Melbourne Design Fair centres diverse designs and artists


Melbourne Design Fair made its debut in 2022 and immediately changed the landscape of Australian design—or at least that’s how the story goes. Now, the 2023 edition of the four-day event is a step up in both diversity of works, many taking design to compelling extremes, and sheer size: its home this year is the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

As part of Melbourne Design Week, the fair was conceived during the early months of the pandemic to support Australian designers and makers. It’s now become a staple event, and “a unique cultural experience and commercial offering for art and design collectors, enthusiasts, consultants, interior designers and specialists,” says Simone LeAmon, a curator at the National Gallery of Victoria, which delivers the fair with Melbourne Art Foundation.

The fair will feature 150 designers and over 60 presentations, displaying furniture, lighting and, for the first time, contemporary jewellery. In citing some of the most compelling designers on show, LeAmon emphasises the importance of function as it complements and informs form.

“Through function, these creatives engage with the physical, emotional and theoretical relationships between people and things,” says LeAmon. “The design and making of the things we use in our everyday lives influences the way we think, feel and behave.”

Among LeAmon’s highlights from a visual arts perspective are Kurunpa Kunpu/Strong Spirit (a collaboration between Tanya Singer, Errol Evans and Trent Jansen); Gaetano Pesce presented by Neon Parc; a showcase by Canberra-based Elliot Bastianon; a jewellery presentation from Gallery Funaki; and showcases from Sophie Gannon Gallery and Gallery Sally Dan-Cuthbert.

Gaetano Pesce, Pratt Chair, 2019, Urethane, 87 x 52 x 61 cm, Photo by Olga Antipina.

This year’s fair also features two specialised sub-sections that focus different corners of the design community. ‘DISCOVERY’ is devoted to the work of emerging design talents. A number of Indigenous designers feature here, including Alfred Lowe, Dulcie Sharpe, Trudy lnkamala and Marlene Rubantja.

Another initiative is the FOCUS exhibition. “FOCUS recognises the skills and conceptual prowess of five accomplished Australian female designers and makers, and underscores the importance of inspiring future generations of women in design and promoting diversity within the industry,” says LeAmon.

“The exhibition features jewellery by Helen Britton, ceramics by Nicolette Johnson, textiles by Emma Jackson, fibre baskets by Paula Savage and glass works by Jessica Murtagh.”

The fair aligns with the Melbourne Design Week theme of “design the world you want”, which LeAmon interprets as a “call to action” for designers to consider how “the works they produce reflect a constellation of ideas, choices, values and principles in relation to the wider world”.

This reflects a critical reflexivity that suggests Australian design is in encouraging health as it continues to recover from the pandemic. “Ten years ago, the Australian design scene did not enjoy the visibility it experiences today. Australia has a dynamic history of design, but it resonated with distinct industries and communities…Today, we see a broader appreciation of design, which cites design in a cultural context, in addition to an important commercial context.

“I sense this has occurred through an ever-evolving dialogue with the broad creative industries and public sector… Visibility delivers opportunity.”

Melbourne Design Fair
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre
18—21 May

Feature Words by Barnaby Smith