Nobody liked the Melbourne International Art Fair. Not till it got canned. Now, we love it. Now we’re remembering the poor old dear rather more fondly, then when it actually existed. Frocking up, fake fur stole slung nonchalantly over one’s shoulders, a touch more war paint applied than is usual. By night’s end, wearing a brand new Pearl necklace. Swanning round the Royal Exhibition Building like members of the landed gentry. Every other year this charade would go on. At the Vernissage we’d drink our body weight in champagne, to ease the pain of being left out of all the art business going on all around. Rich people can have such bad taste in art.
After the Melbourne International Art Fair, (well, before it got canned) but at the end of the official proceedings, we’d stream out onto the cold corporate promenade, bumming cigarettes offa new friends. Then off we’d head, further out into the night in search of a dance floor. Always the elusive dance floor. When located, we’d deposit ourselves ringside, devouring the impromptu performances that inebriation had unleashed, taking turns auditioning for a part on So You Think You Can Dance. Probing the boundaries between avant-garde interruptive dance and falling over. On occasion, all of this excitement would get too much, and the bouncers, (extras off Melbourne’s Gangland War hit TV show Underbelly) would intervene and break up the laughs. Before somebody lost an eye. Here in Melbourne you go see Mick Gatto and Associates for all your conflict resolution needs. Even an unhappy Bank of Queensland franchisee hired Gatto Corporate Solutions to sort his shit out. Because, I guess, everyone is starting to behave like the mob now.
Speaking of the Mob, Morgi’s always saying that artists would get a fairer cut dealing with the Mafia, than they get from Art Dealers, and I tell him to keep his voice down or we’ll be run outta town.
The only thing more dramatic than selling your art, is not selling your art. Spending a fortune making it, then failing to locate a buyer who shares your sense of how frigging spot on every creative decision you’ve ever made is; well that’s as dramatic as all get out. This particular tragi-comedy plays out like this:
The Dealer consoles the Artist, attempting to: ‘manage down their unrealistic expectations’. That’s code for: letting the artist and their ego know they ain’t getting paid today sweetheart. ‘I love your piece, and I really thought we’d be able to find a Buyer for it.’ The Artist in turn, begins looking around at all the other art dealers flush with the little red ‘sold’ stickers on their artist’s artworks. Artists are a fickle and competitive bunch: ‘It’s not my art that’s the problem, my dealer didn’t go the right school so their connections aren’t properly connected. If collectors can’t identify what a sound investment my art really is, they must be a bunch of infidels.’ That’s theatre right there, that’s the spectacle, of the Contemporary Art Fair. Art Fairs ain’t business, they’re performance. And it all plays out in real time, a neoliberal orgy in the round. Yep, there’s more to watch here than at a Shakespearean Retrospective at the Globe Theatre. Art Fairs are a two ringed circus meets a Direct Factory Outlet Bus Tour. It’s free booze and air kisses all round. Art Fairs are like a pissy Avon Party. You get caught up in the moment and wake up with a face full of make-up, a baggie full of room sheets and a receipt for an artwork you can’t afford. Surprise, it’s being delivered for installation the day after next, (usually by some pretty hot looking young guys, so don’t fret). It’s all organised.
The best thing about Melbourne International Art Fair, (before it got canned) was people would travel from interstate and overseas, just to be here with us and we could talk to someone new for a change, instead of having that same conversation that’s happened at every other opening over the last two years:
‘What’ve ya been up too?’
‘Not much. Got anything coming up?
It all brings to mind the show stopping title of this years much panned Berlin Biennale: The Present is Drag. True Dat.
The only thing the Australian art community can presently agree on, is that it’s a better model for artists to exist on cash from selling their art than it is for artists to be dependent on dwindling arts funding. Even the philistine Government agrees with us here. New art collectors need to be found post haste, because there’s presently close to a gazillion starving artists for each and every art collector. Neo-liberalism loves worker insecurity, it stimulates the market, and there’s no working group more insecure than artists. The artist/art collector landscape is so unequal, that the easiest way to inject some fun into your life (for under five thousand smackers) is to become an art collector. You’ll have artists throwing themselves at you. We’ll put on our bestest going out manners and some of the very ambitious artists might even put deodorant on before meeting you. Some artists still translate the idea of ‘putting their skin in the game’ very literally too, if you know what I’m saying…
Financial security for artists is, and always will be, the ongoing issue. Artists deploy their most advanced lateral thinking strategies to solve the how to keep making art conundrum. The Marrying Well formula is an old fave. Artists can pull a Yoko or do a Matthew Barney. You know. Go showbiz and bag yourself a Pop star. Or an artist can partner up with a developer, yep, developers are the top crop. My mate Jon, he used to say that the Australian economy was based on us selling coffee and beer to each other. But Jon’s stopped saying that now. Now Jon says ‘Property Developers, they’re the only people making money now!’ If you can’t find a developer love interest/life partner without connections to the mob, because they’ve all been nabbed, try to fall in with a tenured academic. They love sniffing ’round artists. Or an architect, or a miner, or an actor, or a celebrity chef, or an art dealer, or even a high ranking arts bureaucrat. They’re not all boring. It’s weird, but if an artist doesn’t need to earn money from art, they’ll be more successful than if they do. Needy is not an attribute that works for artists outside the bedroom. Sometimes needy works well on social media. Keeping making art is almost as good for an artists career as dying is.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJqx1X5xbZ8 How to Be a Successful Artist, with Mary B, 3.45mins. ‘Picasso was not born famous’ says Mary. Mary takes that fashionable stance of blaming artists if they’re not making it. Like Artshub does. Bless her, she really is quietly funny.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNXL0SYJ2eU How to be a Successful Artist, Art Thoughtz, Hennesey Youngman (3mins), ‘Be white, Be a white man or a white woman. Be Ambiguous.’ Hennessey hangs so much shit on the artworld that by the time he’s finished it’s difficult to take it seriously. He doesn’t blame artists for a lack of success, Hennesey confronts the outdated systems that privelege white men, and a few very lucky white women.
At our house, Morgi is trying to set up a neo-liberalism swear jar. It’s where you substitute ‘neoliberalism’ for the f-bomb. And ‘cunt’. Cunt being the last bad word to have not been subsumed into the everyday vernacular. Bless it. So every time I say the word neo-liberalism, he’s trying to train me to put a gold coin in the tin, for a holiday or what have you. Morgi is sick of hearing about neo-liberalism and all its close, dear friends and relatives. Friends like The Free Market, Foreign Trade Agreements, Negative Gearing, HECS, Private Health Care, Private Education, Toll Roads or Public-Private Partnerships (haha), or Privatization of Public assets, or the Taxed and the Taxed-nots. That just cost me $10. But it’s not my bleeding fault that my facebook logarithm knows I love to hate neo-liberalism and it’s pals. I’m now a bit of a leading authority on the growing economic divide. And sadly, so is Morgi.
On the system that has less people having more money, and more people having less money. Of course neo-liberalism’s real victory over us is that we can’t stop talking about bloody money because everything costs so much. What a bad conversation topic. I say: bring back grunge, bring back the 90’s, them were the days… Everyone wasn’t so bloody fixated on bloody money or, even if they were, they had the common decency to pretend they weren’t. It’s not artists’ fault that art is the first thing people stop buying in downturns. Art and luxury cars. It’s not artists’ fault Australia is struggling to come off the mining boom. The boom that wasn’t taxed. It’s not artists fault that the dudes running the country couldn’t organize a piss up in a brewery. That a load of the dudes running the place should be in jail. For a lack of common decency.
On the tram I travel round dreaming how many generations of parents are going to be forced to tell their kids: ‘Sorry sweet, we can’t do that, we can’t afford it’ because of the greed of the organized few. Because that’s a special kind of hurt right there, not being able to afford what your kids want.
Recently though, I’ve had a change of heart. Now I love rich people. Might as well. Everyone else does. I’ve made rich people a focus job. Now I’m like: ‘Hellooo (best hoity-toity, high falutin’ voice. Sounds like phone voice talking to bank, but much more pretentious. Head on a weird angle). Sooo. Are you by chance a high net worth individual with a penchant for rather sloppy contemporary artists?’
It’s best to lead with something leftfield with rich people, because really rich people are not scared of anything. They’re too rich to be scared, and they’re slightly bored because they can do whatever the hell they want. Nobody has ever told them off (except Nanny and she doesn’t count). My scheme has just started, so I haven’t any stories to report. Yet.
Anyway, in the meantime, I’ve formulated an artworld stimulous package. To save art and that! Here it is, drumroll please. Make Art Tax Exempt: making it, buying it, showing it, selling it, transporting it even. Make it all exempt from Tax. Yep, and wait for it (here’s the hook):
Art, even bad Art, doesn’t do as much damage to society as religion does, so why can’t the Artworld be Tax Free, just like churches? Governments already understand giving Tax Breaks to rich people, so that’s a good start then. The other things that art has in common with religion are:
- There’s a complete lack of transparency and loads of cover ups in both religion and art,
- Both are embroiled in politics and pretend they’re not, both are heavily entangled in obfuscation too, and finally,
- Both art and religion reject the application of reason to their decision making policy. See, I told you I’d been thinking.
- Also, both art and religion have special interest groups who work hard to shield their interests from the public gaze, preferring to lobby behind closed doors. In art, this occurs at VIP events that only the anointed are invited to. At church I think it plays out on Sundays and at the fete, but I really don’t know because I’ve not been to church, except when that Catholic school tricked me into working for them and then I accidently took communion because I joined the wrong queue.
- The people high up the artworld food chain are worshipped like Gods and dealt with reverentially. This is so much the case in art that you can always tell how well you’re doing by how nice people are to you. Also, the artworld is as bad as religion at helping the needy, but despite this, people maintain their faith in each. Yes, art is just like religion. There’s differing beliefs, sure, but ultimately it boils down to one thing. You either believe in Art, or you don’t believe in Art. Just like God. And women, minority groups and the LGBTI community, well they all do equally badly in both institutions, so that’s another thing they have in common then. White men continue to rule both art and religion and are presently holding on to the reigns for dear life, because they can feel us unifying and coming at them, ready, finally, to seize some control from their greedy grasps. The assholes.
With the demise of the Melbourne International Art Fair, a demise that some linked to the end of neo-liberalism, the end bit where competing interests turn in and on each other, feeding on themselves, well there was a rallying in other quarters, what some would refer to as the peripheries.
The Not Fair Art Fair takes as its premise that unsigned artists are the new black. That commercial success is positively last season and we’re now ready to look to the under-represented, the over-looked and/or the not looked at closely enough. See who’s been sidelined by cultural processes, maybe ask round as to why, and look at what they’ve all been up to. All these years. Which is refreshing. Step aside Internationally renowned, celebrated, award winning, leading, distinguished artists presenting epic new works on huge stages. We’re bored of that old Institutionally Sanctioned Chestnut (yawn). It’s all looking positively predictable. We’re into the marginal and the marginalized now. Finally.
The fourth iteration of the Not Fair Art Fair was titled Sign of the Times, (RIP Prince). Curated by Kirsten Rann, it was a strong group show, attracted a teeming crowd and was a great night out. It was one of those times where you feel thankful to be an artist, able to launch out and meet with new people whom you share a love of art with. And speaking shit and staying out late on a Tuesday. Founded by Sam Leach, Tony Lloyd and Ashley Crawford as a response to the MIAF, the Not Fair Art Fair this year, ironically became the art fair.
The ten grand Howard Arkley Award went to Isabelle de Kleine and you couldn’t wipe the smile off her dial. Artist lead arts events have a different feel, they’re more irreverent, but there’s also more reverence, if you get me. They’re looser, and artists and independent curators are well situated to curate really engaged programmes. Critique is a compulsory facet of making art, artists are engaged in a constant process of thinking about and judging what makes good art. And we’re always on the look out for ideas we can rip off our mates for our own work too, so we look extra hard. Artist lead organizations are where my heart lies, because I think artists need to self organise more. Stop being so Institutionalized.
Spring 1883 http://spring1883.com is a young and exciting hotel based artfair, but it’s old and establishment too, because Melbourne really loves it’s old English shit. Hosted at the Windsor Hotel, which presents as a colonial wet dream of a venue, Paris end of Collins etc., this place is so white establishment it was re-named after the Royal Family. It’s where the first draft of the Constitution was dreamed up by some pretty damned imaginative white men, in 1898. Men so surreal, they’d argue terra nullius with a straight face. The Constitution is the supreme law under which the white men government of the Commonwealth of Australia continues to look after all their other white men pals. Anyways, if you can get past all the background noise of the room décor and the bad juju of the Windsor Hotel, there was some good art to see.
I enjoyed seeing recent work by Elvis Richardson, exploded, gold plated trophies; a new pencil sculpture by Lionel Bawden, paintings by Esther Stewart, old test drawings by Howard Arkley, steamy pics by Jane Burton, erased Royalty and Military by Tony Garifalakis, new paintings by Nadine Christensen and a bright green new sculpture by John Meade that simultaneously dangled and popped.
A little art bird told me that Spring 1883 suffers from taking itself too seriously – a group set up a rival event, which is exciting. https://www.instagram.com/winter1706/
There was a program of performance in one hotel room, a crew of dancers recruited to don a leotard and throw themselves round to music (no wait) sound-scapes on the hour, every hour. The art market likes to use performance to dismiss allegations that it is materialistic. That it’s about ideas, not sales. That painting is the art market. But look, I wouldn’t know about that. It’s all sounding a bit political and I prefer fashion to politics. Though politics is now as absurd as fashion is but I haven’t worked out which is the more unethical yet. Maybe it’s a draw.
The Denton Corker Marshall designed ‘extension and refurbishment’ (haha) of the Windsor has finally been approved by VCAT. VCAT approve everything. It’s a 27 storey, 93m tall, thin, glass rectangular extension tower thingo, that looks to be sitting on the Duchess of Spring Street’s shoulder. A combination of luxury heritage and contemporary comfort in an authentic historical environment. Think classy. Think glassy. Think location location people. Looks like a fugly OHP screen behind an old Hotel to me, but hell, what would I know…
Lately, I’ve come to thinking that designers have less complex relationships with the market and money than artists have. That this might be part of the explanation of why so much design is presently being presented as art.
Australian Art still has a long way to go, because by my reckoning, the best thing an artist can still do for their art career here in Australia, is to leave. That’s not a great thing to realize. The Australian cultural cringe is alive and well and in a society that increasingly judges success in purely fiscal terms, the ‘did you sell?’ question, leaves an artist and their ego fully exposed to the full wrath of external elements. Little things, like race, and gender, and fashion and taste and luck. Just little things like that can affect who buys your work. And who doesn’t.
Art has never been more for sale.