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Exhibition review: NotFair, 333 Malvern Road, South Yarra

A dance of light and darkness with a brilliant array of artist on view at NotFair 2023, ‘Alchemy’.
NotFair art fair 2023 housed in the ex Hawksburn Primary School. Photo: ArtsHub. A range of paintings in a hall with white walls and timbre floor.

Originating in 2010 as a satellite alternative to the Melbourne Art Fair, NotFair has formed its own identity and dedicated following over the years. It has a strong curatorial framework and every iteration is staged in a different, often unconventional, venue. Visitors and collectors have come to know what to expect – that is, bold, experimental and provocative works that wouldn’t usually be found in a commercial setting.

In its 11th iteration at the former Hawksburn Primary School and, more recently, showroom for Leonard Joel Auctions, NotFair has once again delivered a visual and conceptual feast. Curators Darren Tanny Tan and Lindsey Gosper have brought together the works of 41 artists across the two (and a half) floors of the heritage-listed building, bound together under the umbrella theme and title, Alchemy.

Found materials, gothic motifs, spirituality, technology, and life and death characterise some of the works on display. But Tan and Gosper have also dedicated one of the largest gallery spaces to creating an atmosphere of “happiness”, balancing the darkness with the light.

On the ground level, Thai-born Australian artist Pimpisa Tinpalit’s forceful installation dominates the entryway with heavy black ropes that hang from the ceiling and form a pile on the floor. Even though the work is static, it embodies both elegance and danger. Another large installation on view is by Dominic Kavanagh, who has created a brick-platformed scrapyard complete with its own water circulation system. Housed in what was once Leonard Joel’s furniture gallery, the work is further contextualised in its commentary on collecting, hoarding, waste and consumerism.

Installation by Dominic Kavanagh (front) and paintings by Jarrad Martyn (back) at NotFair 2023, installation view. Photo: ArtsHub.
Installation by Dominic Kavanagh (front) and paintings by Jarrad Martyn (back) at NotFair 2023, installation view. Photo: ArtsHub.

Several works display the expert craftsmanship of the artists – another nod to their achievements, as NotFair platforms many who have been overlooked in mainstream gallery representation, but deserve the spotlight. Aotearoa-born and Naarm-based artist Kohl Tyler‘s ceramic stonewares have achieved a pure ethereal beauty and softness, while in the same space, Nipaluna-based Mike Singe‘s picture of birds created with soot is breath-taking.

Even in metalwork – a core component of alchemy – the techniques and approaches are varied, creating thought-provoking pieces. Katie Breckon‘s “paintings” are incised on aluminium, creating monotone landscapes that are nonetheless dynamic, imbued with a quiet philosophy that accompanies the labour-intensive process. Upstairs, Jemima Lucas’ installation features a hanging glass vessel encased by aluminium cast from cow tripe. The work challenges gravity, interpersonal relationships and our current state of living. The idea of skin-to-skin contact and materiality is further explored in Lucas’ Balustrade (2023), an artwork disguised as a handrail that is up to visitors to discover.

Installations and “environments” by George Goodnow, Barry William Hale and Jonathan McBurnie shift the crooks and crannies of the venue into new settings, be that a bathroom, a teenager’s secret hideout or a thrumming attic.

This year’s NotFair also boasts a vibrant array of paintings. Highlights for this reviewer include the alluring abstract figuratives of Chelsea Lehmann, Chas Glover‘s series of works that resemble images from folklore and speak to the Lismore floods, Mattia Cicoli‘s gestural and joyous pieces, and the comforting female gaze in Sis Cowie’s paintings of nudes.

Speaking of nudes, the soft bodily sculptures of Chloe Tizzard are just irresistible.

Read: Exhibition review: Fairy Tales, Gallery of Modern Art

This year’s NotFair presents a marvellous selection of artists who are deeply engaged with their practices and the prominent topics of our world today. Once again, it strikes the bullseye of curatorial integrity and commercial opportunity.

NotFair 2023 Alchemy is on view from 9-13 December at 333 Malvern Road, South Yarra, Victoria; free entry.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. Most recently she took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne.