ART FAIR HITS HIGH MARK

Review by Robert Nelson.
Publication - The Age, The Culture, Visual Arts
October 3, 2002, page 6.

The Melbourne Art Fair 2002 outshines all the previous ones. Although most exhibiting galleries are local, the international representation has grown in quality and volume. And the seasoned art-lover's greater interest is in the foreign contingent, for we tend to know the local work well.

This year, applications to exhibit greatly exceeded the available spaces, so the organisers could afford to be more selective. And it shows: gone are the ghastly galleries from ltaly. Instead, Asian galleries- especially from Korea, Japan and China- have maintained their high aesthetic standard and sophistication.

Among the local galleries, more have adopted a carefully curated approach, rather than packing in half the stable, in the style of a market stall.

The exhibition breathes more than in previous years, a sign of which is the space devoted to the non-commercial sector. Natasha Johns-Messenger's witty installation with mirrors, (whose disorientating vistas make you aware of the relativity of perception) and Sandra Selig's wall-to-wall geometric, string sculpture (both with Getrude Contemporary Art Spaces) point to contemporary art as it's understood in international curatorial circles. The inclusion of these avantgarde statements on the balcony reduces the importance of the centrepiece beneath the dome.
Each year, an individual work- of relatively non-commercial nature- is chosen to give a keynote to the fair. The honours this year fall to South-African artist William Kentridge whose animation shows people in flight across the horizon, potentially evoking the catastrophic movement of people in various parts of the globe
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The projection is placed in a kind of black tent (as in a sideshow) and has a carnivalesque soundtrack, which gives a macabre air of entertainment. It's an exceedingly weak piece that trivialises the experience of displacement, even if focusing on our inability to fathom human disaster. Kentridge's graphic work at Annandale is better certainly more tasteful bur patchy.

Some galleries have selected from their large stables an artist whose work has a showcase elsewhere in town. This arises with Greenaway Gallery's presentation of the magical work of Deborah Paauwe (also at Sutton Gallery in Fitzroy); Sherman Galleries' presentation of Janet Lawrence (in a knock-out solo show at the Monash University Faculty Gallery); and Daniel Moynihan, whose work Gallery 101 presents at the art fair simultaneously with a stupendous show in town.

Among galleries from northern Asia, a certain contemporaneity of presentation and content stands out. Huang Yan's traditional landscape inscribed on the figure, from Red Gate Gallery in Beijing, is an example.

You might also note the hysterical, lacquered prints, called World's famous brands, by the Luo Brothers, which mix nationalistic illustration and photography with logos, from Art Beatus in Hong Kong.

Considerable daring is shown by Mao-Lin Yang in confounding Pokemon imagery and art history in a kind of computerised baroque with blow job and other pornographic elements (with titles such as Astro boy's shit-hole), represented by Lin & Keng Gallery from Taipei.

The paradoxes of private repression and public, sexual liberality in popular print media can be seen at Mizuma Art Gallery from Tokyo. Makoto Aida's illustrated girls are literally squeezed out for sex, and Hiroyuki Matsukage's Pony (a young woman with unbuttoned trousers sprouting a tail) takes certain American classics for an Asian, sex-fantasy ride. Photography is similarly theatrical and wicked in Hiroko Okada's work, and Jun Nguyen Hatsushiba's prints beautifully distil his video work, seen in the Biennale of Sydney.

In more traditional genres, Osamu Saito's wood engravings at Yamaki Art Gallery, Osaka, are exquisite, and almost look like mezzotints.

Alfredo Esquillo's weavings of religious iconography, from John Batten, Hong Kong, propose an intriguing mixture of homespun technology and promiscuous imagery. A high-minded analogy can be found at Ethan Cohen, New York, in Qiu Zhijie's calligraphy inscribed on the New York phone book. There may be limited irony ill this assimilation of Chinese culture into a Western order, with its echoes of Franz Kline's gestural idiom. Exquisite work emanates from Korea, such as Park Seo-Bo's refined surfaces at Gallery Samtuh, Seoul, and Chong Kwang-Ho's metal constructions of vases and leaves at Gallery SP. These are spatial propositions that achieve monumentality with gossamer transparency.

Against this evanescence, Kang- Young Kim at Park Ryu Sook Gallery from Seoul confronts you with more materiality than you're used to in two-dimensions: the illusion of cement bricks is achieved with cement texture in reality + image, a concept extended in Chang- Young Kim at Gallerie Bhak from Seoul.

European galleries are not well represented, although Gimpel Fils, London, presents some curiously artful voyeurism in Corinne Day's pictures of the sexy poor.

New Zealand has a strong presence, the most interesting part being Bardey Nees Gallery, Wellington. Moana Nepia's feather paintings tickle all uncanny sensibilities, a bit like Nikki Hastings-McFall's alarmingly textured light boxes.

And Anne 'Noble's brattish photographs of obscene eating habits upset you in a forgiveably aesthetic way.

Interstate galleries are well represented, but it's only natural that Melbourne galleries dominate, for they have no accommodation costs and negligible freightage to set up in Carlton. Among the galleries that we know and love so well, Tolano and Diane Tanzer share the palm.

Tim Maguire's flowers (at Tolarno, city) are more extravagant than ever, wrestling abstract painting to the dewdrop in huge displays of gestural relish in the medium.

The collection shown by Diane Tanzer (Fitzroy) is strangely medium-centered, in which the ready-made materials are reconfigured to say something about their original function. Thus, Donna Marcus assembles old aluminum vessels into all the cosmic abstractions that the kitchen pathetically can ever come to terms with, while Mat Calvert grabs broken reflectors and lenses to assemble new, plastically engorged versions of the traffic regulation devices that were presumably inadequate to prevent motor accidents.

Painting has all the presence here that it lacks in international, curated shows.

Some of the aesthetic at Diane Tanzer can be seen in Anne Eggert's high-society fashion ladies in mesh at Beaver Galleries from Canberra. It isn't mainstream, isn't international, but isn't merely homespun, either: it's a quirky regionalism that has the potential to reflect on the functions of materials and the way they're culturally encoded.

You can't be bored at the art fair, even though there's an awfully large area to cover and you'll encounter work that's sure to leave you cold. Painting has all the presence here that it lacks in international, curated shows. By the same token, video- the champion of the Documentas- is right at the margin.

Photography, however, is one domestic medium that happily reaches avant-garde concerns, as in the excellent work at Stills Gallery in Sydney and Mizuma Art Gallery from Tokyo.

You no longer feel that the art fair is the same old stuff-albeit fine enough that you'll see all year in Melbourne.
Seeing relationships with small pockets of the international scene is well worth the ticket.