As literature continues its steady migration to online platforms, art and design publishing remains a notable bright spot for the print-publishing industry. That future-minded resilience will be on display at NGV International’s Melbourne Art Book Fair from March 13 to 15, which spans a diverse program of workshops and launches, as well as a marketplace where publishers and readers can interact IRL.

Founded and curated by NGV’s Head of Publications, Megan Patty, the weekend-long fair has been a highlight of Melbourne Design Week since its inception six years ago. “It’s a nice moment in Design Week to stand back and realise everyone around you is a designer,” says Patty. “To start thinking about how design shapes our life and can change what we’re doing.”

Patty conceived of the fair as an organic outgrowth of NGV’s role as the one of the largest art publishers in the southern hemisphere, having published books for more than 150 years.

“There was no real moment in Australia to celebrate art and design publishing and connect audiences and industry with one another,” she says. “The fair is an ongoing project. We’re always looking ahead and planning in advance, and keeping an eye on what people are doing around the world.”

Besides bringing together publishers, designers, artists, writers and readers from various countries and disciplines, the Melbourne Art Book Fair circles back to just why publishing is important in the first place – and how it will evolve to survive in coming decades.

“Reading is often quite a private practice,” says Patty, “so it’s turning that on its head and talking about why we love art and design books so much. Why they’re important, why they’ve continued, and the future potential of the book. We’re in a great point of change, so what happens to the book in all of this? And what can we do to innovate?”

With that in mind, we asked Patty to single out some highlights from the three-day program. All events are free, though some require bookings.

Metahaven lecture and Q&A
Amsterdam design collective Metahaven are in Australia for the Design Week exhibition Field Report at RMIT Design Hub Gallery. They’re also doing an exclusive speaking engagement at the fair, reflecting on their work across the fields of filmmaking, poetry, propaganda and design.

“They’re working in a post-disciplinary space,” Patty says, “so they’re looking at issues around [our] hyper-mediated time, where everyone’s become a broadcaster, a designer, a filmmaker, prosecutor, judge, key witness, perpetrator and storyteller. And how might contemporary art and design respond to that?”

Friday March 13, 5.30pm to 6.30pm
NGV International, Clemenger BBDO Auditorium
Free entry (booking required)

Pirate Radio
Perhaps the quirkiest activation this year is a pop-up pirate radio station devoted to the many facets of publishing. The weekend broadcast will be hosted variously by local sound studio Liquid Architecture, participating artists, a “gonzo book club” from Field Theory, and there’ll be writing and grammar advice from The Good Copy. Expect interviews with artists and publishers as well as questions from the audience.

“It’s live on St Kilda Road,” says Patty, “but it’s also live-streamed on the NGV website. There are lots of different art, design and literature personalities speaking across the weekend. It’s something to participate in.”

Friday March 13 to Sunday March 15, various times
NGV International, Forecourt
Free entry

The Australian Zine Library
Who better to bring zines to the NGV than Sticky Institute, Melbourne’s long-time hub for the DIY format? “Sticky are the zine gods in Australia,” Patty says. With more than 200 zines featured in the library, visitors will be able to read a rich cross-section of independent voices. Plus it’s the ideal spot to unwind between events and activations elsewhere in the NGV.

“That’s really a space to chill out, read a zine and understand a more grassroots part of publishing practice,” adds Patty. “Lots of the books in the Great Hall will be from publishers large and small, but zines are often the first point of contact with publishing for students, artists and even publishers themselves.”

Friday March 13 to Sunday March 15, 10am to 5pm daily
NGV International, Great Hall
Free entry

Kids’ Own Art Books
In the same DIY spirit as the zine library is this novel opportunity for children to make and display their very own books. Hosted by artist Michael Camilleri, “Grand Imaginator” at the local non-profit organisation Kids’ Own Publishing, the family-friendly event will encourage kids to create and engage with the creations of their peers. Other artists will assist children in a workshop-style environment as well.

“There’s a dedicated area to teach kids how to make books, both hard copies and digital,” says Patty. “Those books then become part of the library. There’s a little stage where they will launch it, and a reading pit as well. We know some of our demographic have kids, and young readers are super into books, so let’s teach them to make their own.”

Friday March 13 to Sunday March 15, 10am to 5pm daily
NGV International, Great Hall
Free entry

Destiny launch
With all the programming crisscrossing over the weekend, it’s easy to forget the fair grew out of NGV’s status as an industry-leading publisher itself. Here’s a useful reminder: NGV is launching Destiny, the first large-scale monograph on the art and life of Indigenous artist Destiny Deacon, who coined the term “blak”. Destiny will prompt a linked celebration and discussion hosted by several contributing writers as well as its editor, Myles Russell-Cook, who’s also the curator of Indigenous Art at the NGV.

“It’s the largest in-depth study of Destiny Deacon’s practice to date,” Patty says. “You can hear readings from two of the authors – Claire G Coleman and Kim Kruger – and then stay for a celebration with a DJ. It’s really exciting for us, and a great discussion with community.”

Saturday March 14, 3pm to 5pm
NGV International, Grollo Equiset Garden
Free entry

See full program details at

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