The Melbourne Art Fair begins on Wednesday and soon the Royal Exhibition Building will be turned into a bustling marketplace, filled with dealers, galleries, curators and collectors ready to talk, buy and sell art. The fair's imminence is signposted on bus stops, trams and advertising throughout Melbourne, heralding the arrival of 80 selected national and international galleries showing contemporary art from over 900 artists, which will in-turn attract 30,000 visitors.

Waiting in the wings are two exciting satellite art fairs that will run alongside their more famous big brother. Satellites NotFair and The New Fair both offer an alternative art experience.

For years, satellite art fairs have existed alongside the major art fairs of the world, such as those in Miami, New York and London. Being commercial affairs, these tend to be large-scale events that focus on top end galleries and artists with established names. Satellites aim to offer a change of pace to what can be a noisy, hulking, art mall of an experience. Generally speaking, they are smaller, independent alternatives that might have a curated approach or show emerging, young or less-recognised artists. These satellites exist in the orbit of a larger fair, popping up to offer a point of difference or simply to ride the wave of art commerce running through the city.

Melbourne's take on satellites this year includes the inaugural The New Fair and NotFair, which made a splash when it debuted during the 2010 Melbourne Art Fair. Both fairs have taken their model from international satellite art fairs. Founders of The New Fair Vasili Kaliman and Jarrod Rawlins say they have always been interested in the smaller-scale fairs of the world and were keen to see something like that in Melbourne. They opened commercial gallery KALIMANRAWLINS last July and thought now would be the perfect time to debut a satellite.

The New Fair is a small-scale event with five galleries from Australia, New Zealand and the US, and one art bookstore in Thornbury’s Perimeter Books. All the participating galleries in The New Fair have a connection to Australia or have worked with Australian artists. Kaliman explains that if there is a theme linking the work together, it's that each of the participating ventures “are all presenting what we consider to be very good examples of contemporary art from different parts of the world”.

Inviting each of these galleries to participate and show new, exciting works, The New Fair is offering is a small, selective and sophisticated experience. With the artists yet to be announced, we will have to wait until The New Fair opening to see each gallery’s showcase, but with Foxy Production from New York (who show the cinematic creations of David Noonan and Sterling Ruby’s bright sculptures among others) and more in the mix, we should be in for a treat.

Kaliman says that their fair is targeting a more knowledgeable audience – people who spend a lot of time engaging with contemporary art. “It's more of a collectors event rather than something for the uninitiated. That said, it will also be a very exciting place for the newcomer to visit… Collectors will able to see the work of artists they have not heard of before and discuss the work with the dealers… It will be a great opportunity to meet a handful of really interesting dealers from outside Australia.”

In contrast, the NotFair team are definitively punk in spirit, with a direct agenda to increase exposure for undervalued, undiscovered artists. Curated by Melissa Amore, Sam Leach and Ashley Crawford, NotFair claims it has prowled studios, grad exhibitions, artist-run spaces, websites and inner-city lanes seeking “the most powerful and potent of both a younger generation and undiscovered mid-generation artists to create a visual of the skilled and the visionary”.

The NotFair team believed Melbourne, with its strong tradition of support for the visual arts, was overdue for a multi-event approach to art fairs and debuted their alternative in 2010. They positioned themselves as “the artists' fair”, concentrating on the quality of the work, developing the potential of lesser-known talents rather than big, bankable artists and asking for a comparatively low commission from sales.

The buzz surrounding the satellite garnered national and international media coverage, with Gabriella Coslovich writing that it “threatened to eclipse the much bigger Melbourne Art Fair” in The Age. Many of the artists they showed were subsequently picked up by galleries and the fair was celebrated as a commercial and popular success.

Taking the curated approach of an exhibition, this year NotFair is bound under the banner of Primal Mutations and aims to re-evaluate the intrusion of digital and the tactility of the organic. With Heath Franco’s animated visions, James Little’s lyrical drawings and Sean Crossley’s anguished paintings on display, this second incarnation will be twice as big as their 2010 fair and “promises to propel viewers into new worlds and new ideas”. As long as they keep propelling unrecognised talent, the second NotFair is assured continued popularity.

The New Fair
2–5 August 2012
9 Ellis Street, South Yarra
Admission free

Primal Mutation
1–5 August 2012
£1000 Bend
361 Lt Lonsdale Street, Melbourne