At the perfect point between art and the market, Sydney Contemporary has consumed the entirety of Carriageworks for its four-day program from September 13-16. The fourth iteration of this event, which is now annual, rather than bi-annual, Sydney Contemporary 2018 stakes out a vision for Australian art which is global, connected and not afraid to engage with the commercial side of culture.
The fair itself comprises more than 80 galleries, with a focus on Australian galleries and art spaces in East Asia. Significant delegations were sent from Singapore in the form of Yavuz Gallery and Sundaram Tagore Gallery (which also has locations in Hong Kong and New York), but if the reason why you are here is to see what the big guns of the global art market have to offer then Pace Gallery – with six locations including New York, London, Hong Kong and Beijing – is undoubtedly the focus of the show.
What is more unique about Sydney Contemporary is the focus on representing the whole of the arts sector. This takes advantage of Carriageworks’ reputation as an innovative multi-arts space, with appearances from resident performance-art group Performance Space’s Jeff Khan, in the role of curator of the Performance Contemporary program.
There is also a significant representation of Sydney’s signature Artist Run Initiative scene. Making up a substantial portion of Sydney’s cultural milleu, it was good to see booths from STACKS Projects, 107 and Jerico Contemporary, to give visitors a taste of the emerging artists and ideas in Sydney. With its focus on preparing artists of the future through its studio program, the National Art School was also present.
While the presence of younger, unrepresented artists gave life to Sydney Contemporary, by creating a diversity of forms of expression not often seen at purely commercial focused art fairs, the effort to show forms of art that are not the most easily commodified unfortunately at times fell flat. The Video Contemporary program was unable to have its own viewing space, and felt forgotten in a corridor between the larger bays where the rest of the booths were held.
In some ways, however, this is not all that surprising. Sydney Contemporary exists to sell art, and last year sold roughly $16 million worth of it. For the first time, this year marks the fair’s return as an annual event, and it will obviously hope to top 2017’s figure, and while not increasing the number of art galleries present, it has expanded the floor space allocated to exhibitors to allow for engaging and compelling shows.
Smaller-scale buyers should not be put off, although the most expensive piece (Jean Dubuffet’s L’Incivil (1973/2014)) is expected to fetch in the vicinity of $4-5 million, there are not only the ARIs that are exhibiting works with a smaller price tag, but also Paper Contemporary, which invites first time art buyers to get a taste for collecting art. In addition, a number of galleries sell work in collaboration with ArtMoney, which provides interest free loans for purchases between $675 and $50 000.
Intent on getting a broad art public through the door, Sydney Contemporary has commissioned a number of installations, and provides an opportunity to see celebrated artist Patricia Piccini’s work, in this case The Field, which provides an enrapturing experience for viewers. Stepping into a grotto-like corner of Carriageworks, one is surrounded by sculptures mounted at about a metre off the ground which embody Piccini’s talent for devising an uncanny, yet arresting experience. In the centre of the space, a lone figure stands, holding one of Piccini’s characteristic humanoid sculptural creations. Bathed in light, the connection between this duo and their many companions invites a moment of quieter contemplation, away from the noise of the rest of the fair.
Both a “marketplace” and “a good day out” in the words of Director Tim Etchells, Sydney Contemporary is in no way shy of making its claim to Sydney’s place in the global art market; one which is only going to grow with the now annual Sydney Contemporary.