Noah Becker's whitehot magazine of contemporary art

August 2008, Melbourne Art Fair

View of David Griggs’ Frog Boy’s Dissertation into a New Karaoke Cult
Commissioned by Melbourne Art Fair
Image taken by Jeremy Drape

Melbourne Art Fair
Royal Exhibition Building
July 30 Through AUGUST 3, 2008




Free-flowing bottles of Chandon (but not Moet and Chandon), Peking duck, sushi, veal sausages, quiche and some delicious mushroom treats: These were some of the presents for the lucky 3000 people with a ticket to the 11th Biennial Melbourne Art Fair’s vernissage. Held in the world heritage listed Royal Exhibition Building, the art fair attracted artists such as Bill Henson, Patricia Piccinini, Tracey Moffatt and Richard Bell who shared the limelight with emerging stars, Christian Thompson, Lane Cormick, Selina Ou and Ben Quilty. Meanwhile, maverick performance artist Stelarc who has recently become part of the Scott Livesey Galleries stable was reportedly showing off his extra ear, which is permanently positioned on his forearm (post incredibly complex surgery). In their stalls, gallery directors and their assistants liased and pushed the buttons on the Eftpos machines to complete their sales transactions. David Griggs’ large-scale circus tent Frog Boy’s Dissertation into a New Karaoke Cult (2008) stood in the centre of the art fair. The work was not a subtle reference to the carnivalesque nature of art fairs.

South Project
Melbourne Art Fair Project Rooms
reading south
Image taken by Jeremy Drape

Peter Hennessey,My Humvee
Melbourne Art Fair Commission
Image taken by Jeremy Drape

MAF is not a timid event. From the 30th of July to the 3rd of August, 3000 works, 900 artists and 80 galleries are put on show. This year 30,000 people visited the fair, indicating a 16% increase in visitor numbers since the 2006 MAF, which attracted 26,000 people. Perhaps most importantly however is the number of art sales. In 2008, MAF generated AUD$12.1 million in art sales, a substantial increase from its 2006 figure, AUD$10.5 million. Art fairs, like commercial galleries, are part of a capitalist art community. The motivation for the art market and art fair boom is clear. We are currently experiencing record prices for works by living artists. Lucian Freud’s Benefits Supervisor Sleeping recently sold for US$33.6 million dollars, beating the previous record, held by Jeff Koons. His work Hanging Heart (1996-2004) had sold for US$23.5 million at Sotheby’s in New York in November 2007. While the 1980s was certainly an introduction to the love making between art and money, the recent boom in art fairs and art work sales are testaments to the commodification of art and its current and increasing cultural significance and worth.

At this years MAF, Callum Morton’s Threw at This and That (2008) sold to an Australian private collector for AUD$200,000. Louise Weavers, Last Full Measure of Devotion (Emerald Bear) (2008) sold for $77, 000. Kathryn Del Barton, the unofficial Australian art star, sold a sculpture for over $200,000 to a public institution. While these prices may not be impressive compared to what various UK and Chinese artists fetch for their works, they are nonetheless high prices for living Australian contemporary artists.

 Right: Callum Morton
 Anna Schwartz Gallery
 Image taken by Jeremy Drape

Tolarno Galleries
Patricia Piccinini, Not Quite Animal (Transgenic skull for the Young Family)
Image taken by Jeremy Drape

Talking about money and art makes some people angry, others feel compromised, however most people at the art fair seemed to feel at ease. Perhaps the Chandon acted as lubrication. People were certainly having fun and consuming. With talk in the wider public sphere of restrained consumer confidence, a damaging 7-year high Australian Reserve Bank interest rate, and the ridiculous price for the price of petrol, it is clear that MAF juxtaposes itself with the wider community’s spending habits.

Certainly, Australian commercial galleries and buyers are catching on to the potentiality of art as commodity. There is both talk and demand for MAF to become an annual event. However, while the potentiality of art as money is being realised, a recent panel discussion facilitated by the Art Market Report noted that Australian commercial galleries and artists have not yet fully grasped the necessity and promise to exhibit Australian artists outside Australia. Perhaps Australia’s provincialism/parochialism problem is still present. Perhaps it is about to change.

Veronica Tello

Veronica Tello is currently completing her MA at the University of Melbourne. Her thesis examines the intersections of art and politics.

view all articles from this author

Reader Comments (0)

Your comments. . .

Your First Name (not shown):
Your Last Name (not shown):
Your Email Address (not shown):
Your Username: