As a general rule, I tend to be skeptical of most things that get passed off as art these days, and the one recent visit that I made a few months ago to the Bellevue Art Museum didn’t do all that much to change my opinion. As I’ve always understood it, the purpose of art is to make things that look nice, and maybe make you think about something a bit in the process. Based on my experiences with a fair bit of what passes for modern art these days, it seems that a lot of so-called artists don’t care whether or not you think their stuff looks nice; just that you’re aware of how much more worldly and clever they are than cultural Philistines such as yourself. Oh, and the only reason they’ve been working at Starbucks for the past three years is because people somehow refuse to acknowledge this irrefutable fact. At the same time, there are also quite a few artists out there who do actually create interesting pieces that would look right at home in the average American living room (assuming you can handle the inevitably steep price tag attached to them) without trying to bludgeon you over the head with assorted pretentiousness. Thankfully, most of the artists who come to Bellevue for the annual Art Fair weekend fall into the latter category, resulting in a weekend that provides all sorts of nice artwork to see (if not necessarily afford) throughout Downtown Bellevue.
Over the years, the Art Fair weekend has become one of the largest annual events in Downtown Bellevue, attracting hundreds of exhibitors and hundreds of thousands of visitors over the course of the three days. Rather than being one large art fair, there are actually three separate art fairs in Downtown Bellevue that run simultaneously; The oldest and largest of the three is the Bellevue Arts Museum ArtsFair, which has been running since 1947, actually predates the establishment of the Bellevue Art Museum by nearly thirty years. This one takes place at Bellevue Square, occupying most of the first floor of the giant parking garage behind the mall, and spilling out into the street, and also includes entertainment on the stage inside the mall, as well as other events at the museum itself.
Next door to Bellevue Square in the parking lots of several nearby businesses, the Bellevue Festival of the Arts takes place simultaneously with the ArtsFair. This particular fair, put on by the Craft Cooperative of the Northwest, attracts an additional 180 artists, with the requisite food and entertainment offerings. Incidentally, that big cube sculpture you see back there? It had a price tag of well over $80,000 on it. I’m not sure whether or not that includes the semi truck you’d need to haul it around with. To be honest, I didn’t find a whole lot here that I found particularly interesting, but you mileage, of course , may vary on that one. And probably will.
And finally, out on the 6th Street pedestrian corridor that runs through the middle of Downtown from Bellevue Square out to the Transit Center and along 106th Avenue, there’s the 6th Street Fair, put on by the Bellevue Downtown Association. This is the smallest of the three fairs with only about 100 artists in attendance, but I actually found that this one seemed to have some of the most interesting stuff being offered. There’s a bit of a different character to this one than you’ll find at the other two, with less emphasis on fine art type pieces, and more of the types of things you might use as household items rather than sticking them up on a wall and looking at them every so often. It was from one of the vendors at this fair that I purchased a rather nice looking glass seashell to go on the knickknack shelf I have established in my front hallway.
One of the annual traditions at the ArtsFair is the chalk drawing on the sidewalk in front of the Art Museum. As I’ve noted previously on this Blog, last year’s drawing of Botticelli’s Venus lasted a while lot longed than one would ever expect a chalk drawing to last, and in fact even as this year’s drawing (a rendition of Andy Warhol’s iconic portrait of Marilyn Monroe) was actually drawn on top of the remnants of last year’s two chalk drawings.
Walking through the parking garage where most of the ArtsFair takes place, you can find all sorts of different artworks in various mediums ranging from the standard paintings, photos and pottery to more unusual things like kinetic sculpture. Jewelery and clothing in particular seemed to be well represented. Since many artists requested that no photos be taken, I didn’t take pictures of any of the individual booths or artworks, but there were definitely lots of interesting things to see. Virtually everything being displayed here was for sale, although with the price tags on some of these things, one would generally be more likely to walk away with sticker shock than anything. Even so, there are still some reasonably affordable pieces to be found if you know where to look.
Among the various artwork being offered, I also noted that there seemed to be quite a lot of landscape paintings and photos, most of which seemed to be mountain and forest themed. And although many of these were quite nice (if a bit uncheap,) I just didn’t see a whole lot of stuff that really interested me much. In my apartment, I have a bit of a tropical island theme going with the artwork on the walls here, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t think there were more than two or three pieces at any of the art fairs that would match this theme at all. I’m aware that art fairs in the Pacific Northwest are going to attract mostly artists who work in the local area (although you’d be surprised how far some people come for this, I bought some nice wooden kitchen utensils from someone who came all the way from Pennsylvania to attend,) but I get the impression that someone could bring some nice tropical landscape paintings or photos to one of these fairs, and could probably make a killing off people looking for a nice little change of scenery. I might even be convinced to spring for one of those (well, a print anyway, not quite sure I’ve got the budget for an original at this point…)
Even as a longstanding skeptic of much of what passes for art in this day and age, I have actually found that the vast majority of what was being offered at the three Bellevue Art Fairs was actually quite nice, and I particularly enjoyed the fact that I don’t need to bother trying to find a parking spot in the mess that inevitably results from trying to cram an extra 300,000 people into Downtown Bellevue on a sunny Summer weekend. I’ll probably go back to being an art skeptic for the next 11 months or so, but it’s nice to know that at least once a year, there will be something nice to look at around here, right?