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Tag Archives: Melbourne Art Fair

Spring 1883

The Hotel Windsor opened in 1883 on Spring Street; a grand nineteenth century hotel that has survived into the twenty-first century. For four days at the start of August it was used as the venue for an alternative art fair. A hotel as setting for an art fair is not an original idea; it started with the Gramercy International Art Fair at Gramercy Hotel in New York in 1994 and has been replicated in several other cities.

Patricia Piccinini, Bear Couple

Patricia Piccinini, bed installation at Spring 1883

The Melbourne Art Fair has returned after a four year absence but I didn’t have the time or energy to spend a whole day looking at forty galleries stands. Nor did I want to go to The Other Art Fair in Kensington because I had been to it last year. Surveying twenty-four galleries in the attractive and comfortable surrounds of the Windsor suited me better.

There were major commercial galleries from Melbourne, NSW, SA and NZ on all of the Windsor’s four floors displaying their art in most of larger suits of rooms along with some smaller rooms. Sharing rooms with Fort Delta was Dutton from New York.

Video art was on many of the tvs in the rooms. The setting of the hotel was more intimate and you could see what the art looked like in a furnished room rather than an unfurnished gallery. Standing in a bedroom with gallery staff encourages more conversation. Some of the smaller galleries were also using the space for both exhibition and accomodation.

The Project Room: In Bloom was curated by Madé Spencer-Castle and Jeremy Easton was the best smelling art space that I’ve ever been in thanks to the flower arrangement by Cecilia Fox.

flower arrangement by Cecilia Fox at Spring 1883

Flower arrangement by Cecilia Fox

There was an unofficial competition to have the best display on a bed or in a bathroom. My own award for best bathroom goes to Arts Project Australia which was full of ceramic snakes and sharks. My own award for best bed goes to Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery with a couple of Patricia Piccinini creatures in bed and an honourable mention (if those are the right words) to Mars Gallery for an impressive Simon Pericich work with bondage themes. The tower made of bales of hay in Bowerband Ninow, a NZ gallery, was a surprise but unfortunately nothing more.

Simon Pericich installation

Simon Pericich installation in Mars Gallery’s room

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Melbourne Art Fair Cancelled

In 1988 the “First Australian Contemporary Art Fair” was held at the Royal Exhibition Building. It was the year of the bicentennial and the new art fair was presented by the Australian Commercial Galleries Association and the Bicentennial Authority. Since then, every two years, the Melbourne Art Fair (MAF) has been held in the Royal Exhibition Building. Now it is over, not with a bang but a whimper of an announcement.

Melbourne Art Fair 2014

Melbourne Art Fair 2014 at the Exhibition Building

The announcement of the cancellation from Anna Pappas, chair of the not-for-profit  MAF came on Friday 19 2016. Art Guide and The Age scrambled to publish this major story that day. The Guardian waited until it had discovered who the “high-profile galleries” that Pappas referred to in her statement. The Age had made an informed guess that this might include Diane Tanzer Gallery, but this proved not to be the case. Melbourne may not have an art fair any more but it does have more than one major commercial art gallery.

There are still many unanswered questions about the cancelled art fair. Is this the beginning of a trend or just one of the common variety of administrative debacle?

Suggesting that the cancelation of art was due to an administrative debacle is the fact that in August 2015 the MAF had severed its contract to manage the fair with Art Fairs Australia. If that is the case then we can expect that MAF will be re-established in a couple of years.

However, there are reasons to think that it is the start of a trend away from the art fair model. Barry Keldoulis told the media at the opening of the MAF 2014 that “art fairs may not be the best way to see art but they are the best way to see hell of lot of art.” If art fairs are not be the best way to see art why would they be the best way to buy art or sell art. Although art fairs were promoted as the mega-art market there are serious commercial art galleries in Melbourne who have done the math and decided that the MAF is not worth it.

Considering the last MAF two years ago in hindsight I should have been spending more time at the Not Fair rather than the MAF. Not Fair was the alternative satellite to the MAF. It was curated exhibition in Collingwood at 12 Peel Street and The Grace Darling Hotel. Its curators, Sam Leach, Ashley Crawford and Rebecca Richards had put together an exhibition that has been mentioned more times to me in the last two years than the MAF.

The loss of the MAF is not a disaster for Australian art. Australian art has changed so much in the three decades since the art fair started. Looking at the 1988 art fair catalogue Patrick McCaughey’s introductory essay about the Australian art in the eighties was about a contemporary art scene that had just emerged. In the 1988 art fair where there was only 21 galleries involved. Of the Melbourne galleries that were exhibiting in 1988 only Australian, Niagara and Tolarno galleries are still operating. Tolarno Galleries is one of the galleries whose non-participation this year ended the MAF.


Street Art and the Art Fair

A couple of weeks before the Melbourne Art Fair (MAF) I noticed some street artist complaining on Facebook about a lack of inclusion of street art and graffiti in MAF. Bitching about how can the fair represent Melbourne art without street art. Many of street and graffiti artists are ignorant of what is on at an art fair (Peter Drew of Art vs Reality has in reality never been to an art fair). Of course, there are some artists who have work on the street at the MAF; for example, Lucas Grogan represented by Gallery Smith. As well, there was a forum about art in the street at Museum Victoria on Saturday.

Lucas Grogan in Hosier Lane

Lucas Grogan in Hosier Lane

I already knew this when I stood up at the media preview and put the question to the director of art fair, Barry Keldoulis. He had already mentioned ‘break-out event’ and talked about the fair engaging with the rest of Melbourne’s art in his introductory speech.

Keldoulis responded that you can’t avoid street art in Melbourne. Visitors to the MAF were encouraged with talks and events to move beyond the confines of the Exhibition Building and would inevitably encounter street art. He questioned if street art should be brought into gallery space while noting that there were artists transitioning the two venues with prints and murals. He was certainly not excluded street artists and graffiti but that the transition from the street to galleries and the art fair is up to the individual artists.

After Keldoulis had replied Anna Papas, Chair of the Melbourne Art Foundation (the Melbourne Art Fair is presented by the Melbourne Art Foundation) approached me. She was interested in how to include street artists and wanted to know how the MAF could include more of their work in the future.

Chromatavour in Coburg

Chromatavour in Coburg

It is not that art galleries have been rejecting this art or have been anything like the worst enemies of street art and graffiti, but artists working on the street have so many enemies (police, transport officers, buffers) that almost everyone outside of their cohorts are added to the list. What graffiti and street artists really had to fear was not the galleries making them inauthentic but photographers, graphic designers, etc. exploiting their work on the streets.

I’ve been watching the interaction between street art and art galleries since I started this blog in 2008. Of, course this interaction has been going on for decades longer than that. The art world has been searching for outsider artists for well over half a century. The genuine outsider artist is now a rare individual as there are so many people, from social workers to art collectors, waiting to discover them and expose their work to the wider world.

In recent years in Melbourne art spaces have been springing up to cater for street artists, particularly in Collingwood. A kind of parallel gallery system has emerged but these are not the kind of art spaces who will be representing artists at an art fair.

Sunfigo in Melbourne

Sunfigo in Melbourne


Noula Diamantopoulos’s Quest

Noula Diamantopoulos is performing Quest at the Melbourne Art Fair and I had an interview with her on Wednesday morning. Quest consists of Noula sitting on a pile of cushion on a carpet in a quiet space with mirrors. There is a low table with coloured pens and another pile of cushions for the visitor. The visitor writes a question on paper that has already been painted by Noula and the quest begins. In silence the visitor asks five questions and gets five written responses back. “The silence is intimidating” Noula told me, “The writing makes it concrete.”

Noula Diamantopoulos

You would think that a punk philosopher, like myself interviewing what appears to be a new-ager is bad idea but keep in mind that art is not what it appears to be. Often with good art some people forget that it is art. Quest might look like a meeting with a spiritual guru, but it is not. Some people ask Noula questions as if she were a fortune teller: ‘will I fall in love?’

Noula Diamantopoulos is a performance artist and performance art it is closer to sculpture than spirituality. “I sculpt” Noula said, paused and then explained that her work is like moulding clay only it is a collaborative participation on a conceptual work of art, sculpting both the physical and the conceptual.

In preparation for my interview I looked at several of her websites; Noula told me that she doesn’t have a main website but that she finds them a way to organise her ideas. Noula studied at Sydney sculptor Tom Bass’ school in 1998. She remembers Bass dressed immaculately in white (Noula is also dressed all in white except for a pink scarf) and that his studio smelling of mud. He was very strict in teaching sculpture and wrote poetry. People in Melbourne would know Tom Bass’s sculpture from his Genie in Queen Victoria Gardens or the Children’s Tree on Elizabeth Street.

On one of her many websites Noula had written: “Art making is a transformative process.” People expect transformation from the spiritual but art really is a transformation, something changes into art. In making art you have to have the intention to change something and that requires awareness of what you are intending to change and what you changing. Noula told me that generally by the third question that people ask her things have changed. “Questions have the seeds of all answers.”

In the rush of the Melbourne Art Fair performance art involving a quiet space for reflection is a rare opportunity.

Noula and Peter Burke

Noula Diamantopoulos and Peter Burke


Melbourne Art Fair 2014

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.

Thrill magazine's cosplay stall at Melbourne Art Fair

Thrill magazine’s cosplay stall at Melbourne 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.

Melbourne Art Fair 2014 at the Exhibition Building

Melbourne Art Fair 2014 at the Exhibition Building

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.

Anna Schwartz presents Mikala Dwyer, The weight of shape, 2014

Anna Schwartz presents Mikala Dwyer, The weight of shape, 2014

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.


Censorship, Barry Keldoulis and Paul Yore

Prior to the Melbourne Art Fair I asked Barry Keldoulis some questions about the censorship of art by Paul Yore and Tyza Stewart at Sydney Contemporary in 2013 and assured  him that his replies would be printed in full.

Barry Keldoulis: Thank you Mark, and some of my answers are going to be fairly long winded as to answer the question properly will require background information on the circumstances.

Black Mark: What I am concerned about is what happened at the Sydney Contemporary. In your statement about removing the work of artists at Sydney Contemporary you were definitive that the artists were on the wrong side of the law, how were you able to achieve this degree of certainty with a law that has never been tested in court?

Barry Keldoulis: I think it’s worth noting firstly that some of the work of Paul Yore and Tyza Stewart were removed form the fair, and those that were not found to contravene the laws of NSW remained on display. I am not a lawyer or a policeman, so when it became clear that there was some elements of the Yore installation that may contravene the law, legal expects were asked to view the work. Three barristers who specialize in this particular area, typically and often successfully defending the accused, came and spent a couple of hours examining the installation.

It may be worth noting here that I had spoken to Paul on a number of occasions and sought his assurance “that nothing in this work will contravene the Australia Council’s Protocols for Working with Children in Art or relevant existing laws in NSW.”

I had reminded Paul that the laws in NSW were different to the laws in Victoria. Indeed they are considered by many to be the strictest in the land, and do not refer to ‘child pornography’ but the wider term ‘child abuse material’.

His written response to me was : “I understand and obviously accept these conditions for my new work at Sydney Contemporary’s installation section.” And furthermore, “I am acutely aware of the need to respect relevant laws especially in relation to children”.

However, the barristers found that, and I quote, “The Large Installation, I am afraid offends in many varied ways the provisions of the Crimes Act legislation in NSW.  The Large Installation is interesting and intrinsically devoted to the display of boys, probably under 16 years of age in Child Abuse Material under S91FB of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).  The definitions of these Materials are wide and includeS91FB(1) (b) depiction of child (under 16), S91FA, and furthermore in “sexual pose or implied in presence of another in sexual pose or sexual activity, or private parts of person apparently involved in sexual activity.”

They added, “Accordingly, the Installation in spirit and in detail come within the definition of “child abuse material” and is fatally doomed to probable conviction of your client for possession and /or exhibition.”

My understanding is that conviction would mean a jail term. Some seem to think that Paul should go to jail. I acted to protect him from that eventuality.

But it was not as simple as that. The legal experts also informed us that under the laws of NSW that “The mere possession of such material is potentially an offence.”

This meant that my initial idea to bring one of the theatrical curtains in the space forward in front of the work and signpost it to only allow adults in and to warn of possible offence, as is often done in institutions, was not an option. With Child Abuse Material,  the existence of the material is the problem, not its exhibition.

And in these circumstances, the exhibiting institution is considered the ‘publisher’, which meant that the staff of Carriageworks could be looking at conviction for possession and /or exhibition. People who have a long history of being incredibly supportive of artists at the forefront of experimentation and diversity were also in danger.

Black Mark: Why do think that censorship is “in the best interests of all the galleries showing” (from your statement re: Sydney Contemporary)?

Barry Keldoulis: In this discussion and can be easy to forget that the event involved some 80 galleries and the work of hundreds of artists. Had the work been allowed to stay and become the subject of a police enquiry the media tornado would have sucked in all the oxygen and denied any attention to the hundreds of other intriguing and stimulating works on display.

Black Mark: Why do you think that acting as a cop in censoring art works is part of your role as director of an art fair? Why not wait for the real police to follow their normal procedures and wait for a report from the public and investigate?

Barry Keldoulis: I did not act as ‘cop’, but on advice from legal experts, and others.  I took no pleasure in the proceedings, but acted in the best interests of the persons concerned.

An art fair, being open to the public and attended by tens of thousands of people, including children, does not seem the appropriate place to pursue this issue to it’s legal conclusion. However I think your suggestion is interesting. Perhaps the gallerist involved and who surely advises the artist on these matters, and may  disagree with the legal advice we received, should take a space in NSW and re-create the installation in its entirety, and invite the police to have a look, remembering that possession is a crime, not just exhibition.

Black Mark: How does the diversity of income streams (galleries, sponsors etc.) of an art fair influence this position?

Barry Keldoulis: This was a legal issue around the possession and exhibition of Child Abuse Material, and ‘income streams’ had nothing to do with it.

Thanks again Mark for the opportunity to answer your questions with more than a sound bite.

*      *      *

Obscenity laws are prima facie unjust because it is impossible for a reasonable person to know before conviction if something is obscene. No other crime is so open to such subjective interpretation. Although some crimes, manslaughter for example, do not require an intention to commit a crime, no other crime convicts a reasonable person acting in good faith.  The obvious intention of obscenity laws is to force everyone to conform to the thinking of the dominate institutional power in this society.

We live in a society where laws have been made by the state, under the influence of the religious institutions; a society where both the state and religious institutions are currently under investigation for child abuse and the covering up of these crimes (The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse). Why does anyone believe that such institutions have any moral authority or even any morality? Why does anyone tolerate the unjust and amoral dictates made by these institutions – because of the threat of violence?

“The State does not permit me to use my thoughts to their full value and communicate them to other men… unless they are its own… Otherwise it shuts me up.”

– Max Stirner, The Ego and its Own, 1845


The Meta-Cinema of Ian Burns

Are you tired of CGI dominating cinema but you still want to enjoy some illusions? Are you tired of the virtual world where windows of illusion disguise the operating system? Then you need the meta-cinema of Ian Burns.

“Contemporary technology overvalues invisibility in the delivery of the screen-based image. I find this a bit sinister. For me, this cult of the virtual is often the antithesis of the embodied experience that art viewing, when at its richest, is often about. The structure that supports the contemporary screen is not just a technological one, but a social and political one. I try to emphasise technological presence in my work, not just to relish its possibilities but to also expose its limitations and flaws.” – Ian Burns (ACMI blog)

You don’t need to know any art theory to appreciate the art of Ian Burns; the whole thing is exposed. All the wiring is visible, the little video cameras, the materials are all familiar ordinary things that you could buy down at the shops. It is a magic trick so good that the magician can show how the trick is done and you still marvel at it.

There is the appeal of the idea of an artist/inventor playing with artistic experiments like Leonardo da Vinci or Marcel Duchamp. Reminding me that the history of engineering started with Hero of Alexandria (c. 10–70 AD) making toys steam engines and other entertaining mechanisms and that currently computing technology is being driven by the games industry. Not surprisingly Ian Burns trained as an engineer.

There is more to the art of Ian Burns than a few video tricks. Burns describes his work as “meta-cinematic”. He gives the audience both the illusion and the crude reality that created it. It is about the satisfying that basic psychological drive to get to see the back of things, to know what is behind them. This knowledge does not destroy our interest in the illusions anymore than an atheist looses interest in religion (most atheists know more about religion than the religious) or watching a puppeteer pull the strings, instead it adds another level of interest to the work.

In his ACMI exhibition, “In the Telling” Burns sequences his kinetic devices to create separate shots for a simple road movie. We all have these dreams of escape, it is a simple illusion but the art is in the telling.

Ian Burns is the Commission Artist for the 2012 Melbourne Art Fair and is also on exhibition at ACMI. I first encountered Ian Burns art two years ago at Anna Schwartz Gallery and it left me wanting more (see my blog post: Ian Burns “and then…”).

 


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