Art Life , Interviews May 16, 2010 5 Comments

When is an art fair not an art fair? When it’s NOTFAIR.

Pitched as combining the curatorial notion of a major biennale and the commercial potential of an art fair, this inaugural NOTFAIR will feature 32 artists selected by the directors from a supplied list compiled by their own curatorial advisory group. The show’s focus in on ‘undervalued’ artists but one glance at the artist list and it’s clear this show packs some heavyweights: Bernard Sachs, Paul Quinn, Akira Akira, Mimi Kelly, Vito Manfredi, Topologies, Rob Brown, Taiyo Onorato, Nico Krebs, Simon Pericich, and the list goes on…

The Art Life’s Melbourne Affairs Editor, Din Heagney, caught up with the three founding directors — curator and writer Ashley Crawford, 2010 Archibald winner Sam Leach and fellow artist Tony Lloyd. Here is an extract from that interview…

Din Heagney: We only got the one biennale here in Melbourne and now have to make do with the Melbourne Art Fair, a trade show by any other name, which is running at the same time as NOTFAIR. So is this a critique of the fair or a commercial alternative?

Ashley Crawford: NOTFAIR is not anti the Art Fair, not at all, the thing was there was a feeling that obviously the Melbourne Art Fair has a very strong emphasis towards commercial galleries. It’s your world of Roslyn Oxley, Anna Schwartz, Tolarno, and etcetera. We just felt that it would be much more interesting to focus on individual artists and put them in a curatorial premise that is still commercial, but it doesn’t have the kind of commercial imperative that art fairs by their nature have to have.

Sam Leach: We wanted to bring it back to the art and the artists.

Tony Lloyd: The name NOTFAIR is not made to be any kind of political statement, what we’re actually saying is: it’s not the fair. And also the name itself came from an anagram of ARTINFO, a website we were writing for and converted to an anagram it becomes NOTFAIR and it stuck. The idea began when Sam and I were in London at the Frieze Art Fair, and we saw all the satellite art fairs that were happening at the same time as the main event. That’s what we decided to do in Melbourne because nobody else was doing it. Our premise for choosing the artists was that they are undervalued, either commercially or critically.

Mimi Kelly, Untitled #2, 2009.

AC: The other idea of NOTFAIR is we only require a ten percent administration fee but the rest of it, the other ninety percent, goes directly back to the artists. The galleries who do happen to represent a few artists have offered to put their regular commission back into NOTFAIR, which in turns gives that back to the artist, so it’s all about looking after the artists and being fair to the artists.

SL: Of those galleries who have artists involved, three have said they will forego their usual commission.

AC: Our case in point would probably be Bernard Sachs, who should be showing at the Venice Biennale, but never seems to get included in things like the Sydney Biennale, who knows why. But this is trying to redress that with some of the artists of this nature, especially when they’re older.

DH: So are you laying the groundwork for a new biennale?

TL: Well, we like the look of a biennale, and we’re not afraid to be commercial and we think artists have a right to make a living from their work too.

AC: A biennale is very much about prestige but it’s not much about living. Most artists can’t afford to buy their bloody materials or pay the rent.

SL: Because the work is for sale, and it is going to sell, it certainly makes an artist’s stocks go up by being in a biennale.

TL: And we say why not? There seems to be this shame about commerciality in the art world. We didn’t select all the artists ourselves, we had an advisory panel which is on the website with key figures like Alex Baker and Alexie Glass. We asked them each to select two or three artists and then from there we made out final selection. And nobody chose me.

SL: Yeh, no one chose me either.

AC: Yeh, you guys are really under-represented.

DH: So how did you choose the curators?

AC: Well they were basically mates. They were also chosen because they were people in positions, or they clearly had opportunities to identify a huge range of artists, and who’d experienced a lot of studio visits and exhibitions. There are names that I’ve never heard of, which surprised me. I think we all had that experience.

DH: The artists they selected?

AC: Yeah, like who the hell’s this? And then all of sudden you’re like wow, where did they come from? It’s really great because it’s national. We’ve got Rob Brown from Darwin–

TL: –artists from Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney, Hobart, Perth–

SL: –two New Zealanders.  Everyone had to get three ticks, everyone who made it to the final list. But there were no massive disputes; it was fairly straightforward process. We did want to keep it open to artists who are established or more mature, not only young or emerging artists, but with that criteria or being undervalued, most of them do tend to be artists at the beginning of their career, in one way or another.

TL: And that’s the idea: if we can put these artists into the spotlight then hopefully they wont need our help next time we stage something. They’ll get picked up and be in the main art fair.

AC: You know for what started as a mad idea of Sam’s and Tony’s to have an alternative show, and it’s grown into a small not for profit business that looks like it’s got longevity.

TL: Yeh, we’ve got plans to do things beyond this. There’s a possibility of taking it to other cities, and there’s other opportunities to travel coming up.

Interviewed 13 May 2010


Directed by Tony Lloyd, Sam Leach, Ash Crawford Hosted by Wardlow Art Residence

4–8 August 2010

Andrew Frost


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  2. Sweetners

    Youd have to question the wisdom of creating an alternative art fair to the art fair. It just all goes back to the same place, the market.

  3. At least the original Art Fair has offered the opportunity for galleries from around the country to submit for consideration; NOTFAIR has chosen artists from a list supplied by some other group. You want underated artists? Look at those not already known to some random group! How about an exhibit that more truly represents the underated by making itself open to those who aren’t known and aren’t merely unrepresented by a gallery.

  4. @Matt… the selection wasn’t that random, there were curators from around Australia who were asked to suggest three names each of artists they considered deserved more attention and who weren’t necessarily tied into the commercial sector and/or don’t have commercial representation. In the case of the actual Art Fair, unless you are already with a commercial gallery AND they select your works to sell at the Fair AND will pay the rather hefty fees involved, then you usually won’t get a look-in. That’s part of the critique of what these guys are doing, allowing exposure of artists to a slightly different audience and at a lower cost (because there aren’t the overheads of running an art fair stall) and most of the money goes directly to the artists. It also offers high quality works selected by curators at an agreeable price.

    As far as artists getting known, it’s always a struggle. Even Australia’s leading artists have little time or energy to run their own PR on top of an arts practice. No-one becomes known in isolation, everyone has people help them along the way. Much of the role of developing and exposing unknown artists has now been taken up by the ARI sector but, having worked in that area for some years, I’m not certain if that’s entirely the best way of doing it either.

    In the meantime, do what every other artist I know does: run up your credit card having exhibitions, try to get media coverage, set up your own online folio or blog, and send proposals of your work and ideas to galleries you like (they actually look at them, really). After a while, people will start asking questions. So who’s this guy Matt BP? Does he work in petroleum? Etc. See I’m doing it now!

  5. The principals driving NOTFAIR are basically those that Linden Centre for Contemporary Art upholds all year round. We are a not for profit public gallery in St Kilda and we allow artists to sell their work as we also believe artists should be able to make money from their art. In addition to this we also pay all our exhibiting artists. In 2008 Linden paid artists (through fees, sales, prizes) $113,705 out of an overall turnover of $549,500 – 21% of our income. In 2009 it was $104, 076 almost 20% of our overall income. We pay senior artists up to $2,000 for developing new work for our curated exhibitions. Yet even this amount is inadequate when you consider that the recommended per hourly payment for a self-employed senior artist on a short term contract is $59.50. Our $2,000 fee barely covers a standard working week (needless to say in many instances it doesn’t even cover the cost of the work’s production). If all publicly funded galleries make a commitment to pay respectable artists fees to living artists then it will go a long way towards improving their lives and in the end that can only be a good thing for all of us.

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