Catherine Asquith Art Advisory
Exactly two decades ago I bought my first artwork, from an art fair held in Melbourne: the Australian Contemporary Art Fair or ACAF, (later to become of course, the Melbourne Art Fair). This was its fifth edition, and my visit, a very tentative initiation into the art world. Were it not for the clearly, good cheer of the gallerist at the time – I asked for shock horror, “lay-by” – I may well have never bought the work, and perhaps even, not ventured into the gallery circuit quite as promptly thereafter, until much later, when I had a far healthier bank balance and greater self-assurance. Yet for this novice at the time, it was on reflection, the palpable upbeat and celebratory atmosphere of this environment, which has proven the more seductive memory. I treasured the catalogue from that fair, carefully turning the pages over the coming months, and committing to memory the many artworks I had seen, as I awaited the arrival of my first acquisition.
For the uninitiated, the art fair model or art event, these occasional ‘pop-ups’ scattered throughout the calendar year, may be viewed as a type of user-friendly adjunct to the more formal gallery infrastructure, and perhaps in a way, yield to the public sensibility of ‘looking’ or ‘browsing’, uninhibited or constrained by the possibly, watchful eye of the gallery’s staff, or the sometimes slightly intimidating yet obviously cool, environs of the white cube. Less obvious maybe is the aspect of ‘audience participation’ at these types of events; one’s attendance actually constitutes a conscious decision to engage with the visual arts. It’s certainly a step in the right direction to unraveling the sometimes complex or challenging nuances of the contemporary art scene.
In what can only be described as an extremely positive manifestation of ‘community spirit’, some sprightly individuals and collectives from the Melbourne visual arts sector have initiated and will be hosting a virtual plethora of art and art-related events in the 3rd week of August this year, a scheduled week formerly reserved for The art event in this fair city, the Melbourne Art Fair. Satellite fairs, art events and artist talks, forums and panel discussions, a street party, an “arts-speed-dating” event (brilliant!), curated exhibitions and yes, even an arts-related, ”progressive tasting degustation”, will be happening. What’s not to like?
Without dwelling on the demise of the Melbourne Art Fair, which has already received considerable press coverage earlier this year, what is more interesting for me, a former gallerist, now art advisor, and a born and bred Melburnian, is this type of dedication to the arts: to artists’ practices,’ to the collectors and valued clients of commercial galleries, and fundamentally, to the cultural infrastructure of our society.
Certainly for many, in the wake of the collapse of the Melbourne Art Fair, a “void” has been left, and whilst those in the arts will continue to endeavour to fathom the long term effects of this, it is the resilience of arts professionals that will be truly highlighted during this time.
Still endeavouring to bring something of the experience of an art fair, albeit on a smaller scale, Flinders Lane Gallery will be inaugurating its FUSE exhibition and special program of talks (9 – 27 August). Promptly responding to this ‘void’ in the arts calendar, the exhibition will seek to highlight the need for artists to “constantly respond and adapt in order to remain vital and valid”, and how this challenge, in fact allows for “dynamic shifts in individual practices”. Alongside the carefully curated exhibition, a special program of talks* will encompass a variety of topics, with the intention of providing an educative element to the program.
602 (17 – 21 August) is the culmination of a small group of commercial galleries from both Melbourne and Sydney, opening up a dialogue on “doing something” and “keeping something alive” during this period.
Described as “a spontaneous, creative, joyous coming together for friendly art galleries wanting to share with the public the best of what they do in a new and exciting setting”, 602 will bring together 9 commercial art galleries, both Melbourne and Sydney-based, showcasing the work of approximately 40 contemporary artists.
The usual parameters of for example, a gallery’s participation in an art fair, will be left by the wayside, allowing for a new freedom on what the galleries choose to exhibit, even accommodating a re-hang mid-way through the event. Harnessing a Berliner’s approach to creative collaborations, 602 will house the gallerists’ event in a re-purposed electricity substation located at the western end of the CBD. All very neu or frisch (German for “fresh, new, crisp, cool, green, bright).
With the support of the City of Melbourne, Art Month, Art Money and Work Club, 602 promises an innovative take on collaboration, and an invigorating urban experience for art lovers.
A similar type of collegiality underscores FLAIR Melbourne (18 – 21 August). According to Donald Williams, Director of Global Art Projects (GAP), this new event “all happened very quickly” but nevertheless with a great deal of dexterity; ensuing dialogue amongst the art affiliates at the top end of Flinders Lane on how best to ‘fill the gap’, allowed a revised focus on marketing the arts. As Jane Scott, Director of Craft notes, “it’s nice to collaborate with one’s colleagues” as such opportunities are quite rare. Flair Melbourne is an amalgam of artists, galleries, restauranteurs and musicians, and has been curated by ARC ONE Gallery, Arts Project Australia (supported by NKN Gallery), Craft, fortyfivedownstairs and Sofitel Melbourne on Collins.
A range of talks, forums and panel discussions with ‘creatives’, alongside curated exhibitions and an opportunity for audience participation in an immersive exhibition involving the camera obscura technique, in addition to a progressive tasting degustation at which guests might be dining on artisan ceramics plus jazz musicians responding to an exhibition, forms part of an ambitious and highly inventive program, and indeed, will make for very much the “festival” experience.
This theme of revision of the arts scene, was part of the impetus behind the now established SPRING 1883 (17 – 21 August). A hotel-based art fair that draws on the traditions of the Gramercy Park Fair of New York, SPRING 1883 was first presented at The Hotel Windsor in Melbourne in August 2014, with Sydney following thereafter in September 2015 at The Establishment Hotel.
Now in its 3rd iteration, SPRING 1883 has always sought to provide an alternative to the traditional art fair, utilising a boutique site, and thereby allowing for a more intimate engagement between artist, collector and gallerist. Fundamental to this initiative has been an appreciation by its participants of “shared conceptual engagements”. Exhibitors for this year number 27, and comprise mostly Australian galleries, in addition to several from New Zealand, and 3 international galleries (Grey Noise of Dubai, Southard Reid of London and KANSAS of New York) due to cross the equator.
Less arduous and only crossing the Yarra River will be Andy Dinan’s Windsor-based MARS Gallery to present an installation of several gallery artists at a “favourite, iconic city venue”, The Melbourne Supper Club. Indeed, over the years, many an après art event ‘drink’ has been quaffed at this Melbourne institution. MARS @ The Melbourne Supper Club (17 – 21 August) will literally, illuminate the usually subdued club-like lighting of the space with a projection of video works, light works and stereoscopic photography in addition to some delightfully engaging cardboard sculptures.
In like form, seeking out new opportunities for unrepresented and/or independent artists was at the forefront of 3 ‘disruptors’, artists, Tony Lloyd and Sam Leach, and arts writer, Ashley Crawford back in 2010. NotFair (16 – 21 August) was conceived as an alternative satellite event to what they believed was the “gallery-centric Melbourne Art Fair”. At its heart was a curated exhibition of emerging, unrepresented and independent artists whose work would not normally be entitled to be exhibited within the more traditional fair model: what has brought these unlikely ‘event organisers’ together “is a love of art, and a strong desire to ensure artists are given every opportunity to succeed.”
Now under the careful stewardship of Gina Lee, this ‘outsider’ art fair has matured into an established event, and notwithstanding its initial parameters, has seen its business model adopt a more formal demeanour albeit still retaining its edge. Incorporating a no doubt unruly street party on opening night, NotFair Art Fair will also include 3 different types of art tours to the other fairs and events in its immediate vicinity; a “three-way speed dating” event (sounds a bit risqué) for artists, writers and curators; in addition to an exhibitions program entitled “Sign O’ The Times” and curated by Kirsten Rann.
Speaking with Gina Lee, her position is certainly, ‘of the moment’; as she terms it, “there’s room for collaboration” and a much “greater cohesiveness within the visual arts community”; indeed, I would add, it’s a requisite, in order to create greater awareness amongst the public at large, to truly imbue a sense of enthusiasm and at the same time, extend a very friendly and fun invitation to self-educate.
So…get your walking shoes on, grab an umbrella, dress in layers (this is Melbourne), join the community, and challenge your senses, as a veritable visual feast awaits you.
© Catherine Asquith 2016
*Full disclosure: I am one of the guest speakers.