Interview, News

Every two years, since 1988, the Melbourne Art Fair has been a major event on the Australian arts calendar. But in 2016 the Fair was unceremoniously cancelled just six months before it was due to open. Now the Melbourne Art Fair is back with a new venue, new director and new vision for the future.

New Melbourne Art Foundation director and CEO Maree Di Pasquale joined the Fair after stints as assistant director of Sydney Contemporary and founding director of Art Central in Hong Kong. Tracey Clement spoke to her about the return of the Melbourne Art Fair.

Tracey Clement: What’s new in this new iteration of the Melbourne Art Fair?

Maree Di Pasqual: Lots actually. I think probably the best or the newest, most unique thing about the fair is the new location. We are going to be in the Southbank arts precinct alongside ACCA in the northern forecourt. It’s a really exciting part of Melbourne to be a part of.

In terms of content, the Fair itself has evolved quite a bit. Our new footprint allows us to have a much more concentrated Fair which really focuses on quality gallery content and programming.

So we are looking at probably around 40 galleries depending on the sizes of the stands the galleries take. And that in itself definitely changes the Fair to a much more intimate experience.

TC: So would you say that it’s going to be tighter and more exclusive?

MDP: I would say definitely tighter. We are encouraging galleries to bring in solo shows or group shows of very close-knit, related works. So there will be a much more critical focus.

Of course the endgame is to introduce new audiences to contemporary art, but also to give our more established collectors a reason to come.

TC: When the Fair was cancelled in 2016 one of the reasons cited was lack of interest from major galleries. So how have you turned that around?

MDP: We’ve been thrilled with the response from the industry to date. In particular the galleries, who are of course our major stakeholders. We have had verbal support and commitment from some of the leading galleries in Australia which has made us very confident in terms of securing that interest.

TC: Do you think that they have realised that it is important to show in Melbourne, specifically. Instead of overseas or in Sydney?

MDP: Absolutely. I think everyone has realised that there is a market for a biennial art fair in Melbourne. Irrespective of what happens internationally or interstate, there is a market here that galleries want to access and collectors want to be part of.

TC: In 2016 a gallery director went on record saying that it cost just as much to show in Melbourne Art Fair as to show in an art fair internationally. Have you been able to address that challenge?

MDP: I think art fairs are an expense for a gallery. And it depends on which show you are showing in internationally! A fair allows a gallery to have access to an extended program, a much larger marketing reach. The benefits of an art fair are enormous, you are able to get access to over 20,000 people who walk through Melbourne Art Fair in a week. That is very hard to achieve as a destination gallery in Melbourne.

TC: Tell me a bit more about the temporary structure that will house the Melbourne Art Fair in 2018 outside ACCA. Have you appointed a particular architect?

MDP: It’s a marquee in a sense. And we are appointing a Fair architect which we will announce in the next two months. There are art fairs all over the world that take place in temporary structures, be that in Hong Kong, Miami, New York or London. So it is certainly not new for the international world, but it is new for the domestic art scene and we are very excited. It is another point of difference.

TC: So how would you sum up your vision for the future of the Melbourne Art Fair now that you are on board?

MDP: I think it’s a long one. The postponement allowed the foundation to really stop and reassess the strategy, for, not just the Fair, but all of our commercial initiatives. And we see the Melbourne Art Fair in particular as playing a really vital role in establishing audiences for Australian and New Zealand art, in particular, not just at home but also overseas. And that is going to extend far beyond 2018.

Melbourne Art Fair
Southbank Arts Precinct alongside ACCA
2 August – 5 August 2018

Tracey Clement