Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Fair game

The American artist Chuck Close once famously observed that artists attending art fairs was “like giving a cow a guided tour of an abattoir.” That might be so but art fairs are really for collectors and they have become the go-to entertainment of the art world. It’s estimated that there are over 400 of them worldwide. Close to home the Melbourne Art Fair is about to launch itself for the sixth time tomorrow.

Not surprisingly 86 percent of the 70 galleries included are from Australia and of the 10 visitors just four (Paulnache, Sanderson Contemporary Art, Starkwhite and Suite) are from New Zealand. This low turnout can be put down to the launch of Spring 1883. This rival art fair can claim 65 percent of its 20 exhibitors from Australia and five galleries from NZ (Gloria Knight, Hamish McKay, Hopkinson Mossman, Michael Lett and Robert Heald). It has also snagged big name Australian dealers Rosylyn Oxley9 Gallery (in fact Oxley appears to be showing at both fairs), Darren Knight, Sarah Cottier and Utopian Slumps and from the US, Foxy Productions. When galleries of this caliber all have the confidence to choose the upstart alternative, the Melbourne Art Fair probably should be doing some soul searching.

It could start with its attitude to collectors. For the first Melbourne Art Fair in 2004 a number of collectors were flown in (including Don and Mira Rubell from Miami), accommodated and generally fussed over. This is common practice for most of the big art fairs. At the very least they have long VIP lists that get serious collectors into the fair free and see them plied with enough gifts and drinks to loosen them up for some serious purchasing. But collectors who received the Melbourne Art Fair pack know it’s pay-as-you-go. Front up with $275 for a Collector Pass to let you in to buy art from the galleries you buy art from all the time. Still it also includes tickets for the opening night so at least you can get first dibs on the art from the galleries you buy art from all the time. That’s if you haven’t organized that already before the fair starts.