Melbourne Art Fair has re-emerged in a new location after an eight-year break. The Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Garden, the previous art fairs venue, is currently used as a vaccination centre. Now it is in Jeff’s Shed (aka Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre) on the banks of the Yarra. A space paradoxically less cramped than the old location but also somehow smaller. Perhaps because the spaces for the individual galleries was not in long rows.
I was invited to the press preview on Thursday afternoon just before the fair opened to the paying public. The highlight was artist Sally Smart doing a remarkably concise and coherent explanation of her collage technique and its relationship to the women artists, puppets and dance in Constructivism and Dada.
The press preview did answer my question about what the Art Fair is doing to decolonise this place. From physical: five Indigenous community arts centres were included in the galleries, a prize-winning work donated to Shepparton Art Museum and three giant necklaces by Maree Clarke. To the symbolic: the location of the galleries is listed with their Indigenous name first and the colonial name second, e.g. Naarm/Melbourne. (But not as far as being the “Naarm/Melbourne Art Fair”?)
The not-for-profit organisation that runs the Melbourne Art Fair demonstrates that an art fair can be more than just promoting the neo-liberal idea that private ownership of art is the cornerstone of the art world.To disrupt this perception of a trade fair for galleries, the art fair has solo shows and other “works of scale and significance”, where Maree Clarke, Sally Smart and four other artists are involved. Along with a program are events, including the Nicholas Building “Up Late”, an open studio event on Wednesday night, the international video section of the fair, and a book launch for Let’s Go Outside: Art in Public.
On the other hand, the art fair has to be financially successful for the sixty-three participating commercial galleries. The proposed art fair of 2016 never happened because of the withdrawal of several Melbourne galleries as it was not economically viable for them. I didn’t notice or hear about any damage to Melbourne’s visual arts in the years without the art fair, but I’m not looking at art galleries’ books.
Back to the business of the art fair, bottles of Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte, the Fair’s official “champagne partner”, are on the desk of every gallery. And at the Glenfiddich Bar, the fashionable designer Jordan Gogos and Ross Blainey, Glenfiddich Brand Ambassador, discuss “the collaboration and the power of artistic experimentation while enjoying bespoke cocktails.”
Gertrude Contemporary had art for sale that parodied the relationship between art and money including the blocks of melted dollar coins by Andrew Liversidge. Ironic take or just another exclusive commodity? Take your pick, but I just walk away when someone mentions NFTs. (I should have asked about the fair’s carbon footprint.)