In much-needed good news for the arts sector, Melbourne Art Fair returns to the city from February 17 to 20.

Melbourne Art Fair is the first Australian art fair to be held since the start of the pandemic and the first major event of the 2022 cultural calendar. Held across 7000 square metres of the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre in South Wharf, the four-day event features art available to be purchased from new and iconic artists represented by 63 leading contemporary galleries and Indigenous-owned art centres.

“There's enormous excitement within the Australian art world about Melbourne Art Fair’s return,” says Maree Di Pasquale, CEO and Fair Director. “Not only because it’s Australia’s first fair in two years, but also because the fair has never before presented such an extraordinary cross-section of work by the region’s most significant artists, from newly discovered talents to the most collectible in contemporary art.”

An expanded artistic program in 2022 features a range of artworks, installations and presentations that respond to the theme of place/djeembana – djeembana is a Boonwurrung word that describes a place for community or a meeting point for the exchange of stories, rituals and knowledge.

Aboriginal art continues to feature prominently in the fair’s program. In 2022, new principal partner Bennelong Funds Management has supported a $10,000 commission that’s been awarded to artist Wanapati Yunupingu from Buku Larrnggay Mulka Centre, an arts centre in Yirrkala, a small Aboriginal community in north-east Arnhem Land, approximately 700 kilometres east of Darwin. The completed work will be gifted to Shepparton Art Museum.

In 2022, five Aboriginal art centres – Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre (Yirrkala), Jilamara Arts & Crafts Association (Milikapiti), Warlayirti Artists (Balgo), Waringarri Aboriginal Arts (Kununurra) and Milingimbi Art & Culture (Milingimbi) – will appear at the fair under the Melbourne Art Fair Indigenous Art Centre program (IACP) delivered by Agency Projects, a non-profit organisation that celebrates and promotes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, culture and people.

Contemporary Yankunytjatjara artist Kaylene Whiskey is the recipient of the 2022 Melbourne Art Foundation Commission, presented in partnership with ACMI. Whiskey, represented by Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, has created a new single-channel video work in response to the theme of djeembana/place. It will be unveiled at the fair before becoming part of the permanent ACMI collection.

New program features in 2022 include Beyond, six large-scale installations and spatial interventions responding to the fair’s theme. Curated by independent curator and writer Emily Cormack, they occupy the expansive exhibition spaces within MCEC.

Live, presented by Glenfiddich, is an on-site/off-site performance and sound art program that celebrates trailblazers. Some of Australia’s most boundary-pushing artists – Scotty So (Mars Gallery), Amala Groom (Blackartprojects), Jason Phu and Nadia Hernández (Station Gallery), Angela Goh (Performance Review), Sally Smart (Gallery Sally Dan-Cuthbert), The Huxleys (Murray White Room), Nick Modrzewski (Discordia), Steven Rhall (Mars Gallery) – will stage performances at the fair and across the city.

Video, presented by Subtype, will showcase a selection of moving-image art from new and iconic international contemporary artists. The format enables international galleries – representing artists such as Michael Rakowitz, (Jane Lombard Gallery, New York), Tuan Andrew Nguyen and Hiraki Sawa (James Cohan, New York), Dominic Mangila (The Drawing Room, Manila), and Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg (Lisson Gallery, London) – to exhibit on Australian shores for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

MAF Virtual, an online viewing room platform that connects galleries and audiences around the world, runs parallel to the main event, from February 17 to March 3.

The future of art and its relationship to interdisciplinary practices and the contemporary world is the focus of Conversations, a series of talks and panels hosted on MAF Virtual that features artists, gallerists, curators, collectors, architects, critics and cultural luminaries. Melissa Bianca Amore, art critic, curator, contemporary philosopher and co-founding director of non-profit arts organisation Re-Sited, leads the “curatorium” of thinkers who have developed the Conversations program.

MAF also claims the title of Australia’s most sustainable art fair, partnering with Betacarbon, a cryptocurrency trading platform that aims to allow individuals and organisations to offset carbon emissions. The fair has committed to offset at least 300 tonnes of carbon – equivalent to the carbon captured by 18,000 trees in 10 years – and invested in sustainable event infrastructure such as reusable exhibition walling and LED lights.

Tickets on sale now from Melbourne Art Fair.

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Melbourne Art Fair.