A nerd’s tour of the Seattle Art Fair: Fighting robots, animated neurons, and flying art debris

Artist Heather Dewey Hagborg’s Probably Chelsea. (GeekWire Photos / Frank Catalano)

You might be forgiven if you thought the fourth annual Seattle Art Fair would have a lot of expensive, big-name art. Yes, there is sculpture by Pablo Picasso, lithographs by Joan Miró, silkscreens by Jacob Lawrence and even an original Norman Rockwell.

But you’d be mistaken to assume that any event founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen would not have glimpses of geeky goodness throughout.

The 2018 Seattle Art Fair, which opened Thursday and runs through Sunday at CenturyLink Field Event Center, tucks all kinds of technological and science-fictional nods into the artworks from more than 100 galleries in ten countries. And you don’t have to be a collector of contemporary or modern art to appreciate them, either.

Consider this your quick visual tour of Seattle Art Fair, from a nerd’s perspective.

The largest artwork is, without a doubt, Chris Burden’s Scale Model of the Solar System. The 13-inch sun, along with innermost planet Mercury, sit in the Gagosian gallery booth inside the Art Fair. Venus, Earth, and Mars are nearby.

But you need to venture outside to spot the other five: Jupiter is at the CenturyLink Field Pro Shop, Saturn at the Provident Building, and Uranus at The London Plane, all on Occidental Avenue South. The rest are on First Avenue: Neptune at Diva Dollz, and Pluto, nearly a mile away, at the Seattle Art Museum.

Just don’t tell Pluto it’s not a planet. Burden created the work in 1983, and Pluto didn’t know yet.

In keeping with the space theme in its gallery booth, Gagosian hung science-fiction art from private collections, everything from classic sci-fi illustrations to an original poster from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

But only admire, don’t try to buy — they’re not for sale.

Yes, that’s a neuron on the wall. Swiss artist Katja Loher, who lives in Brooklyn, represented a blue neuron in white acrylic with an embedded video screen and hand-blown glass sculpture for How does the rumor of the sky smell when the blue of water sings?.

The more than seven minutes of multi-channel looping video that runs inside the art is even more colorful in a companion work, Who will paint the white canvas of the bleached corals?.

At first, you wonder why both Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Chelsea E. Manning are credited for Probably Chelsea.

Until, that is, you realize the 30 different 3D-printed portraits hanging from above also are said to to be based on an algorithmically generated analysis of Manning’s DNA, using custom software.

A different kind of self-reflection is evident in Selfie, a life-sized bronze by artist Andy Denzler. A representative of New York’s Opera Gallery said it’s the last of three versions of this very contemporary tech-aware work of art.

And at $100,000 for the piece, its smartphone is even more expensive than Apple’s latest model. But probably a lot more weather resistant.

Artist Phil Shaw’s Science Fiction is one of his several works that just look like shelves and shelves of books (in the case of Science Fiction, ten shelves in one artwork).  But don’t get distracted by the classic, golden-age spine art.

It’s the arrangement of the books that matter, when you discover that reading the titles left-to-right tells its own story. Clever.

Science fiction more superhero oriented is on display courtesy of Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture. MoPOP’s small booth primarily promotes the museum, but also has an Alex Ross limited edition called Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

It’s an illustration pulling together Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Wasp, Black Panther, Captain America and more for a book that features a compilation of Ross’ Marvel art.

Right in the center of the cavernous Seattle Art Fair hall reaching from floor to ceiling, where aisles intersect, is a silvery satellite. Or, put more accurately, a preview of Trevor Paglen’s Orbital Reflector, which the MacArthur Fellow plans to be the first satellite launched into Earth orbit “purely as an artistic gesture,” according to Seattle Art Fair.

Think sculpture in space, and you get the gist of it. It’s expected to launch later this month.

More down to earth is what may also be the Seattle Art Fair’s liveliest exhibit, from Mark Pauline’s Survival Research Laboratories. In once-per-day performances outdoors, at the north end of CenturyLink Field, Pauline’s art-clad robots clank, walk, and battle.

It’s likely the only art exhibit for which you’ll hear the bullhorn-propelled warning, “Ladies and gentlemen, there will be flying art debris … We are not liable for any bad art decisions you make.”

This Seattle Art Fair, however? Turns out for more than a few art-loving nerds, it’s a good decision.