The full-scale Dalek and the woman dressed as My Lady in Red would be more familiar sights at a comic book or sci-fi convention but they were at the Melbourne Art Fair (MAF). Not only was there a small booth from Thrill, the cosplay magazine but also at the MAF Edge there was tattooist Mat Rogers of Dead Cherub, French antiques, car drawings, free-form knitting, other displays that you would not expect at an art fair.
The MAF is still at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton and there are still booths from 70 art galleries from Australia, Asia, Europe and the USA with more than 300 artists filling the building. However, there more than that both at the Exhibition Building and 53 other locations across Melbourne. There are performance artists, project rooms, a video space, a creative space for the younger visitors, a platform for young galleries and art run initiatives at the Exhibition Building. Outside of the Exhibition Building there is a free public performances, pop-up exhibition, art talks and walks. It is more like a visual arts festival than simply another art fair.
There are lot of art fairs around the world now and there has been a lot of criticism of art fairs as the new monster predators in the art world. Lucinda Schmidt reports in The Age about the competition between art fair and commercial galleries. The commercial galleries pay thousands of dollars for a stall at the art fair, just like artists paying to hang in rental space galleries. However, art fairs are not static systems and it is clear that MAF has responded and changed.
Some of the galleries at the MAF have moved away from stock shows at their booths to curated exhibitions. On Wednesday morning Wynne and Archibald Prize winning Melbourne artist, Sam Leach was still installing his exhibition of large scale paintings and geometric sculptures at the Sullivan + Strumpf booth. Leach’s new work connects the past to present, his detailed fine painting of landscapes and animals now combine elements of hard edge abstraction that are reflected in his small sculptures. Along with Ashley Crawford and Tony Lloyd, Leach is also curating the Not Fair in Collingwood.
Mikala Dwyer’s The weight of shape, a large mobile commissioned by the Melbourne Art Foundation, hangs, turning and transforming slowly in the Exhibition Building. The unlikely mix of acrylic, fibreglass, copper, clay, bronze and stainless shapes some how balance each other. After the MAF is over The weight of shape will be given to the National Gallery of Australia.
“Art fairs may not be the best way to see art but they are the best way to see hell of lot of art” Barry Keldoulis told the media preview on Wednesday morning. It is a big change since I was last at a Melbourne Art Fair in 2002, after that I thought that it was better, cheaper and less crowded to visit the galleries individually. I can now report that the Melbourne Art Fair has changed a lot in those twelve years.