Art Fair Review: Spring1883, Hotel Windsor

Spring1883 Art Fair is back! Has the wait delivered a fresh view from gallerists?

Spring1883 Art Fair returns this week to Hotel Windsor for its eighth edition, with 29 gallerists and dealers taking over this iconic – if somewhat tired and old-fashioned – venue. But with that history (the art fair takes its name from the hotel’s opening in 1883), there comes an element of fun, not to mention large rooms with high ceilings. Arguably, that combo is great for creating a visitor experience.

After a pandemic hiatus, Spring1883 returns with gusto. Overall, this year’s edition has a punchy, quirky feel. Many gallerists have played it smart this year, with the recent dampening of the market. They are hedging sales by offering a lower price point to the mix, some works starting at just $500 and heading up into triple figures. MARS Gallery (430) has done this particularly well, with nearly half of its offerings sold by the end of the preview on Wednesday evening (9 August). Smart also, it has picked up on the energy of Melbourne Now and is presenting small works by Jenna Lee and Scotty So.

Bathroom displays are a big part of hotel fairs. MARS Gallery uses one for Jenna Lee’s work for Spring1883. Photo: ArtsHub.

Another example is Sydney gallery LAILA (218) – new to the sector and focusing on emerging artists (the oldest artist exhibiting in Spring was born in 1987). It offers a nice point of comparison to galleries such as Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art (207), which is showing works by veterans Howard Arkley and Juan Davila, and has picked some interesting collaborative works from the early 1990s (average price $30,000).

Similarly, Sydney-based Darren Knight Gallery (224) has got into the Melbourne groove with strong touch points via the work of Paula Hyland, who is now in her late 70s. Knight is reshowing Queer textile works by Hyland from the mid 1990s making the point ‘they look contemporary’ and picking up a renewed interest in both the medium and Queer conversations. Other pieces include a great new painting by Jon Campbell and a cool suite of works by Natalie Thomas, such as Finding the Field 1968/2018 2023, which draws attention to gender parity in the seminal Melbourne exhibition.

Knight is occupying one of the corner suites at the Windsor – the same room the gallery has occupied at Spring since it started – with a smart and well-curated presentation. Gallerist Darren Knight says that many of the artists show with him in Sydney, but don’t have Melbourne galleries, making their presentation at Spring a vital local moment to connect.

Other highlights are the big sweep of galleries stacked along one end and taking on the Windsor suites – Neon Parc (407), Sarah Scout Presents (307) and Chalk Horse (207). Neon Parc is showing a suite of great new sculptures by Nabilah Nordin, some historical collages by Elizabeth Newman and hand-made embroideries by Kait James. Highlights at Sarah Scout are some new works by Sally Smart, new photographs by Christian Thompson, punchy pieces in the entry by Jake Preval, glass and marble sculptures by Simone Slee and a suite of small pieces holding their own by Nadine Christensen.

Making its Spring debut, and curated by Sebastian Goldspink, Chalk Horse has pulled out all the stops – and it pays off! Several massive paintings by Clara Adolphs (how the hell did they get them up there?), are balanced by a large sculpture by Philjames, and luscious hand-built cobalt blue porcelain vessels by Alexandra Standen that pop in the space. They are balanced by fun touches, like a painting by Catherine Clayton-Smith balanced on hotel wine glasses in the fireplace.

Spring1883 Chalk Horse presentation, with sculptures by Alexandra Standen and paintings L-R by Clara Aldophs, Catherine Clayton-Smith and Jason Phu. Photo: ArtsHub.

Goldspink says: ‘Hotels have always represented something significant for me. They are a space that exists outside of our regular lives and offers a fleeting glimpse into other possible realities.’

This can be seen in other standout galleries – from This is no Fantasy (328) and Egg & Dart (222), based on the coastal NSW area of Wollongong, to the fun and irreverence of Richmond-based Lon Gallery‘s (222) presentation.

Egg & Dart is showing blown glass vessels reworked into kiln-formed pieces by Gabrielle Adamik that slump over towel rails and bathroom corners, irregular framed textile abstractions by Henry Jock Walker, retro-toned ceramics by Scott Duncan and textile-styled paintings by Erin Mison.

Simon Zoric’s framed postcard of Picasso’s Weeping Woman stolen by the artist from the NGV gift shop alongside his litter trays in the bathroom, and custom hotel robe by Grace Wood, are especially fun. They’re balanced with sculptures by Caleb Shea adding a pop of contemporary blue and yellow to the stuffy floral décor, and seriously good hand-woven geometric compositions by Tia Ansell.

There are also a number of galleries that have headed across the ditch – Michael Lett from Auckland and {Suite} (228), which has spaces in Auckland and Wellington. The latter is showing NZ-born, Melbourne-based Richard Lewer, working really well alongside Wayne Youle’s paintings that riff off Nolan’s Ned Kelly series, and Ans Westra – the iconic Dutch-born NZ photographer who died earlier this year – including a suite of polaroid works from 1997, which have never been exhibited before.

Without overstating it, there is the sense that there has been a bit of a shift, with more galleries showing textile-based works this year, and a number of glass artists entering the market, making the viewing feel fresh.

Worth mentioning also is that many of the galleries are using QR (quick response) codes for catalogue/price list downloads, making it super easy for visitors to self-navigate the Fair.

Spring1883 Art Fair
The Hotel Windsor
111 Spring Street, Melbourne
9-12 August, 11am – 7pm

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina