Melbourne Art Fair welcomes Ben Quilty as a 2018 Art Fair Ambassador, a program which embraces artworld identities with a shared drive to develop and inform new audiences for contemporary art. Artist and activist, Ben continues to draw critical acclaim with regular and highly successful solo exhibitions both in Australia and internationally. He has been a finalist in the prestigious Wynne and Archibald prizes and won the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize in 2009 and the Archibald Prize in 2011 with his portrait of artist, Margaret Olley. Also In 2011, Quilty travelled to Afghanistan as an official war artist with The Australian War Memorial. He was invited by World Vision Australia to travel to Greece, Serbia and Lebanon with author, Richard Flanagan, to witness firsthand the international refugee crisis in 2016. His work is represented in numerous major public, corporate and private collections.  

Ben takes a moment to share why the return of Australasia’s most established fair is so important and why the artist should be at the core.

[MAF] With the globalisation of the art market, the number of art fairs has exploded and now every city wants one of their own. Do you see this as a positive for the industry? 

[BQ] Yes! Doors swinging open for new art audiences are so important. Art was traditionally an elitist and high brow pastime. With the explosion of the industrial revolution and the breaking down of old systems and  archetypes artist’s have found pressing new roles. From Picasso’s Guernica to new work that Ai Wei Wei is making in response to refugee crisis artists are the new, clear, unwavering voice of reason. If the commercial art fair allows artists like us to have a voice to a huge new audience then it is a fantastic thing.

[MAF] How important are art fairs in the trajectory of an artists career? 

[BQ] Art Fairs are the predominant way that Australian artists have broken the geographical boundaries that make Australia such a unique place to live. It is difficult to get off the big island! Art fairs are exciting, achievable options for the best commercial galleries to show the biggest Australian artists to the world.

[MAF] Some criticise art fairs as being commercial supermarkets that neglect the artist, or at least fail to properly acknowledge their importance in the hype of it all. As a regular on the art fair circuit what do you think, can we do better at placing the artist at the core?

[BQ] Yep. Art fairs in some parts of the world were gradually becoming playgrounds for the richest and most famous citizens. Some artists become famous, most are not rich. The art world often eats itself from the outside in. It’s easy to criticise, but without selling my work I am unable to communicate how I see the world. And right at this moment on the planet people should be listening more to artists.

[MAF] The exhibition booths of an art fair are, by their very nature, limiting. Artists working in scale are often constrained to create work that ‘fits’ within the confines of a fair booth. Do you think there is a need for artists to adapt their work due to the increasing art fair demand? Has it impacted your practice? 

[BQ] No, artists should not be limited, but saying that perhaps the art fairs can pave the way for artists to be financially capable of realising their most ambitious projects, after the fair.

[MAF] Lastly, why is the return of Melbourne Art Fair so important to you?

The world is running out of resources, we are filling the planet with poison but there can never be enough art on the planet.

Ben Quilty is represented by Tolarno Galleries (Melbourne) and Jan Murphy Gallery (Brisbane)