Seattle Art Fair 2018: The Superlatives of the Booths
Seattle Art Fair 2018 is coming to a close, and we are feeling wiped…but we’re still going back for one more day. With so much art to see, and so much subjectivity in how one views art, one can’t really declare “top honors.” However, we’d still like to point out some exceptional displays. The galleries really brought it this year.
Most Beautiful Booths: Yufuku Gallery and M.S. Rau
Both of these galleries are newcomers to the Seattle Art Fair, and in some ways they could not be more different, but they are both such welcome additions. Yufuku Gallery‘s booth is an inviting, open space that glitters with some of the most exquisite sculptures you’ll see at the fair. M.S. Rau is an enclosed, eclectic jewel box brimming with 19th century masters, American icon Norman Rockwell, and vitrines full of rare, priceless rings and brooches.
Yufuku’s sculptures are glass, ceramic, and in one case a strange admixture of the two. This is not to say that the works on the walls are not equally gorgeous. I’m just so taken with contemporary Japanese Sculpture, especially after seeing San Francisco Asian Art Museum’s mindblowing exhibit The Sculptural Turn last year. Mihara Ken was represented in that collection, and is also on display at Yufuku Gallery. Mihara uses a very traditional sekki method and clay from his native city of Izumo to produce purely sculptural works that walk the fine line between rarefied and earthy.
M.S. Rau sadly had a tragic mishap before the collector preview, when the wire of one Pissarro painting snapped and came crashing down. Art fairs really are a risky business, but we hope it wasn’t an ill omen. It would be nice to see both galleries return next year.
Best Solo Shows: Foster/White and Opera Gallery
Quite a few of our favorite booths this year focused on single artists. This tends to produce a better looking booth, but it can be risky, too, if one doesn’t hit the right market.
In the case of local gallery Foster/White, they did very well with a solo show of George Rodriguez. His stoneware sculptures of animal heads are positively charming, and apparently offered something for everyone; all but one item sold by the first day. They include all of the Chinese zodiac as vases, as well as some wall mounted heads, including that of a giant locust.
The work at Opera Gallery‘s solo show of Andy Denzler was much quieter. This is my first time seeing Denzler’s work, but I immediately loved his muted palette and subtle distortions of the body. The faces of the figures in Denzler’s sculptures and paintings are unemotive and detached, while the bodies are disturbed laterally, as if being seen through VHS tracking glitches. The women in his paintings are just on the verge of fading into a warm, slightly yellowed white. (Yes, the male gaze is a bit in effect here, but it ends up feeling more like a memento mori than boudoir photography.) Denzler also has one of the more photographed sculptures in the fair: a woman taking a selfie, with an expression that doesn’t so much say “Here I am!” as ask “Where am I?”
A fair question, indeed.
Best Curation: Russo Lee Gallery and K. Imperial Fine Art
Not everyone is really curating their booth at the fair, and that’s fine. It’s hard enough packing an array of artists into a small space and having them gel in some way. Creating actual throughlines among the work is trickier.
There’s a natural synergy between the works of Samantha Wall and Dan Gluibizzi at Russo Lee Gallery. Wall’s silhouettes of women in ink on duralar images are spectral and richly textured. Gluibizzi’s colorful congregations of silhouetted heads pick up on that ghostly vibe in proximity while looking deceptively more simple. There is an especially ingenious pairing of the two in one corner of the booth: The head of the woman in Wall’s “Spectre” glitters golden, and the adjacent “Together we follow” cuts through five rows of heads in muted tones with a sine wave of gold and orange. It almost seems to emanate from the spectre’s head.
Round the corner, and you’re in more material territory with strangely ominous paintings by Elizabeth Malaska and a large Fay Jones work that straddles both worlds titled: “Move Silently, Like Ghosts.” The booth is not so much a joyful noise as a cryptic whisper among the fair’s cacophony.
K. Imperial Fine Art, meanwhile, can appear like a raucous mix at first, but spend time with it and you see how it bridges a false aesthetic dichotomy: organic and geometric. There are Emil Alzamora’s figurative sculptures, which themselves vary from fleshy glazed porcelain to more neolithic zinc and concrete forms. Jud Bergeron’s precisely faceted towers and hooks in bronze and resin are a stark contrast, but cross your eyes and you begin to see a living form emerge again. Tahiti Pehrson’s hand cut paper cylinder is both floral and precisely circular, forming a bridge of its own.
Erika Mahr and Ruth Freeman play with the linkage between linear regularity and irregularity, the former in monochrome and the latter in jarring color. Hadley Radt creates dripping masses from triangular networks and Karen Margolis punctures and paints thick abaca paper until it resembles both a living tissue (under magnification) and a colored crystal. It’s almost too much to see all of these works together, simply because the space is small, but they play so well together, regardless.
Weirdest Mix: Galerie Youn and Galerie Richard
The melancholy acrylic paintings of Hugo Alonso are so striking. They are so subtly rendered in monochrome, like blurred details from a photo or film. They sometimes border on sentimental, but they are just so lovely I cannot fault them for this. They occupy one side of Galerie Youn‘s booth at Seattle Art Fair. Meanwhile, at center one sees the downright kitschy oil paintings of Mark Liam Smith, which seem to collage stock photo material into sub-par surrealist works of “giants.”
The “Seattle Giant” features a sunken Pike Place Market with a sketchy mermaid rising amid the wreckage, the muscular back of a man towering behind, and—in a complete loss of perspective—the sun glittering through the surface of the water and a school of sharks at an odd angle. It is perhaps the most laughably bad thing I saw this year at the fair, but it all just becomes more baffling in proximity to Alonso’s works.
At Galerie Richard, the mix is also bonkers, but in a good way. On one wall, you have the decomposed/recomposed, ambiguous painterly works of Scott Anderson. At center, you have the very precise pain tings of Alex Brown, that render a human face and a patch of forget-me-nots into pixelated patterns. When you step back, you see how precise Brown is in his use of value and color to achieve this effect…not an easy task. And then, on the righthand wall, there are the surreal, manipulated photos of Li Wei: A stoic Buddha on his flying pink cloud against a blue sky; a young woman cradling the disembodied head of a lover.
How does it all fit together? I can reach and say that all three artists are disturbing perception in one way or another (and this is true), but really it’s a very odd mix, and refreshing for that reason.
Featured image courtesy of Seattle Art Fair.