The Other Art Fair: A Review

In its sixth year, The Other Art Fair held its Melbourne edition at The Facility in Kensington (5 May – 7 May). This event seemed thoroughly planned and the set-up was how you might expect a fair to be arranged — namely aisle upon aisle with artists ‘manning’ their stalls plus seated areas and a bar.

Featuring almost 100 artists, the amount and range of work was monumental, with much original work and many prints available. You might have visited several times if you wanted to explore everything carefully.

One highlight of the fair was the work of Cristina Popovici. The chemistry, energy and music in this work immediately demand your attention and you can almost feel the process behind each painting. Mood and emotion tend to permeate the work and move throughout. I enjoyed the textural element as tactile and was invited to touch the work: smooth swirls and bumpy, sharp waves though nothing coarse. The vivid colours and style of Popovici’s work blur between abstract expressionism and modernism.

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Christina Popovici: Photo: Columbia Winterton

 

The work of Tim Jones was another standout. Through a disciplined yet organic process, his evident mastery strikes you in the feathering and manipulation of enigmatic gestures in the work. These artworks presented molecular metaphors and intuitive collisions, allowing the rise and fall of the elements to wash over you.

With discerning neutral shades and gradients, the fluidity in Jones’s work connotes a certain strength and elegance and invites you to unmoor your own metaphoric and philosophical narratives.

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Tim Jones – Photo: Columbia Winterton

 

Other highlights included Sylvia McEwan, whose abstract and figurative works evoked a space and balance you could somehow get lost in; Rubi Cassidy, whose verdant, idiosyncratic landscapes and suburban scenes (often oil on board) made you want to hop into the car and head out for a long drive and stop for roadside honey; and artists Jaimee Paul and Janice Gobey, whose distinctive works wrapped you in delight.

The founder and general manager of The Other Art Fair, Ryan Stanier, states on the fair’s blog that it tends to attract artists “with an entrepreneurial flair”. I’m not sure every artist has an entrepreneurial flair — or a visual merchandising flair for that matter.

Given that one key purpose of the fair is to provide exposure for “talented artists struggling to gain recognition”, a curatorial touch might have addressed the somewhat tacky presentation of some displays which detracted from otherwise beautiful work.

This raises the question of who should ‘sell’ art in the first place. When art is viewed as a consumer-good, you might argue it’s logical for craftspeople to sell their own work, as the baker sells his bread, for example. While art may be accepted as a product — though this is a topic debated by artists and philosophers alike — the spell of commercialism that draped its magic over The Other Art Fair almost mocked the talent, discipline, expertise and passion of the artists.

And considering that the artists forked out over $2000 for their stalls alone, as well as optional costs for framing and business-card printing, it does make you wonder, or quaver.

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The maze of stalls at the Other Art Fair Melbourne – Photo: Columbia Winterton

 

At face value, The Other Art Fair might appear a noble concept — but let’s be real. It’s not primarily a charitable one; it’s a lucrative business difficult to ignore. Of further and perhaps ironic interest, The School of Life, known for its apt philosophical appraisals and perspectives on a range of topics, presented a guided tour titled ‘The Point of Art’, no doubt ensuring its entrepreneurial slice of the art pie.

Enraptured by the music, lighting and general ambience of the fair, one could easily be seduced into thinking this was a cool event. While the concept might sound great, I felt for some artists who watched patrons glance at their work, briefly, blankly, champagne in hand, and move on to the next stall.

At a farmers’ market you might not think twice when you pass over one stall to buy from another — it’s fruit and veg, it’s not personal (hopefully) — but to pass over someone’s art felt like the equivalent of passing over someone’s heart; it didn’t feel great.

Yes, there would be some benefit for the artists. Certainly it was an opportunity for networking, exposure, to make a sale. I’m curious to read the stats on those sales, though, and to learn how many and which artists do go on to find representation and at which galleries. A section titled Facts and Figures on The Other Art Fair website proposed enlightenment in this regard, but neither facts nor figures of interest were forthcoming.

On a positive note, the staff were indeed warm and there was a sense of excitement and buzz in areas. Another member of the News team who visited the fair commented that it “dressed and partitioned the historic building very well” and that it was a “professional production”.

The fair was well worth a visit to experience new art and emerging artists’ work. Meeting artists you click with is invaluable. If you managed to block out the noise and chatter that engulfed the space and fuse a concentrated sanctity with a few pieces that ‘spoke’ to you, then, again, it was worth the visit.

I’m not convinced that art should ever be sold in a market of any kind, but perhaps I’m sentimental, or not up with the times. As The Other Art Fair alludes to by its very name, there are, in fact, other art fairs.

 

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