The 11th biennial Melbourne Art Fair opened on July 30 in the grand Royal Exhibition Building. The five-day-long fair showcased over 3000 contemporary artworks from more than 80 Australian and international galleries from across the Asia-Pacific region. Along with leading Australian galleries, including Melbourne’s Anna Schwartz and Sydney’s Roslyn Oxley9, the fair hosted regional stalwarts Valentine Willie Fine Art of Kuala Lumpur, Nature Morte of New Delhi and Urs Meile of Lucerne/Beijing.
With 80 percent of the artwork on view by living artists, the non-profit fair provided a broad survey of Australian contemporary art to the more than 30,000 visitors. Although it opened amid uncertainty over the strength of the local art market following a decline in the Australian stock market and concerns over global recession, the fair’s sales figures are expected to top AUD 10.5 million (USD 10 million).
This year, the Melbourne Art Fair runs simultaneously with Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s 16th Biennale of Sydney, an ambitious international exhibition which has drawn global attention. The Australian art scene has been in the international spotlight following the censorship of Bill Henson’s photographs of naked teenagers at Sydney gallery Roslyn Oxley9 in late May. In a defiant gesture, Roslyn Oxley9 showcased many of the same photographs in their Melbourne Art Fair booth.
Other highlights were commissions by Australian artists Peter Hennessey and David Griggs. Hennessey fabricated a six-meter-tall, detailed rendition of a Humvee in black-painted plywood, My Humvee (inversion therapy) (2008), which balances precariously in the building’s opulent interior. For his commission, Frog boy’s dissertation into a new karaoke cult (2008), Griggs hired Filipino painters to depicting blood-lettings, crucifixions and other religious scenes on the exterior fabric of a large tent.
This year the fair took advantage of the surrounding lawns and courtyard with a series of pavilions curated by Mark Feary that featured the mixed-media artist Damiano Bertoli and film installations by Jonas Dahlberg. Satellite, a new public art commissioning agency, presented an eight-meter-long robot lying supine in the forecourt by Melbourne-based New Zealand artist Ronnie van Hout. The sleeping, sculpture beckoned visitors into the world of art and commerce.