For four days this February, Melbourne Art Fair brings a packed program of art and ideas from over 60 Australasian galleries to the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre and other venues across the city. This year’s theme is “ketherba”, a Boon Wurrung word meaning “together”. The works explore how artists, curators, visitors and collectors can band together through art to affirm hope and embrace differences in our shared world.

Kicking off the program on Wednesday is the Lux Australis Ensemble, at Alpha60’s Chapter House, which will be performing its inaugural work for string orchestra, composed by Elena Kats-Chernin and conducted by Luke Severn. A supper of Glenfiddich whisky and lobster rolls by Andrew McConnell will round out the night.

Thursday night, head to the MCEC and be amongst the first to see the Fair and celebrate with the artworld at the opening night Vernissage. The Fair’s hottest ticket, Vernissage is selling fast, so get in quick to secure your spot.

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From there, choose your own adventure through 60 galleries and the fair’s program: Beyond, Video, Conversations and Late Nights.

The Conversations program includes a talk between ABC Radio National host Patricia Karvelas and art journalist and writer Jennifer Higgie about Higgie’s work, which challenges traditional art history narratives. There are also panels featuring celebrated Australian fashion designer Akira Isogawa and Powerhouse Museum creative resident Jordan Gogos, South African multidisciplinary artist Buhlebezwe Siwani, and more.

A bronze life-size sculptural work by Sydney-based artist Julie Rrap is Melbourne Art Foundation’s $100,000 commission for 2024; it’s being unveiled for the first time at the fair. And presented by Broadsheet, the Late Nights program includes a site-responsive dance performance by Lucy Guerin Inc at Alpha60’s Chapter House and live music, grilled bites, exhibitions, artist talks and more at Collingwood Yards.

Consistent with the fair’s “together” theme, there will be activities to engage the whole family. Sanné Mestrom’s The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of Her Parts is one of four large-scale works featured in the Beyond program.

“I used to live in the city and I was always alarmed at how child-blind the city environment is for kids and mums or parents,” Mestrom tells Broadsheet. “There's really nothing to accommodate kids besides the fenced off, ubiquitous, generic playground. It just seemed like this really vital gap in urban living that there weren't more engaging or complex, interesting, intergenerational playable environments.”

She realised public art could be a tool to bridge this gap between kids and adults in public space. The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of Her Parts is a series of five sculptures in the shape of abstracted female forms. They’re designed to invite play through texture, gradient, tunnels and slopes, which Mestrom describes as “invisible cues” for kids to interact with the work.

“It’s like [the artwork] has a secret language to kids. They understand that the proportions are built for them,” she says.

The installation is Mestrom’s latest work in response to the modernist canon where the female form has historically been moulded under the male gaze in sculptures of reclining nudes by artists like Picasso, Matisse and Henry Moore.

“As I got older and understood more about feminist issues and the male gaze … I started playing around with these ideas more,” says Mestrom. “And by creating these gargantuan women myself now in public space, I’ve tried to reclaim the power of the female nude.

“These new figures are not being made by other men,” she says. “They’re essentially portraits of myself, being made by myself. And there's something really luxurious about seeing these nudes, versions of me, reclining out on these epic lawns and plazas …The works feel cheeky; they’re winking at history, while drinking a whisky on the rocks, as I do.”

Mestrom is looking forward to seeing how her fellow artists in the Beyond program have approached the unique challenge of creating a short-term, large-scale installation.

“Normally if you’re [creating] something larger it’s going to be there permanently, so you use certain processes and materials that are going to endure,” she says. “But it’s a real challenge to do something that you can install quickly, uninstall quickly, that’s gonna appeal to and ‘handle’ people from all ages. I’m really curious to see how others tackle this challenge.”

Melbourne Art Fair 2024 runs from February 22 to 25. Tickets are available now.

Broadsheet is a proud media partner of Melbourne Art Fair.