Already a presence in the business world and well known as a collector of blue-chip art, philanthropist andentrepreneur Paul G Allen further raised his profile last year with the launch of the Seattle Art Fair (SAF). Inspired by the ambitious scope of the multiplatform Venice Biennale, Allen wanted to bring a world-class art event to his home city. Produced by Allen’s Vulcan Inc. and Art Market Productions, SAF returns to the CenturyLink Field Event Center for its second edition, running August, 4–7, and will bring “world-class modern and contemporary art presented by top galleries from around the world in an intimate, beautiful setting in the heart of Seattle,” says fair director Max Fishko. In addition more than 80 participating dealers at the main event, a schedule of ambitious programming will extend SAF’s presence across the city. Artistic director Laura Fried, who joined the team earlier this year, has organized artist talks, projects and more. Ahead of the fair’s opening, we checked in with Fried, Fishko and Mary Ann Prior, director of art collections at Vulcan Inc., to find out more.

What can we expect this year at SAF? Can you share any highlights?

Max Fishko: The second edition fair will be a chance for collectors to interact directly with the gallerists who are currently shaping the global art scene. We will also a have an exciting Projects and Talks lineup. I can’t wait to check out Pace Gallery’s teamLab installation, an interactive space for kids.

From Vulcan’s point of view, what is the primary goal of the fair?

Mary Ann Prior: Our goal is to create an unique and innovative art experience showcasing the vibrant culture and diversity of the Pacific Northwest. In addition to being a destination for new and established collectors and international art patrons, we hope to shine a light on Seattle’s thriving art scene.


Laura, what does your role as artistic director entail?

Laura Fried: The fair has a dual mission: to be a leading art fair on the West Coast, and to build a truly public-facing program of artist projects, exhibitions and talks. The creation of my role was one part of fostering that vision. Now formalized in name, the Projects and Talks program we’ve developed this year will foreground the idea of integrating different kinds of experiences throughout the weekend.

How does the job differ (or not) from your previous curatorial work?

LF: I don’t see this project as a great stretch from the work I’ve done, particularly in the way I work with artists. Actually, the palpable difference for me has been my relationship to time and my own (anticipated) experience of the work itself. By its very nature, the program really functions as a festival rather than an exhibition. It will be an entirely new way of seeing a program I’ve organized – and seeing how the audience experiences it as well – in such a condensed and intense period.

What do off-site projects and other programming add to the fair experience?

LF: From the start, I have been interested in the idea of abbreviating the fundamental rhythm and pace of the fair with strong and singular artist projects. When you can create moments of true immersion or a commanding encounter with a large-scale work or a solo presentation, that kind of punctuation can amplify and also enhance your approach to the experience overall.


Mary Ann, as someone involved in one of the city’s cultural institutions, how would you characterize the Seattle art scene?

Mary Ann Prior: The art scene in Seattle is fascinating: there are some seriously impressive collections in the city, as well as excellent galleries, a strong heritage of creativity and innovation and very strong support for cultural organizations.

Laura, how has the city influenced your curatorial approach?

LF: Seattle is such a hub for so many facets of extraordinary creative output: from music, to technology, dance, architecture, the visual arts. This was fundamental to our thinking about the interdisciplinary programming, which will draw on those amazing regional strengths. It has been important to build projects and conversations that felt both internationally important and rooted to the local, the regional, and the West at the same time.

Max, you have produced numerous fairs and have attended many. What makes SAF unique among the large constellation of such events on the global art calendar?

Max Fishko: The fair's positioning within Seattle definitely sets it apart. The city is ready for a world-class art event, and this show certainly highlights the creativity and passion for the arts that's such a big part of Seattle. The fair presents a unique opportunity to take in exhibitions by local and regional galleries alongside presentations of major global influencers, and the pride the city feels in playing host to such excellence is evident.

Do you have any advice on how to navigate an art fair and get the most from the experience, both for newbies and seasoned pros?

MF: Don't be afraid to ask questions. These gallerists are here to interact and teach, and they know more about the artwork than just about anyone. Spend time with the public installations and take advantage of private collection tours and talks. Sign up for everything.