Monday, February 22, 2016

After the fall

Art Fairs can be pretty tough on dealer galleries. The galleries have to apply to be included and at many fairs there are more dealers than slots. Primo Australian Gallery Rosylyn Oxley9 had the ignominy a few years back of being dropped by Art Basel after more than a decade of regular attendance. They're back in Art Basel Hong Kong but still it stings. The Art Fairs of course say the culling is in the interests of standards. We only have the best of the best is the usual claim, but what if the Best of the Best don’t want to play?

Ask the Melbourne Art Fair. Once an unstoppable force on the Australian art scene, it has just been announced that the 2016 Fair is a no go. Why? Turns out three of the big names in Australian art dealing - Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Tolarno Galleries, and Anna Schwartz Gallery - have all said thanks but no thanks. The idea that three galleries could bring down a well-established art fair (there were 90 other applicants for slots) is astonishing. Of course the Melbourne Art Fair has taken some hits. They’ve struggled to attract top end international galleries, there’s been criticism of standards and the launch of the Sydney Art Fair a couple of years back didn’t help. The alternate art fair Spring 1883 which might have been seen as a sign of symbiotic energy instead felt like a flesh wound to an impala already showing a pronounced limp. With that sort of pressure together with an increasingly crowded art fair calendar it’s either going to make you strong or bring you to your knees. The question now is whether Spring 1883 will go it alone. So far there is nothing on their web site to suggest otherwise.

None of this will be going unnoticed in the Auckland art world with an art fair slated for late May. Galleries are currently being selected with the Auckland Art Fair looking for dealers who, ‘show great art that actively contributes in some way to the current art conversation of the wider Pacific’. The selectors haven’t exactly got their hands tied. The number of galleries is, as usual, restricted to around 40 and it sounds as though about 25 of them will be NZ-based. In a recent interview in the Australian Art Collector mag, Hayley White and Stephanie Post (who run the rejigged AAF) were careful to mention the main NZ dealers and their artists: Gow Langsford (3 times), Hopkinson Mossman (4), Michael Lett (5), Starkwhite (3) and Jonathan Smart (1). A be-nice policy is probably being implemented at this very moment. Hey, maybe the dealers should have their own VIP lounge like the collectors do? Ok ... on reflection ... maybe not.

Image: the Melbourne Art Fair, not looking on top form for a quite a while (Thanks for the head’s up T)