Inside Melbourne Art Fair

August 15, 2014
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I have never discussed the nature of the human soul with a complete stranger – much less in under three minutes. It’s not the kind of thing one generally discusses with someone they barely know, if they even discuss it at all. Yet here I am, mulling it over as I wait for the grey-haired, cheerful woman in front of me to put pen to paper. Her name is Noula Diamantopoulos. She’s an artist and psychotherapist, and our task for the next 10 minutes is to communicate only in questions; five each, without speaking a word out loud. Things get deep pretty quickly.

She’s thought of something. “How do we connect with our souls?” she writes on paint-splotched paper in careful, loopy letters. Her words are challenging, meaningful, and deceptively simple – which make them a perfect addition to the Melbourne Art Fair.

Now in its twenty-fifth year, the Fair is now including the works of performance artists like Noula in its repertoire for the first time. Other performers include a choir being constantly fed new content to sing, and the unexpected participation of security guards in the audience’s viewing experience. These uncollectable works have been added to a melee of art forms currently contained within Carlton’s Royal Exhibition Building. Lit-up installations, confronting sculptures and whimsical paintings sit side by side with eerie new media works and thought-provoking photography. There’s a section celebrating the printed form, a space for children to get involved – there’s even an in-fair dating service.

“The Art Fair is almost a physical manifestation of the internet,” explains festival director Barry Keldoulis, an art-world pro who has been involved in the fair in one way or another for over 10 years. “On the internet of course you can see work from all over the world, but good art in many cases needs to be seen in the flesh to be fully appreciated.”

“I’ve always said that an art fair is perhaps not the best way to see art, but it’s the best way to see a hell of a lot all at once. We’re all time poor, even students now, and by the look of what the government wants to do even the unemployed are going to be time poor!” he laughs. “So the Fair is a great way to see a hell of a lot of stuff all at once. Really, it’s an exercise in seeing the whole of the art scene.”

There are over 70 galleries and 300 artists represented at the Fair, but the roomy, light-filled setting of the Royal Exhibition Building ensures it doesn’t get overwhelming. The layout of a myriad of nooks and make-shift rooms over two floors means that each work is given the space it needs to breathe, and to be admired. You don’t need to be an expert collector or an industry insider to enjoy the Fair either – Barry is quick to assure me that the five day long event is “anti-elitist.”

“It’s a wonderful way of breaking down some of the intimidating barriers to engaging with contemporary art,” he enthuses. “’I’d recommend that people wander through and take the time to make a note on their phone or whatever of the galleries they want to go back to. For the students who are eligible for our concession tickets, it’s a pretty good bang for your buck.

“That 20 dollars is probably what you’d spend on the tram just going around and visiting the galleries in various different areas of Melbourne. So for that you’re getting to see work from not only around Melbourne, but Australia and the world!”

Even for readers with approximately $0 to their name, there’s a range of free offsite exhibitions scattered in cultural hotspots around the city. Have a look at the program, and go get cultured!

The Melbourne Art Fair runs from August 13 – 17 at the Royal Exhibition Building. Concession day-passes cost $22.

Frances Vinall

Frances Vinall is a freelance culture and lifestyle journalist and a Monash University student. She spends most of her free time watching Parks And Recreation and eating cheese. Frances blogs at francesvinall and tweets at @fvinall.

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