Cover image of the review
Detail of Tennant Creek Brio, Mixed Tribes, 2022, enamel paint, mixed materials, pokie machine, 129cm x 56cm x 57cm.

Melbourne Art Fair

19 Feb 2022
Neon Parc, Anna Schwartz Gallery, FUTURES, Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Justin Miller Art, Yavuz Gallery, 1301SW 17 Feb - 20 Feb 2022

So much of the value is in the marketing, says a softly spoken cognoscente at the entrance to Buku-Larrnggay Mulka (Yirrkala) (in the A5 booth), one of the best marketed art initiatives in this country. It’s busy. I squeeze past Rachel Griffiths. I’m told these Dremel-engraved cross-hatched surfaces will survive oblivion, sold out.

Literally cornering the market though is the prima A1 Anna Schwartz Gallery, which takes prized position at the Fair as if its metropole. Location, location, location. There, Jonny Niesche waves his Titanium American Express. It’s heavier-seeming than the Emily Floyd owls, which fail to take flight amid the hive of Ellwood-activity buzzing around queen bee. Next door is Neon Parc (A2) where slick and sumptuous Dale Franks fill the main wall (we all want one), well-balanced by Nabilah Nordin’s amorphous matte sculptures out front.

Installation view of Neon Parc. Dale Frank (background) and Nabilah Nordin (foreground).

When we jokingly inform Roslyn Oxley that her gallery is lower down on the apparent booth hierarchy (coming in at C1), she responds with characteristic wit. “Well, fuck that”.

But MAF’s blueprint has produced a counter current as you enter the Fair anyway. It flows the opposite way, dragging you north away from the A-list galleries, first to Oxley’s where Jenny Watson’s very good Evening landscape in Freudian Vienna II (1989) is in full view, then westward down a river that runs toward the furthest reaches of the Fair where Futures (in K4) lies. Setting off like Captain Marlow, your first station along this course is the newly minted 1301SW (B2). Niesche is there too, this time on the walls, and punters are falling into the shimmering surface of his painting’s magic-eye.

Jonny Niesche, Total Vibration (Stardust Blue), 2021, voile, powder coated aluminium, mirror polished brass, 180 x 330 x 5 cm.

It’s hell by the time you reach the delta at Futures, where Dante Alighieri, Hieronymus Bosch and NFT’s breakout in Matthew Harris’s Doomscroll (2021). Weirdly, at this outpost of the Fair, antipodeans have been hung just over the wall too at Justin Miller Art (K2). A room full of Sidney Nolan’s inexplicably has new life even when beside a nineteenth-century academic portrait of Queen Victoria’s favourite Whig and Melbourne namesake, William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne.

Matthew Harris, Doomscroll, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 163 x 120 cm.

Exit, and there’s Old Arsonist (2021), a collaboration of Fabian Brown Japaljarri and Rupert Betheras, hanging on the backwall of Chapman & Bailey Gallery (C4). It’s full moon, but Fabian is this city’s visiting star. And the Tennant Creek Brio (TCB) have found a temporary home in this antipodean hellscape at the Fair’s outermost edge. Hailing from Nyinkka Nyunyu Art Centre, they have snuck through the back door, sidestepping the Fair’s official selection of five art centres in a partnership with Chapman and a fascinating hang alongside Roger Kemp paintings. Their bravura pokie machine and cousin of the One Eyed Man (from NIRIN, the 22nd Biennale of Sydney) Mixed Tribes (2022) silently sings ka-ching as it was taught to do at the Shaft Nightclub, where it was born in the late-80s.

Installation view of Tennant Creek Brio, Mixed Tribes, 2022, enamel paint, mixed materials, pokie machine, 129cm x 56cm x 57cm.

Surely TCB’s work will be purchased by a major public collection. Or it will be swept up by the ocean of blue suits further away at the south-west corner of the Fair, where a private function of List G barristers takes place.

The champagne ran dry early on this night, a source of Kyla Kirkpatrick’s heart of darkness (the Real Housewife of Melbourne was delicately pinching a flute of Nicolas Feuillatte at Yavuz Gallery, D5). But Fabian’s words in Chapman & Bailey’s catalogue keep the Fair in a yaw:

Untamed animals are put in a zoo, sometimes for protection; but also, when the wild animals roamed the country, poachers saw big money, big bucks, billions of dollars. I was recycling cans to make money in Tennant Creek between 2008 and 2014. Collecting cans, collecting animals.