“The energy from the new team behind Melbourne Art Fair is infectious!” enthuses Lauren Zoric, associate director at Tolarno Galleries. “We wanted to match that energy by showing a vibrant young artist whose work will really pop.”
Strawberry Thief, a solo exhibition from Elizabeth Willing– a young, Brisbane-based artist whose work explores food culture, memory and nostalgia – is set to deliver this promise in spades.
Willing makes elaborate collages via images cribbed from glossy ’70s cookbooks. Her 2017 installation Pink Poles turns the icy pole,
that symbol of Australian summer, into a lesson in pattern and colour.
“The walls of the stand will be covered in a bespoke wallpaper, replacing the English flora and fauna with Australian natives – macadamias, bunya nut, lilly pilly, Moreton Bay bug and finger lime,” says Zoric. “There will be a series of fruitcake collage prints and two hard-carved wooden sculptures, made from Australian hardwood lumber. Hewn into the wood are Willing’s version of shortbread biscuit mould shapes. One of these will host the cocktail performance, Anxiolytic, in collaboration with Melbourne mixologist Cennon Hanson. Willing is such an engaging new artistic voice. Her ideas are joyful and inventive but behind them is an approach that’s rigorous and conceptually tough.”
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery
For Roslyn Oxley, the return of Melbourne Art Fair is also an opportunity to present new work by one of the country’s foremost contemporary artists – Dale Frank. Frank, who’s been making biomorphic abstract paintings, found object sculptures and performance installations (he once turned a gallery into a disco, complete with fog machines) since the late 1970s has forged a practice that’s equal parts experimental and unclassifiable. His Melbourne Art Fair presentation – which includes works such as Pompadour in a big wig (2018), a combination of silver foil vent ducts and Perspex that’s a study in strangeness and comic tension – is a case in point. “Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery is delighted to present a cutting-edge solo installation booth by Dale Frank,” says Oxley, who will also participate in Spring 1883. “The booth will be transformed into a powerful installation of paintings and sculptural works. Dale is the leader in the field of experimental art practices and this never-been-seen-before presentation will feature new works that span different media and art forms.”
Art fairs have come to symbolise the relationship between art and commerce. But Brisbane dealer Andrew Baker thinks that this year’s Melbourne edition will embrace more cerebral aspirations. “I see this year’s fair as a return to more humble beginnings where it’s more important to think about visual art as a forum for ideas,” he says.
Baker, who hopes to reconnect with the gallery’s Melbourne and Sydney-based clients and expose the gallery and its artists to “the
next generation of southern collectors”, is showing Warrior Woman,
a solo exhibition by Karla Dickens. Dickens is a Wiradjuri artist whose work spans photographs, sculptures, multimedia and poetry and mines sexuality and identity. Her intricate, imaginative output reflects Baker’s own humanist philosophy.
“Karla Dickens’ Wiradjuri heritage is a driving force behind her overwhelming need to communicate,” he explains. “Dickens has hit a rare vein of productivity and produced works of abounding beauty and brutal honesty. She’s a highly accomplished artist whose works elegantly communicate her concerns about a wide range of issues. Her art is simultaneously sensitive and disquieting. It embodies the same rawness and daring that [she’s explored] for more than 20 years.”
For Matthew Nache, nothing counters the tyranny of distance quite like the art fair. The co-director of PAULNACHE, a gallery based in the coastal town of Gisborne, on New Zealand’s North Island, believes the “art fair allows a gallery to be judged by the calibre of its artist representation, rather than by location”.
For Nache, who represents the likes of Peter Adsett and Tawhai Rickard, Melbourne Art Fair reflects an ongoing commitment to both the local and the global.
“I showcase artists that work in a language of their own, taking them from the edge and positioning them at the centre,” says Nache, who has exhibited in Australia five times and will participate at Sydney Contemporary and Contour556, a public sculpture biennale in Canberra in October this year. “Fairs like Melbourne Art Fair have allowed PAULNACHE
to develop its reputation far beyond its regional reach.”
In Melbourne, Nache will present a solo installation of large-scale ceramic sculptures by Virginia Leonard, a fast-rising New Zealand artist whose personal, intimate pieces – spun out of clay, lustre and resin – address the aftermath of a motorbike accident.
They also occupy the murky intersection between trauma, embodiment, renewal and pain.
“Our inaugural show with Virginia was at Spring1883 Melbourne in 2015 so we have a great history to respond to by returning,” Nache reflects. “She’s had an amazing international schedule since then. Her practice and processes have developed immensely.”
Nicholas Thompson Gallery
For Nicholas Thompson, Melbourne Art Fair represents a new commitment to a long-held curatorial vision: to give a single artist a platform to explore a distinct body of ideas. Although the group presentation, along with the VIP lounge, has become part of the lingua franca of art fair culture, Thompson believes that a solo exhibition can give viewers an insight into the inner workings of an art gallery.
“Art fairs are so important – they’re how you reach people who may not feel the pressure to go to art galleries,” he says. “At Melbourne Art Fair, I hope to introduce the artists I represent to new audiences.
I prefer to present solo exhibitions at the gallery and
I try to extend this to the art fairs I participate in.”
This year, Thompson will present new work by Amber Wallis. The mid-career artist, who relocated from Melbourne to the Byron Bay hinterlands, makes raw, semi-abstract paintings. Her swirling brushstrokes evoke female sexuality, the sublime blankness of landscape and lately, the pull of domestic intimacy and interior space.
“Forms and figures depicted or suggested are obscured and eventually abstracted, in a complex archive built up within each painting,” explains Thompson, who plans to present Arryn Snowball at Sydney Contemporary later in the year. “Amber’s works will sit together as a suite, creating an atmospheric installation. The works have been painted on raw linen. They have an inherent narrative quality that will allow them to be read as a story.”
Amanda Rowell is optimistic about the latest iteration of the Melbourne Art Fair. The founder and director of Sydney gallery The Commercial says that she’s hoping that the event’s 2018 return gives rise to the “most focused and highest-standard art fair in Australia”. If it does, it will be a fitting platform for her latest curatorial mission.
“There are a lot of changes going on at the gallery,” she says. “Our presentations at Melbourne Art Fair and Sydney Contemporary will see us simplify and focus. We’re going in-depth with each
artist and building conversations as
opposed to showcasing.”
In Melbourne, Rowell will show works by Diena Georgetti and Oscar Perry, abstract painters with deep roots in Melbourne’s art community. Although their styles differ dramatically – Georgetti’s flat, supersaturated surfaces versus Perry’s emphasis on the tactile – they share an interest in architectural and social contexts. The Commercial’s presentation is bound
to bring other synergies to light.
“Georgetti often ‘installs’ her images digitally in utopian architectural spaces to see how they feel before the paintings are realised and Perry constructs stereotypical, often degraded sociocultural spaces for the paintings to inhabit once executed,” Rowell explains. “Both artists conceive of their abstractions within fictions. In their hands, abstract painting is alive, urgent and very necessary. They are the real deal.”
Dominik Mersch Gallery
For Dominik Mersch, this year’s iteration of the Melbourne Art Fair reflects a broader curatorial agenda – one that’s focused on developing artists nationally while elevating their work on an international stage. The Sydney gallerist, who recently participated in Condo Complex, a gallery swap that took him to Mexico City, is excited to “connect with the amazing Melbourne collector and curator scene” and “introduce new writers, critics and people interested in the arts to our gallery”. He’s also looking forward to presenting a visually strong show featuring Newcastle-based Lottie Consalvo and Berlin-based Clemens Krauss, a pair of artists who share an interest in displacement and alienation.
“The amazing thing about Lottie is that all these different media are like creeks merging into a big river, carrying the same ideas and transporting the same questions: to explore psychological shifts and how time, places and imagery alter our consciousness,” says Mersch, who will also present the world premiere of Consalvo’s latest video work. “Krauss brings these very topical events down from general news items to a private and sociological level, leading to a compelling and compassionate practice. Both artists capture the current zeitgeist in different ways.”
Charles Nodrum Gallery
It’s easy to conflate curatorial vision with a focus on novelty. But for Charles Nodrum Gallery, Melbourne Art Fair is less an opportunity to show new work by an up-and-coming artist than it is a chance to recalibrate the narrative around one of the country’s most famous sculptors – in this case, Ron Robertson-Swann.
“It’s really a celebration of the long and varied career of one of our country’s most senior and well-respected living artists,” muses Kate Nodrum. “We’re presenting a survey exhibition of Robertson-Swann’s paintings and sculpture. Everybody knows him as the maker of [Melbourne public sculpture] Vault but we want to showcase the fact that his painting practice has continued uninterrupted since the mid-1960s, alongside his sculpture. The earliest painting included is from 1964.”
This year, Melbourne Art Fair happens to coincide with Vault’s 40-year anniversary. “As a 27-year-old reading the history, I’m appalled by the responses and actions of those opposed to the work,” she says. “I could argue both ways as to whether we’ve improved in our communal appreciation of public art. I think it’s an issue that merits continued discussion.”
Vault’s hard edges aside, Nodrum is excited about Melbourne Art Fair’s move towards tighter curation and solo presentations as well as its new Southbank home.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how people respond to the smaller number of representing galleries and the standard booth size for all,” she says. “This might make for a more comfortable, digestible art fair experience for visitors.”
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