Spring 1883 at the Windsor Hotel

A review of Spring 1883 in Melbourne

Althea Kuzman

curator and writer

Review Sep 06, 2023

Art Fairs can feel a little duplicitous, they are at once beckoning you to spend your money but also can provide the feeling of alienation. It’s a strange place where high art gets flogged like a street merchant selling unique wares. It’s also a place where you can actually discover fun, new artists, should their gallery take a punt on them. 

I’ve always felt overwhelmed at art fairs, white booth to white booth, swallowing in white noise and seeing more art than the eyes can adjust to. But the sense of excitement is what always propels us – the notion that you might stumble onto something you haven’t yet discovered. 

Spring 1883 however, is not like your traditional run of the mill, white cubed art affair, but rather something more intimate. You’re in close quarters with the gallerist and the art, and your imagination doesn’t have to run far to picture the art hanging about your bed frame.

The reason being is that it is hosted in a hotel. 

The tradition stemming from New Yorks’ Gramercy International Art Fair (now known as the Armory Show), Spring 1883 was born in Melbourne in 2014 with four major arts players from Victoria Kate Barber and Vikki McInnes (directors of Sarah Scout Presents), Geoff Newton (director, Neon Parc) and art advisor Vasili Kaliman, at the Windsor Hotel. 

The reason an art fair in a hotel functions better than in a traditional space is twofold. One, you’re placing art in a liveable setting. Yes, this painting looks good above an armchair, and wow couldn’t you see this hanging above your bed, and oh my goodness art in the bathroom even looks good. But it’s not just about showing you that it belongs in a domestic setting, because art obviously does. Two, it shows you that contemporary art, even the more left-of-field kind, can light up your bathroom in ways you weren’t aware of. 

There’s also something to be said for the fact that the setting is the Windsor Hotel, a hotel so old world, it feels odd to see so many young people in it. A hotel that was established in Melbourne in 1883, hence the name. Perhaps it is the clash of contemporary art against old wallpaper and heavy curtains that thrusts the notion this type of art belongs in ANY setting. 

The hotel itself feels elite, otherworldly and just right for all the peacocking of the art world. Perhaps one thing I always find amusing with art fairs, other than the Affordable Art Fair, is that they always pose the question… is art actually for everyone? Did anyone who is not tangentially connected to the art world actually attend Spring 1883? But perhaps that’s an analysis for a different essay. The Windsor sits proudly and the art fair spans across 4 floors, with each containing one penthouse suite for the MVPs of galleries: Chalk Horse from Sydney, Sarah Scout from Melbourne and Neon Parc from Melbourne. 

Chalk Horse’s first foray into Spring 1883 starts with a bang, they even invited local Sydney curator extraordinaire, Sebastian Goldspink to curate the space. Artist and Director, Jasper Knight was overheard lightly complaining to his staff over the lack of bottle service in the hotel – a right complaint to make considering there is zero booze to be found (and we all know that liquor makes loose lips, and loose fingers on platinum cards). But jokes aside, ferrying around a glass of bubbles and looking at art really heightens the experience.

Chalk Horse makes the hotel experience fun (sparkle emoji), there’s an enormous Clara Adolph painting that stares you down in the bedroom, juxtaposed by the charming Jason Phu on the bed, with a cliche, ceramic swan towel... the whole experience overwhelming you, making you giggle and hightail out of there.

They make use of every space, propping up a painting on two wine glasses leaning up against the fireplace. 

Neon Parc shows a large offering of artists, highlighting their foundational importance to the fair. The walls are lined with art and sculptures provide little ruptures in the rooms. Nabilah Nordin’s sculptures immediately draw your attention, her work once again unavoidable no matter what state you’re in - and with good reason. Neon Parc’s showing is at once littered as it is cohesive and perhaps the nicest part about it is the pairing of artists with works that are hovering around the $1,000 mark with those like Dale Frank that sit at over $80,000. Art is for everyone, no

Clara Adolphs / Chalk Horse Art Gallery

Traversing three floors of art is taxing, but unlike the regular art fair format you have those quiet moments of reprieve in the corridor, the quiet contemplation as you brace to enter a new space and squeeze yourself past the door and hopefully into a nice showing. 

29 Galleries were on show this year, with the majority finding creative ways to show their artists off. The biggest standout, and the mark of a Gallery’s true craftsmanship came from the bathrooms.

The little nook behind the door that really allowed the artist's breathing space. Kait James’ (Neon Parc) work sang in the bathroom, her bold colours and bold statements made a full swing and contact with your body – and the giant mirror helped. Emily Hartley-Skudder’s delightful paintings of vanities and bathrooms crowded the Jonathan Smart Gallery’s bathroom. A bathroom motif in a bathroom… how groundbreaking – you could be forgiven for thinking so, but considering they crowd the mirror and leave the walls exposed, it is. You find yourself at once in the work, in a home and in contemplation. Harley Ives’ Immaterial Ornament 8, was one of my favourite bathrooms, two opulent armchairs shoved into the small space as the mirror houses a tv screen with the video on loop. The purple colours emit a welcoming glow as you submit yourself into the leather armchair, marvelling at the fact a bathroom has never felt quite this bizarre.

A standout space was Nicholas Thompson Gallery with their offering of Nine Victorian Artists. It felt loud, sleek and clever, and made full use of the opulence of the suite. A standout moment is the space’s curtains drawn and Heidi Yardley’s anonymous figure sitting powerfully against the dusty pink, heavy curtain – providing a showing platform. And Melbourne-based artist Hayley Arjona stunned in the bathroom, stealing your breath as you chanced a glimpse at her arresting fantasy and not-so-subtle inferno.

THIS IS NO FANTASY were unsurprisingly fantastic with their showing of Phuong Ngo’s moving prints with found postcards.

The bedroom had the walls lined with Ezz Monem’s photography series on revolution and colonialism, highlighting the fact that art for the home can be political too. The suite offered a moment of contemplative reverie, which was much appreciated. 

New Sydney-based outfit LAILA stunned with a clean and tight hang, showcasing 6 artists from across the country. Luke Brennan’s oil, pencil and wax abstractions were a unique amalgamation of texture and composition leaving you with the itching desire to run your hands along the expanse of the painting. Neil Beedie's work creates the opposite, his oil on canvas works leave you in awe of his execution of such thin layers of paint. 

Overall it must be said – the Fair is exciting, it’s the opportunity to see so many different artists, from different mediums, different genres and different parts of the country (and across the ditch) all in one place. The buzz of enthusiasm in the air is contagious and you can’t help but feel excited by the art, by the future of art and to hopefully remain on the outskirts as an engaged spectator.

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