 2015, 62 galleries showed up for around 15,000 visitors. In 2016, 84 galleries showed up for around 18,000 visitors. This year, about 100 galleries will have booths.

Q: Who are the famous artists – living and dead – I might’ve heard of?

A: Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Yayoi Kusama, Pablo Picasso, Gary Hill, Andy Goldsworthy, Mark Rothko, Dan Webb, Riusuke Fukahori, John Grade, McArthur Binion and, um, drawings by Kurt Cobain from a Los Angeles gallery (which seems more like an art-pop stunt than anything else, but in the words of the dearly departed man himself: ” Oh well, whatever, nevermind “). Nevertheless, the most interesting work will probably come from artists the offhand visitor has never heard of – discovering new things is the point.

Q: How much money sloshes between bank accounts at Seattle Art Fair?

A: Cultural Counsel declined to answer that question and the fair isn’t a nonprofit, so it doesn’t have to disclose that information. But, as Kucera said above, the fair is a kind of carnival where some people just look, some people buy and others plot future purchases.

But larger, more existential questions have been on the art world’s mind since Seattle Art Fair started. In its first year, art dealer Sam Davidson said, people were “skeptical and wanted to see what’s up.” The second year, gallerists wondered whether people would come back. This year, Kucera said, gallerists have been pleased to see more national press inquiries (The New York Times and The Art Newspaper, he said, have been sniffing around), plus more promptness sending out VIP passes and collector outreach.

“Now the question is whether Paul Allen will continue to fund it,” he added. “There’s a constant chatter of people who approach things negatively. They’re out there – and they get boring after awhile.”

But whether Allen will continue to fund Seattle Art Fair is a reasonable question. He has a reputation as an entrepreneurial philanthropist who tends to seed cultural projects – radio station KEXP, the Pivot Art + Culture gallery, the new Upstream Music Festival – for a few years with a big infusion of cash with the expectation that they’ll learn to walk on their own two feet.

Marcella Zimmermann of Cultural Counsel said both Vulcan and Art Market Productions “are committed to building a model that makes the Seattle Art Fair sustainable for years to come.”

But is Allen eventually planning a sunset for its funding?

Zimmermann’s answer: “We are committed to seeing the fair continue.”

Out of Sight, in the meantime, is a mayfly that appears briefly – this year in an old furniture building at 115 S. Jackson St., plus the building next door. Lundgren said he and a small group of donors front the money out of pocket, but recoup their expenses through tickets and art sales. “So far,” he added, “it’s made money every year. But right now is the moment when I’m thinking: ‘Oh (expletive).’ Is this going to work?”

A look at Out of Sight

Visitors to both Seattle Art Fair and Out of Sight will drink plenty of wine – but it’s safe to guess the beer-to-wine ratio will tilt toward Out of Sight. The satellite fair will show some work by artists also in the “official” fair, like video legend Gary Hill, who will burn an image into visitors’ retinas (using strobe lights) to contemplate for a few seconds while they sit in a dark basement.

“It’s great that bigger artists are raising their hands to participate in this DIY experiment with younger artists,” Lundgren said. “A lot of the time, bigger artists feel confined to their blue-chip galleries.”

Also on the menu: performances by choreographers (Alice Gosti), musicians (Evan Flory-Barnes), a BMX bike stunt-riding team (Ride and Glide), a five-time world champion jump-roper (Rene Bibaud) and other glorious-sounding curiosities.

While Beres and Dunkerley drew on the walls in one Out of Sight bathroom, artist Dylan Neuwirth stood below in a musty-smelling, bare-brick basement with his glowing, pyramid-shaped tetrahedron sculpture made of thin glass tubes, giving building owner Jon Buerge a rapid-fire lecture on the noble gases (argon, neon, etc.) and how similar tubes were used in the first computers.

“The people leading the research on these gases were glassblowers as well as scientists and chemists because they had all to make their own instruments,” Neuwirth said. “And all of this research in the late 1800s and early 1900s led to the first particle accelerator, lasers, cancer research, microchips – and it’s all space gas, man. This tube is all pure neon,” he said, lightly tapping the sculpture, “and this tube here is argon mixed with mercury.”

Neuwirth kept talking and Buerge, who’d just dropped by to see how Out of Sight was coming along, looked flabbergasted.

“I had no idea about that back story,” he said, his face illuminated by the glow.

Lundgren signed a month-to-month lease with Buerge, who plans to turn the two adjacent Pioneer Square buildings into a series of small shops with cafes or bars opening up into a now-barren alleyway.

While co-curator Justen Siyuan Waterhouse (who said she spent her first year with Out of Sight as a volunteer, “just mudding drywall”) sat working away at a computer near the front entrance, Lundgren held up his phone and smiled ruefully. It was bulging slightly on both sides – the battery had recently exploded, making it look like a subtle, accidental sculpture itself.

“Not good timing,” he said, then bustled out the door with Beres and Dunkerley to pick up a load of more art.