Melbourne Art Fair Cancels 2016 Edition After Key Galleries Withdraw Participation

But one of the galleries says it never applied.

The Melbourne Art Fair was cancelled after key exhibitors cancelled participation. Photo: Melbourne Art Fair

Melbourne Art Fair, one of the most important events on Australia’s art calendar, has been abruptly canceled six months before it was due to open.

A short statement on the fair’s homepage reads: “The Melbourne Art Foundation regretfully announce the cancellation of the Melbourne Art Fair 2016, due to be held in August in the Royal Exhibition Building.”

The biennial fair, which has been a staple of Australia’s art scene for 30 years, was preparing for its 15th edition when the board of the Melbourne Art Foundation—which organizes the fair—unanimously voted to pull the plug.

According to the Guardianthe decision was taken by the board following the withdrawal of three key exhibitors, leaving organizers concerned over the willingness of important international collectors to attend.

Despite having over 90 other applicants, the board believed that the absence of the galleries Roslyn Oxley, Tolarno Galleries, and Anna Schwartz would irreversibly compromise the quality of the fair.

The event was due to take place in August. Photo: Melbourne Art Fair

The event was due to take place in August.
Photo: Melbourne Art Fair.

“It’s not the size of the fair that matters to the public, it’s the quality, and we need to take some time and reflect on how we can adopt a new model to make sure any fair in future maintains our reputation,” Melbourne Art Foundation chairperson Anna Pappas told the Guardian. 

“There are more than 150 art fairs around the world now, and galleries have to make choices about where they exhibit and what they put their money into. And a lot of our galleries are choosing to go overseas to exhibit in the big, international art fairs,” she added.

In an email to artnet News, however, gallerist Anna Schwartz disputed the fair’s claim that her gallery backed out, saying that she hadn’t even applied to participate in this year’s fair in the first place. “I actually had not applied to the MAF for reasons of my own,” she said. “It makes no sense to suggest that the non-involvement of one gallery can lead to the demise of a long standing event.”

The Melbourne Art Fair is one of the most important events in the Australian art calendar. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Melbourne Art Fair is one of the most important events in the Australian art calendar.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Schwartz’s revelation, thus, clouds the circumstances behind the fair’s cancellation. Was the real reason behind it a general lack of interest in the fair? Are claims of sudden withdrawal only an alibi to save face?

At the time of publication, Anna Pappas and Melbourne Art Fair had not responded to a request for comment on Schwartz’s claims.

This cancellation is the latest chapter in a series of changes in the Australian art fair landscape. According to Visual Arts Hub, in 2013 Sydney-based Art Fairs Australia (AFA) was appointed to manage both Sydney Contemporary and Melbourne Art Fair in an attempt to boost the country’s international profile. However, Melbourne Art Foundation dumped AFA after the 2014 edition of the fair, in a dispute over “different philosophies.”

The cancellation also follows this week’s announcement by Reed Exhibitions that the fourth edition of Paris Photo Los Angeles had been canceled and that plans to bring its flagship art fair FIAC to the US West Coast had been scrapped. It’s a tough world for fairs out there.

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