What might be called the Art Fair Industrial Complex has been an ambivalent force on both art markets and art itself in recent years: in one view, fairs offer their attendees chances to see international work they wouldn’t otherwise have access to; in another, the vast mall of it all dulls context into commerce. Such questions were put on hold with COVID-19 but as signs of life return—the Istanbul Design Biennale takes place through May 2021, overlapping with the projected return of Art Basel Hong Kong in March—it’s worth thinking about how such massive enterprises use space once it’s safe to inhabit them, and what the ethics of such inhabitation might be. Those were on the mind of National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) director Tony Ellwood as he and his team assembled 86 projects by more than 100 creators across some 30 countries for the museum’s second NGV Triennial. “The biggest challenge of the fair was freighting,” says NGV’s director Tony Ellwood on the phone from Melbourne, noting international shipping became more fraught (and expensive) than usual. In response, and also due to what he calls “a gaping hole in our programming,” Ellwood and the curatorial team included local artists like Dhambit Munuŋgurr, whose immersive installation Can We All Have a Happy Life comprises paintings and poles made in the Aboriginal community of Yirrkala.
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