May 16, 2022

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New Melbourne Design Fair waves the flag for ‘Australian made’

There’s white noise surrounding the Design Fair, prompting comparisons to Design Miami’s high-octane shows in Florida and Basel, Switzerland – with a first edition slated for Paris, in October.

But for international gallerists like Rachael Fry and artist Ben Mazey, who both call Melbourne home, this notion is at odds with their thinking.

Fry is a New York creative director who moved to Melbourne a decade ago to open her Criteria showroom of finely curated furniture and lighting, which evolved into C.Gallery for limited editions, and opened last year. Mazey spent more than a decade in Paris as a design consultant and was briefly Shanghai-based until the outbreak of COVID-19 prompted his move to Melbourne.

A ceramic vase by Ben Mazey, at C.Gallery. Simon Strong

Dismissing comparisons with European and US fairs, Fry says: “Australia has a massive opportunity to host an art fair of international recognition. However, at the forefront of that conversation should be our geography – of Japan, Korea, Singapore, our Asian neighbours. I’m very optimistic, if we show interesting work the market will come.”

Fiona Lyda, creative director of Spence & Lyda, Sydney’s hub for artful shoppers, describes the southern city’s appetite for design as “upbeat”.

“Melbourne is the home of the best design [she will open a Melbourne showroom in May] and you have to congratulate the NGV for driving this.”

The event is a ’massive opportunity” for Australia, says Rachael Fry, owner of C.Gallery. Arsineh Houspian

Lyda credits Melbourne interior designer Fiona Lynch who spied a faded beauty in Kew, the 1883 Villa Alba, as a location for their MDW show – Future Collective. Curating local and global works, including some first seen at Super Salon Milan by Alvo Catalan De Ocon and English furniture designer Lucy Kurrein, Future Collective will also feature Innate, Lyda’s collection in collaboration with Jon Goulder, Australia’s internationally acclaimed furniture designer.

“Jon and I wanted to do something quintessentially Australian, a no-fuss straightforward design ethos to allow pieces to sit gently in interiors, not tap dance.” The result is a collection of coffee and side tables, a console, a desk and dining table made of uncommon Australian hardwoods, Adelaide black granite and black powdered aluminium.

Both Design Week and the Design Fair are great equalisers, says Golemac.

Fiona Lyda and Jon Goulder’s Tasmanian blackwood desk from their Innate
collection, showing at MDW’s Future Collective (excluding the chair). Andres Ripamonti

“Not every designer can get into a gallery, or has the funds,” she says, describing her motivation in curating Material Culture as being “solely about bringing people together”. Her exhibitors transgress age and experience, from one of Australia’s foremost sculptors, Peter D Cole, to Jacqueline Stojanović, an abstract weaver who graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2015.

Woven abstract wall hanging by Jacqueline Stojanović (2022). 

“Despite the vast differences – he, a renowned sculptor, and she, an artist at the beginning of her career – they sit in the same creative space together. Experience and how well known they are goes out the window.”

Fry notes that, “historically design talent in Australia hasn’t enjoyed a single venue or the opportunity to showcase work under one roof. Collectors, interior designers, architects and investors are seeking new encounters to discover and buy collectable contemporary design.”

Mazey says the pandemic has made Australia “both more localised and more globalised”.

Ben Mazey with another of his pieces at C.Gallery. 

“Australia is already a central pillar in terms of Asia. Indicative of that cultural shift is the appointment of two Australia editors to Vogue China [Margaret Zhang] and Vogue India [Megha Kapoor]. It’s interesting to view Australia as a new epi-centre.

Mazey, who will show his lamps, totems, wall panels and large format installations at both the Design Fair and C.Gallery, says “the aspiration to emulate places we perceive as bigger and better is damaging and counter-productive.

“Let’s just find our unique voice and turn up the volume.”

Six not to miss

Worm bowl by James Lemon

The bowl has a real gold finish, typical of many of Lemon’s vessels. Melbourne Design Week Select section

James Lemon is developing an avid following for his gorgeously confrontational ceramics that are so sumptuously finished you can’t help approach them; so formally peculiar they simultaneously repel. This tension is not dissimilar to that deployed by the great Gaetano Pesce, who bird-flips modernism at every turn of his drippy resin vessels, affirming that “novelty inherent to innovation disturbs the sleepy mental baggage of individuals”. Lemon’s gloopy vessels emanate a queer glamour, which awakens the mind. Their viscous glazes often triple-fired with a real gold finish; the sensual lips are sometimes studded with pearls. Yet for all the evident preciousness of the materials, the objects remain defiantly punk. Oi!

Untitled (2021) desk by Don Cameron

The clean, solid lines of Cameron’s walnut desk are obvious in this detail of the table top and pullout drawer. MDF Present section: Gallery Sally Dan-Cuthbert

When art-director/interior designer Don Cameron unveiled his ‘Communion’ series of large-scale black and white photographs of Brutalist WWII bunkers last year, each of the images came in a bespoke bronze frame that was integral to the piece (and priced accordingly). This year, he has moved away from the image, effectively evolving the frame to iterate a collection of limited-edition furniture that “explores techniques and outcomes”, as Cameron puts it.

The first piece to be released is this solid walnut desk. “Translating the architectural and the monumental to a more human scale was the genesis of the piece,” says Cameron, noting he was listening to 1980s Belgian minimal synth recordings as he was designing, and is planning to commission a soundtrack to sell with the desk.

(Untitled) low and side tables by Duncan Young and Noah Hartley

Untitled table by Duncan Young and Noah Hartley.  MDF Present section: Jam Factory

These intriguing tables are a collaboration between designer and furniture maker Duncan Young and glass artist Noah Hartley, both alumni of Adelaide’s Jam Factory creative hub. The inversion of materials defining the legs and the top emphasises the inherent strength of cast glass and the sensual, tactile aspect of timber. In doing so, it underscores the two creatives’ deft hand with their materials and affinity with their respective crafts. First shown at the Denfair tradeshow last month, where it won the Next Top Designer award, these collector pieces will surely be going to a good home.

Glaz chairs by Brud Studia

A Glaz chair in travertine from Brud Studia. MDF Select section

The shared Eastern European heritage of Andy Kelly and Mitch Zurek of Brud Studia informs their defiantly hefty furniture designs inspired by monumental communist-era war memorials known as ‘spomenik’. Zurek says they began “toying around” with furniture during Melbourne’s extended COVID-19 lockdown, with scarce material available and no access to makers. So, they settled, firstly, on slabs of cast aluminium into which they cut gaps and tabs, so that the pieces could be slotted together requiring no nails or screws. This new series – called Glaz (Polish for ‘stone’) – uses the same technique but with travertine, an ‘on-trend’ material they take joy in subverting. Stoic and poised, at around 180 kilograms each, these chairs have real gravitas.

Vanity screen by Christopher Boots

The stunning ‘neo-Byzantium’ Vanity screen by Christopher Boots. MDF Select section

Christopher Boots delights in the decorative – most notably in trademark lighting fixtures that come embedded with masses of jagged crystals to heighten visual effect. His Vanity room divider occupies aesthetic territory I’d call ‘neo-Byzantium’: its trio of hippodrome-shaped panels in cast
bronze emanating sunbeams of smoky quartz and pavés of lapis lazuli, which Boots then variously patinated and polished. The play of surface and material pushes the piece way beyond the realm of the functional – in fact, it would be joyously gratuitous if it weren’t so darned fabulous. The designer’s skill is in knowing when to stop. Or not.

Nocturne table by Olive Gill-Hille

Gill-Hillie’s Nocturne table could be used as a seat, too. MDF Present section: Gallery Sally Dan-Cuthbert


Perth-based Gill-Hille is reluctant to categorise her sensual sculptural pieces into a design typology – a ‘chair’, say, or a ‘table’ – suggesting “anything is functional as long it’s got a surface”. In the case of her newest work, Nocturne, if you pop a vase of flowers on it, I guess you might call it a shelf; plop your butt down, it’s a seat. Handcrafted from solid walnut, the flurry of branches incarnates the feeling of “juggling lots of things in the
air,” says Gill-Hille; an incarnation of the modern condition, then. Laminated then ebonised to a deep sheen, its organically dynamic form recalls Futurist sculptor Umberto Boccioni’s iconic 1914 bronze, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space. Which I would never put a vase on. – STEPHEN TODD

NEED TO KNOW
Melbourne Design Week: March 16 to 20.
Melbourne Design Fair: March 16-20, Warehouse 16 at 28 Duke Street in Abbotsford, Victoria.

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