Is fair art fair?

Fourth Australian Contemporary Art Fair

The Fourth Australian Contemporary Art Fair reflects to a significant degree the condition of contemporary art in Australia. Organisations have developed, improved their administration and management skills, redefined their productions, learnt to set goals for the future and to run like the corporate bodies that they've become. Meanwhile 'art', that thing which happens to be produced by art practitioners, is on a steady mid-decade downhill run. Image quality has deteriorated, decayed, diminished out of existence. lt is not a deconstruction we are experiencing but an art of apathy and complacency. Where artists have depended upon financial return as a measure of success, reward or inspiration, there is a re-emergence of 'poor art'. But, whereas arte povera was an aesthetic and concerned itself with genuine art questions, what we are getting now is a lack of criticality from artists themselves. Image-making has lost its centre in Australian art, if we are to believe that what we have seen in this Fair is truly representative of current art practice.

The blurb in the press release reads, "The Fourth Australian Contemporary Art Fair will be a fun and educative experience where all may enjoy and appreciate some of the best contemporary visual art being produced in the world". lt is no surprise that so little trade was done during this show, that so few galleries and artists could cover their costs, when the quality of work was so lacking. As environmentalists are concerned that theme parks not only ruin the environment but produce a poor quality experience in the name of accessibility (no need to go to Africa to experience a safari, just pay at the gate or put on your virtual reality headset and the experience is yours!) so we are finding that the nature of what used to be called an art experience is now manufactured through pseudo events such as this whereby one can forget about the one and make do with the many. Looking at art used to be in part about elevating the self, increasing self awareness: going, going, gone. Cultural levelling has made art accessible to all for a seven dollar entry fee. Should we complain? Isn't this what we've dreamed of? How come then that there are so few sales these days? Surely it can't be because the people would prefer to gamble at the casino. But the sheep did gambol, from stall to stall the hunt went on. The so-called educational value of such a show was appendaged by artists' talks (moderately-attended), critics' talks (over-attended) and administrators' talks (barely-attended).

On a more positive note, the range of representation was interesting, and the presentation removed the 'preciousness' of the art object. The exhibition building, itself a significant piece of imperialism, looked happily occupied by the itinerants.

We were privileged by the inclusion of more Aboriginal works. The 'visible' and the 'invisible' hung happily alongside each other. For instance, Arts Project Australia, a working and showing space in Melbourne for people with intellectual disabilities, was included. The sculpture, although only representative of artists who exhibit with the galleries included in the fair, was displayed as best it could be. More contemplative works needed a strong imagination to relocate them to a context more appropriate to understanding their aesthetic.

My register of the feeling throughout was somewhere between excitement and nervousness. The disappointment lay in the fact that so few artists offered work that was challenging. With paintings, sculptures, photographs, works on paper, drawings and tapestries, potential remained untapped. There was little multi-media work. Some galleries charged a fee from artists to be hung and hung they were.

But as a public event, the Fair should be encouraged and supported. As yet, it seems not quite clear what the role of such a Fair should be. Trade should bear some contact with talent, shouldn't it? To viewers who find going to look at art in an art gallery an intimidating experience, the Art Fair provided a valid overview of this particular moment in artalthough there is little to suggest that we have left the seventies. If one looks at this show in terms of what it is telling us about art in Australia now, the answer suggests more questions. If it is true that the look of this show is regional and domestic then what are the constraints that define such terms? It is not only artists who have responsibilities to the culture industry. However we read these responsibilities, shows such as this enable us to keep the hope for industry in touch with the desire for culture.