In a move of venue from the Westin Hotel to the Washington State Convention Center, the sixth Artfair/Seattle was the largest ever with 9,000 people attending over the February 21-23, 1997, weekend and $1.5 million in sales. Fifty-eight dealers displayed everything from photography and prints to Old Master paintings and sculptures, and 20th-century art. Young contemporaries came from California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington states, as well as from Canada and the Netherlands. In the 40,000-square-foot space, there was ample room to display and inspect the art.
Artfair/Seattle is one of the few large-scale trade fairs in the United States to show all kinds of art from all over the country side by side rather than segregating or excluding photography, for example, or art made of craft materials like clay, glass, cloth, wood, and metals. This could lead to a confusing, uneven jumble but, thanks to an appointed expert panel, the quality was surprisingly high. The sculpture on view was strong and often innovative and adventurous.
Although it was not reflected in the sculpture, realism dominated the paintings on view. Without going into detail about them, there seemed to be a conservative element of traditional subject matter (landscape, still life) coupled with academic realist execution. This may have been due to the broad geographical representation at the fair but it ratcheted down the contemporary feeling that had invigorated the five prior annual events.
Traditional, yet not necessarily conservative, figurative work among the sculptures was well represented. Venus à la pomme (1913), a bronze by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, set the historical tone at American Collectors of Fine Art, a New York dealer's booth. Nicolas Africano's White Skirt (1996), although much larger than the 24-inch-high Renoir, echoed the graceful French nude and interpolated a real skirt (à la Degas) over the five-foot-high marble female figure.
Emerging New Man: Fragment II (1994) is a startlingly energetic bronze torso of an African-American male nude by Chicago artist Artis Lane (Satori Fine Art). Her works are collected by celebrities ranging from George Bush to Nelson Mandela, Bill Cosby to Natalie Cole. The figure, with elevated arms and bent elbows, is powerful and lifelike yet steers clear of acute realism. Also dealing with an African figure, Ronna Neuenschwander's Have/Not (1996) places a bowing, supplicating figure on a tall highchair covered in recycled metal cans (at Margo Jacobsen Gallery of Portland, Oregon).
Minority likenesses were elsewhere strongly represented by John Hoover's cedar-relief Indian carvings at Stonington Gallery, Seattle's premier contemporary native art gallery. Soapstone carvings of Eskimo figures were joined by cedar masks and other traditional native carvings from Inuit Gallery of Vancouver, British Columbia. It was refreshing to see such diversity of treatments for the human figure throughout Artfair.
On a more contemporary note, several artists abstracted the figure into dense and complex constructions. A small 1989 unique bronze head by Magdalena Abakanowicz dominated the Marlborough Gallery booth and Higher Alertness (1993) by David Anderson at Linda Durham Contemporary Art of Santa Fe lent an ominous, featureless dimension with its curved seated figure of cast iron.
Terry Hoff, "Corner Piece No. 3", 1997. Found materials, 84" x 45"
Konst Galleri, Berkeley, California.
Farmer's Son ("Reclamation Series," 1995) by Michael Lucero at Meyerson & Nowinski Art Associates kicked off a widespread group of sculptures using found, readymade, and recycled materials. It joined a hilarious Terry Hoff multi-part Corner Piece 3 (1997) that appropriated commercial illustration images of children onto oval wall-mounted, cameo-like discs. Crowded and crammed like a kid's toybox, Corner Piece 3 at Konst Galleri stretched the limits of how we normally define sculpture: it was all over the place without really being an installation. Greely Myatt's Rug (1997), shown at Ledbetter Lusk of Memphis, did this too. Like a mock-braided rug, this work taunted our expectations of volume and mass, first with its flat on-the-floor positioning (like Carl Andre doing Grandma's rag rug) and next with its low mirror wall that "completes" the piece, actually half a rug made of colored broom handles.
Organic abstraction still seems a viable style for many sculptors today, from Lynda Benglis's wrinkled copper Santa Rosa (1996) at the Cumberland Gallery, to Philippine glass artist Ramon Orlina's Syncopation (1996) at the new Bryan Ohno Gallery in downtown Seattle where Orlina was being given his first U.S. show. Works by two Northwest artists, Christine Bourdette and Charles Nathan, extended the organic abstraction idea into more linear structures. Bourdette's Reliance (1996) made simple muslin cloth and wire imply volumes as it slithered off the wall in Elizabeth Leach's area. Joachim's Dream (1994) by Nathan was the largest sculpture at Artfair/Seattle. It also "began" on the wall and ended on the floor of Francine Seders's handsome alcove. A five-foot-wide welded-steel wheel with five spokes, this work expressed motion, growth, and primitive machinery all at once.
For once, glass art did not dominate as it usually does in Seattle and it was very beneficial for local glass artists to see their work in context with more materially substantial and intellectually challenging art. More glass ornament than sculpture, Axis (1996) by Ann Gardner (at Butters Gallery) was not really that much more blatantly decorative than Benglis's Santa Rosa. More problematic were the glass-flower bouquets by Flo Perkins at Elliott Brown Gallery. Painted glass assemblages by Therman Statom at Gail Severn Gallery seemed mass-produced despite their affected messiness and serious images-in contrast to the openly decorative vases and vessels by American and Italian artists at the region's top glass-art forum, William Traver Gallery of Seattle.