Hot Trends at the Melbourne Art Fair

From Indigenous art to edgy salt sculptures, a showcase of the old and new alike.

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Installation view of Abdul-Rahman Abdullah's The Obstacle, foreground, and Valerie Sparks's Le Vol, background, at This is No Fantasy.
Photo: Courtesy the artists and This Is No Fantasy.
Ken –Julia-Yonetani-The Last-Suppermarket-Fehily-Contemporary-Melbourne-melbourne-art-fair-2014
Installation view, Ken + Julia Yonetani's The Last Suppermarket (2014), at Fehily Contemporary.
Photo: Courtesy the artists and Fehily Contemporary, Melbourne.
Detail, Ken + Julia Yonetani's The Last Suppermarket (2014), at Fehily Contemporary.
Photo: Courtesy the artists and Fehily Contemporary, Melbourne.
Installation view of artworks by, Joana Vasconcelos, left and center, and, Ben Quilty, far right, at Pearl Lam Galleries
Installation view of artworks by, Joana Vasconcelos, left and center, and, Ben Quilty, far right, at Pearl Lam Galleries.
Photo: Tom Teutenberg.
Lucas rogan, Gallerysmith, Melbourne Art Fair 2014
Installation view of artworks by Lucas Grogan, at Gallerysmith.
Installation view, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery.
Photo: Tom Teutenberg.
Starkwhite, Melbourne Art Fair 2014.
Installation view, Starkwhite.
Sullivan+Strumpf, Melbourne Art Fair 2014
Installation view of artworks by Sam Leach, at Sullivan+Strumpf.
Photo: Tom Teutenberg.
Sam-smith Ryan Renshaw Gallery Melbourne art fair 2014
Installation view of artwork by Sam Smith, at Ryan Renshaw Gallery.
Installation view of, left, Michael Riley's Sacrifice (1992/2006), and, right, Stephen Ralph's Birth of Benn (2014), at The Commercial.
Installation view of, from left, Glenn Murray's Observation Post (2013); two untitled works by Richard Larter; and Ken Whisson's Dogs, Geese and Motorcar (9 & 11/1/2013 & 15/3/2013), at Watters Gallery.
Sally Gabori, Alcaston Gallery Melbourne art fair 2014
Installation view of sculptures by Selby Ginn, foreground, and paintings by Sally Gabori, background, at Alcaston Gallery.

The biennial Melbourne Art Fair opened last night with a visibly bigger and more enthusiastic crowd than the last edition. This is probably no great claim, given how flat the 2012 fair was. But dealers were counting it as a victory nonetheless.

The mood? Relief. Drunken, happy relief.

Still, hopes can’t have been too high in the lead-up to the fair because big pieces were thin on the ground. Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Watters Gallery and Pearl Lam Galleries were among those that bucked this trend. Fehily Contemporary and Starkwhite also delivered large-scale and ambitious presentations, which both deserve attention even if they didn’t quite come off as well as they could have.

Others took a different kind of risk and used the fair to introduce younger artists. This was probably a canny move—the vast majority of opening night sales were under $10,000—but it also brought some of the fun back.

There’s a lot to be said for discovering new artists at a fair. Lucienne Rickard at Beaver Galleries, Zoe Croggon at Daine Singer and Sam Smith at Ryan Renshaw all put forward strong work, but the standout was the young West Australian artist Abdul Rahman-Abdullah at This is No Fantasy. Over at Gallerysmith, Lucas Grogan’s rapidly moving career showed no signs of slowing down.

There were also a few surprises to be found at The Commercial, a young gallery that has been working with some interesting and largely overlooked mid-career artists. Sam Leach also presented a colorful body of work at Sullivan+Strumpf, and there was a quiet but powerful solo show by abstract painter Karl Wiebke at Liverpool Street Gallery.

Here are the highlighted galleries:

1. This is No Fantasy, Melbourne
The pairing of the young West Australian sculptor Abdul-Rahman Abdullah and Valerie Sparks at This is No Fantasy had an odd, compelling energy. The centerpiece was Abdullah’s buffalo emerging from a patterned rug on the floor.

2. Fehily Contemporary, Melbourne
The collaborative duo Ken + Julia Yonetani built a supermarket out of salt for Melbourne’s Fehily Contemporary. The ambitious scale is impressive, but the inclusion of shopping trolleys and paper bags took the presentation down a notch.

3. Pearl Lam Galleries, Shanghai
Shanghai’s Pearl Lam Galleries brought a much-needed international perspective this year. The presentation was clever, placing works by the well-recognized Australian artist Ben Quilty alongside works by Zhu Jinshi, Joana Vasconcelos, Qin Yufen, and Gonkar Gyatsu.

4. Gallerysmith, Melbourne
“Bogans are people too” read one of the mechanized paintings by Lucas Grogan, with Melbourne’s Gallerysmith. The jury’s out on that, but one thing’s certain: This young artist has found an audience for his layered and textured work.

5. Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
Sydney’s Roslyn Oxley9 was one of the few to bring major large-scale pieces. The group exhibition paired the scratchy energy of a Nyapanyapa Yunupingu canvas with work by Isaac Julien, James Angus, and David Noonan.

6. Starkwhite, Auckland
Interested in the interplay between art, luxury goods, and status, Michael Zavros wheeled in a shiny Rolls-Royce and had identical twin male models serve monogrammed chocolates. There were paintings too, but the models got more attention.

7. Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney
Painter Sam Leach served up lashings of gloss resin and color, but a more subdued piece constructed from 28 panels was the one that best showed his skill.

8. Ryan Renshaw, Brisbane
Young sculptor Sam Smith also emerged as one to watch with a suite of minimalist sculptures that played with perceptions of weight and materiality.

9. Watters Gallery, Sydney
Sydney’s Watters Gallery is having one long party for its 50th anniversary. It’s well deserved. Over the years it has played a role in the careers of a huge number of important Australian artists, including painters Richard Larter and Ken Whisson.

10. The Commercial, Sydney
The Commercial is a relatively young gallery in Sydney but one that is fast earning a solid reputation. There were paintings from the estate of Gunter Christmann and this surprisingly rewarding pairing of work by Stephen Ralph and Michael Riley.

11. Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne
Sally Gabori has earned a huge local following for her brightly colored canvases. The Bentinck Island artist is now quite senior but her work retains its impressive vitality. Melbourne’s Alcaston Gallery was one of only a small handful showing Indigenous work.

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