With Mystery Tattoos, Sustainably Minded Sculptures, and Gold-Accented Concert Posters, the Seattle Art Fair Revels in an Eclectic Selection
A large-scale installation by Jeffrey Gibson, just announced as the U.S. representative for the 2024 Venice Biennale, is a highlight.
At this year’s Seattle Art Fair, there is art for every budget—including those who literally can’t afford to spend a penny, courtesy of Dinos Chapman, who is offering free tattoos of new works of art he is making up on the spot. The catch? Recipients aren’t allowed to see the design until after its completion.
“You pay nothing—just you might have something horrible on your arm,” Chapman told Artnet News.
The British artist, now based in Los Angeles, has done performances at fairs before, drawing insulting portraits and defacing bank notes with brother Jake Chapman, with whom he split professionally last year.
But the Seattle Art Fair (which kicked off Thursday evening) was the first one to agree to let him set up a glory-hole style tattoo station—titled Mistakes Made, Nothing Learned—with the only restriction being that the tattoos not contain anything obscene.
Chapman has been in the hot seat himself—and wasn’t so lucky when he let a tattoo artist and friend who is responsible for most of his 13 tattoos ink him with the design of his choosing.
“It took four hours, and I didn’t know what it was until it was finished. He managed to convince me he’d tattooed a cock on my chest. But it was actually a devil’s anus, and I was slightly disappointed as I had gotten used to the idea of a cock,” Chapman recalled. (That said, it’s not even his least favorite tattoo. That would be the words “I’m with idiot” on Chapman’s bicep, below a finger pointing to his chest.)
At the Seattle fair, with local tattoo artist Colin O’Shaughnessy Tucker of Storm Bloom Tattoo manning the tattoo gun, Chapman expects to execute 18 to 20 tattoos during the run of the fair, drawing a new design on the spot for each participant. (All of the slots were full ahead of the VIP preview thanks to pre-registration.)
Fairgoer Kate Lovejoy, an education director at an area art school, signed up because “it seemed like an invitation to interact with regret,” she told Artnet News. “I enjoyed the process of thinking about whether I had regrets or not.”
In the end, there wasn’t so much chagrin as joy: “It’s beautiful! I love it so much!” Lovejoy proclaimed after pulling her arm back through the hole to see the finished tattoo of a strange geometric creature.
It was Chapman’s first visit to the Seattle Art Fair, which launched in 2015 and is now in its seventh edition. After a two-year pandemic hiatus, the fair returned in 2022 under new management by Art Market Productions, which took over from the late founder Paul Allen’s now-defunct Vulcan Arts and Entertainment.
This year’s outing features some 70 international dealers—down from over 100 exhibitors pre-Covid—hailing from as far afield as Japan, Argentina, and the U.K., as well as a strong contingent of Pacific Northwest and West Coast galleries.
Perhaps the most unexpected was Fotowat Atelier, of Isfahan, Iran, which was selling jewel-like miniatures by owner Mostafa Fotovat, his daughter Atefeh Fotovat, and his other students.
“These are done on camel bone with natural pigments: lapis lazuli, skin of pomegranate, saffron,” Atefeh Fotovat told Artnet News.
At only their third U.S. fair after outings in San Francisco and the Hamptons, the gallery was doing brisk business for delicate figurative and animal paintings and decorated boxes, priced between $500 and $8,500.
Across the fair, most of the offerings were contemporary, with a smattering of mid-to-late 20th-century works dotting the aisles. The admitted “odd man out” had to be Chicago’s Galerie Fledermaus, where a rare print of Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss priced at $125,000 was the centerpiece.
“We show a mix of historic and contemporary with a unified aesthetic that happens to span 150 years,” director Jerry Suqi told Artnet News.
The Kiss was on offer alongside the full portfolio of calotype prints the artist had produced between 1908 and 1914 using as many as 18 etched-glass plates to create each image. But among the booth’s early sales was the $18,500 gilded charcoal drawing Sofia Summoning Spring (2023), a darkly romantic figurative work by 33-year-old artist Alessandra Maria.
The fair also boasted an impressive selection of special projects, including a hanging mobile in the form of a model of the solar system by Jeffrey Gibson titled The Many Worlds, presented by the ICA San Francisco and New York gallery Sikkema Jenkins.
Another standouts in that sector was Seattle-born Marita Dingus’s Where the Castoffs Grow Materials (2022–23), a series of suspended figurative sculptures crafted by the feminist African American artist from found materials.
“Marita has been a very important artist here in Seattle for more than 30 years,” said dealer Sarah Traver, founder of Seattle’s Traver Gallery. “People have come to know that she uses found and discarded materials, so she gets gifted a lot of things when people are cleaning out attics or garages. And Marita, more than any other artist I know, really embodies her work. She makes all her own clothes and she’s really conscious of her own consumption.”
As the first day of the fair drew to a close, Traver was pleased with the initial results, citing sales of several of Dingus’s works, which start at $800 and go up to $20,000. “It’s been really busy in here,” she said.
Walking the aisles on the bustling opening night, which attracted 5,000 visitors, you would never know that the fair’s future had once been uncertain.
The evening featured spirited live performances of local artist Tariqa Waters’s new educational TV talk show, Thank You Ms Pam. A large, boisterous crowd gathered to watch acts doing double dutch and roller-skate dancing to the tune of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” at a colorful performance lounge, which featured a Lucy-from-Peanuts-style booth advertising psychiatric help for 5¢.
There were even crowd-control measures in place at New York’s Harman Projects, where master screen printer Chuck Sperry—famed for his concert posters for acts like the Queens of the Stone Age, the Who, and Dave Matthews Band—was releasing print editions of five new works. The artist had also delved into his archive for the occasion, selling rare test prints and back stock of older designs.
“Chuck prints them all by hand. He makes his own emulsions and custom colors. It’s pretty fascinating,” dealer Ken Harman told Artnet News.
Sperry’s poster career began 30 years ago, but about 12 years ago, travels in Europe inspired him to begin creating his own independent designs, influenced by the work of artists like Alphonse Mucha, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Klimt.
“I’m using oil-based inks with gold and silver metallics that I mix from powdered pigment, with colored glazes overlaying transparently,” Sperry told Artnet News. “I like to think that I’m elevating the concert poster to fine art. And it’s very gratifying when the fans of my older work get turned on to what I’m doing now.”
Brice Bielaski of Auburn, Washington, got to the fair at 4 p.m. and was still waiting for his turn to make a purchase four hours later. “I’ll be happy with anything they have left,” he told Artnet News. “All of Chuck’s work is very collectible.”
“We have more,” gallery director Raul Barquet assured Artnet News. “We were expecting this!”
The Seattle Art Fair is on view at Lumen Field Event Center, 800 Occidental Avenue South, Seattle, Washington, July 27–30, 2023.
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