The Melbourne Art Fair has been postponed until February 2022, but their online viewing rooms (opened to the public 3-7 June 2020) offered a way to connect with the fair online. In June 2020, Zara Sigglekow asked Melbourne Art Fair director and CEO Maree Di Pasquale about the decision to add an interim virtual component. She also previewed the viewing rooms and selected a few highlights.
In light of Covid-19, art fairs have had to digitally innovate. The Auckland Art Fair moved online in the middle of lockdown, showing work for an extended four-week period. Further afield, the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) in New York are experimenting with a new online model, with 20 per cent of profits shared between participating galleries. Unlike these examples, the Melbourne Art Fair did not introduce its online viewing rooms as a substitute for the physical fair, which has been rescheduled to February 2022.
“I’m a big believer in the physical presence of an art fair and feel that it’s very important for our galleries, our artists and our collectors and larger art-loving audience to have that physical interaction with art,” says Maree Di Pasquale, CEO and Melbourne Art Fair director. “I don’t feel that it’s a replacement, but I felt that it was important to offer our galleries and artists, and also our audiences, an opportunity to connect particularly in this difficult time we’re in.”
For their online component, Melbourne Art Fair have partnered with Ocula to utilise their digital architecture. Like a physical fair, the presentation is accompanied by public programs (1-7 June) including moderated discussions held via Zoom, live studio visits, and a video screening. With no gallerist immediately at hand to provide information on artists, Di Pasquale spoke of the importance of finding other means to do so. Digital programs “allow visitors not just to engage with the imagery online but also the context surrounding the work,” she says.
As each gallery’s artworks are reduced to small images their relationships to each other become tighter and curation is increasingly important. Melbourne Art Fair’s artistic director Emily Cormack’s selection of artworks is a highlight. Cormack takes the idea of humans constrained under quarantine life, which she expounds in an introductory text, to guide the selection of her works. Included are Dane Mitchell’s digital prints which have an unusual brilliant colouring akin to a flamboyant insect, and Simone Slee’s sculptures: poised contrasts of billowing glass and granite.
With focus leaving a stronger impression on me, galleries with one or two-person shows stood out. Reading Room presents a solo ‘booth’ of American artist Katelyn Eichwald’s romantic and haunting paintings. At Sumer, Andrew Hazewinkel is paired with Ann Shelton, both research-heavy artists with photographic outcomes. Michael Bugelli Gallery shows just one work – a strange digital animation by James Barth and Spencer Harvie – and watching this 5-minute video is a welcome respite after clicking and scrolling.
Viewing works online in this manner is akin to viewing a publication and galleries who made good use of explanatory writing came out stronger. Tor example The Commercial uses text sitting beside artwork images to pinpoint and elaborate on motifs and concepts in their artists’ works.
Missing from the digital fair experience was the social aspect which can buoy prolonged art viewing: a dip in energy can be remedied by a beverage and conversation. However, there are some joys in perusing art solo at home, and online art fairs can reach new audiences and remove barriers of entry, increasing access. If the digital aspect of this art fair continues, and how it develops, remains to be seen.
Melbourne Art Fair Viewing Rooms