theconversation.com: What went wrong at the Melbourne Art Fair?
It died not with a bang, but with a whimper.
Last Friday, Melbourne Art Foundation executive chair and gallerist Anna Pappas announced the unthinkable: that after 28 years and 14 incarnations, the biennial Melbourne Art Fair, which was slated to be staged at the Melbourne Exhibition Buildings this August, would not be going ahead.
This development came as a shock to many in the wider visual arts community who were left scratching their heads; at a time when every major city worth its salt has its very own art fair, how did Melbourne, which prides itself on the complexity and strength of its cultural fabric, manage to lose one of the premier events on its artistic calendar?
But to those with an insider’s view of the Australian commercial art marketplace, the demise of the Melbourne Fair came as no surprise.
According to Pappas, quoted in [The Guardian], the foundation’s full board of six members voted unanimously to cancel the fair after three major Australian commercial galleries elected to stay away from the event in 2016.
As Pappas explained, the absence of Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Tolarno Galleries and Anna Schwartz Gallery meant that the fair:
“would not be cutting edge … we have no interest in becoming an affordable, mediocre art fair.
In an interview with Henri Neuendorf of artnet, meanwhile, Anna Schwartz was quoted saying that she had never indicated she was intending to participate in the fair.
Pappas, in the same article, highlighted the fact that many Australian galleries are exercising their discretion to allocate available funds to exhibiting at what she describes as “the big, international art fairs”.
But according to the aforementioned gallerists’ websites, in recent years their presence at international fairs has been muted: Roslyn Oxley9 exhibited at Art Basel HK in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and Frieze NY in 2013; Tolarno had a stand at Art 13 in London in 2013, Art Basel HK in 2013, 2014 and 2015, and Paris Photo in 2014 and 2015; and Anna Schwartz Gallery was represented at Art Basel HK in 2011, 2014 and 2015, and at The Armory Show in New York in 2011.