The Carnival is over, for now, and it was a blast. Starting with 17,000 or thereabout designer-clad enthusiasts leading the stampede through the doors and filling every nook and cranny of what is the enormous Carriageworks venue for the (supposed) VIP Vernissage on Thursday evening; to finishing late afternoon on Sunday with lots of red dots, exhausted dealers, artists, buyers and sore feet. Sydney Contemporary took Sydney by storm.
There are some wonderful anecdotes that best describe the chaos of the opening event for “VIPS” on Thursday evening: Redfern Station closed at some point because there were too many people; the local streets were gridlocked with traffic; of course there was no chance of getting a vino, a seat, a carspace. People were disgruntled and frustrated. This is the town where everyone is a VIP!
My experience of it? Try giving a floor talk and pushing through the throng. It made for an endurance test, for speaker and listener alike. My sincere thanks to my handful of dedicated followers.
But with the neutral gaze of hindsight we can be amazed that so many Sydney-siders wanted a piece of the action that night and they saw that as being at Sydney Contemporary. Does this mean we’ve come to our collective senses and embraced contemporary art? Hope so. The proof will be in the next pudding – in Sydney again in 2015.
I think Sydney needs a good art fair. Melbourne has had the benefit for many years now and will continue to, under the guidance of the same group Art Fairs Australia (which was our host last weekend).
The local audience needs bolstering. It needs education and encouragement to look, consider and buy. Sydney galleries cannot just rely on the current very small pool of local, interstate and international collectors. An art fair, essentially a trade fair of which there is now a proliferation internationally, is a great way for potential punters to work out what is actually out there in art- land; to develop their own taste and style ie what they like, what they can afford and who they would like to develop an ongoing relationship with to buy from.
Sydney Contemporary gave us all that. Admittedly there were many top notch galleries which weren’t represented (it is expensive and there is a lot of competition with art fairs now) and there seemed to be more Melbourne/ Brisbane/ NZ galleries collectively than those from Sydney, but essentially the enthusiastic and large Sydney audience got a very good overview of some very solid, worthwhile and collectable contemporary art.
Some highlights for me:
The venue itself – CarriageWorks was a great venue, with smaller halls and sections which helped to break down the mass into bite-sized, more easily managed chunks.
Video Contemporary curated by Mark Feary curator at Artspace was terrific. Filmic, narrative, digital manipulation, computer animation, text based, documentation of action or performance – it was a good overview of very collectable digital media. We all own the super flat screen and have it, for the most part, proudly installed on the best wall in the home. Unfortunately what it invariably gives back to us is of little value. Video art is a very good alternative to those vacuous Kardashians and Neighbours.
Baiden Pailthorpe is included. He is the inaugural artist – in – residence (as opposed to Official War Artist) at the Australian War Memorial. His interest in military technologies and politics fuses with his studies in digital media to bring forth some fascinating visual commentaries on the effects of war on individual participants. His hypnotic kaleidoscopic work I first saw at Martin Browne Contemporary and the 3:30min HD video here MQ-9 Reaper is just as powerful a comment on contemporary warfare as his earlier pieces. Also known as Predator 9, the MQ -9 Reaper is an unmanned aerial vehicle (aka a drone) and is the first hunter-killer drone rather than one used more specifically for surveillance, intelligence gathering and reconnaissance. Kill, maim and destroy from arms-length. Creepy.
Kate Mitchell uses humour and predictability within an Australian vernacular to comment on what is normal and acceptable. Her video here of sawing the plank on which she sat was particularly enjoyable.
Ash Keating’s video was a triumph and won him the Ballarat Art Prize recently. It is the documentation of a performance of considerable endurance in which he paints the side of a massive factory masonry wall to give it life and a place within the landscape. It is 50m long and 8 m high and there was no scaffolding involved. He spray-painted, fire-hosed and threw colour at and across this huge wall, in a palette that evoked the surrounding landscape. It is both ceremonial and anarchistic: the graffiti artist blending building with landscape. It was worth watching each of the 16 minutes.
The videos were shared on several screens – very sexy white B&O screens – which meant you had to view a few at a single sitting. It worked well.
Anna Schwartz Gallery which has Carriageworks as its home, had Candice Breitz installed. This is a fascinating look at adoration – each person on each of the 25 screens is singing karaoke-style along to a not so well known John Lennon/ Yoko Ono song. One for the afficionados.
If you were after something 2D that didn’t move, flicker or have an accompanying sound track, there was great painting and photography – Rosemary Laing’s new epic series The paper at Tolarno Galleries in which a forest is covered in a truckload of newspaper;
stain paintings from the 70s by lauded veteran Syd Ball at Sullivan & Strumpf;
a fabulous diptych by Tony Tuckson at Watters Gallery (and a large lovely lyrical drawing which was beautiful sited adjacent to a large floor sculpture by James Rogers);
lushly rendered little birds by Craig Waddell at Gallery 9;
some lovely small Shane Cottons at Michael Lett’s booth
and David Jolly’s mini oils on glass at Sutton Galleries. A suite of 3 delicate, breath taking oils on cotton gauze which caught my eye was by NZ artist John Ward Knox from Robert Heald Gallery in Wellington.
Tim Klingender’s booth raised the bar to a serious level of excellence with the suite of Wanjina barks and 3 early Rover Thomas’. It is rare to see one of these works on display, let alone so many, up close and available. Sitting together with the masters and holding its own well was also a recent black text on black background by Vernon Ah Kee. This booth is a great example of what makes an art fair worthwhile – the best of the best is brought out, for all to experience.
Many objets d’art and sculpture were worth considering: Vipoo Srivlasa intricate ceramic statuettes which offer handy tips to make a million before dinner at Edwina Corlette’s booth; and Julia deVille’s It’s a wonderful life, was a highlight of Installation Contemporary curated for the Fair by Aaron Seeto. A still-born taxidermied calf dangled from the ceiling, adorned with fine silver chains and precious gems. Far from another carcass ready for butchering, deVille creates the momento mori, the celebrated memorial of the death of an individual animal. Her works comment on us our insatiable appetite to consume once living beings. DeVille had smaller objects – birds & jewels – at Sophie Gannon Gallery’s booth which were lovely.
Daniel Agdag’s extraordinarily finely sculpted mechanical curiosities, tightly guarded under the bell jar, at (MARS) sold out. And Peter Gardiner’s midden, comprising soot smudged china plates, at Damien Minton’s booth walked out the door.
Lyndi Sales laser-cut perspex discs suspended above the entrance, the story behind which became apparent at .M Contemporary’s booth. The untimely death of Sales’ father in a commercial airliner crash is the foundation for her work. She sifts through the minutiae of her personal and shared grief to come to understand this unnecessary accident and ensuing tragedy.
She was not alone in honouring her father. It seemed to be a recurrent theme for many artists, via different practices, cultures, media and experiences. It is a powerful relationship that molds and guides us and, with a bit mature understanding, we come to understand the depths of experiences of our parents. A haunting photograph by Karina Wikamto in Artereal Gallery was part of an eloquently rendered installation/ story of her father’s cultural background and racial tensions which marred his childhood.
Abdul Abdullah represented by Fehily Contemporary is a strong voice for his paternal and maternal cultural backgrounds and where he finds himself, culturally and ethnically. As a 7th generation Australian, one would assume he would fit right in the middle of broader Australia but as a muslim with a Malaysian mother he offers a different perspective, preferring to see himself as “ethnically ambiguous with no inherent political or cultural standards to adhere to…an alien living in a colonial outpost.”
Liu Zhuoquan’s poignant lamplights come from an initial story about his father’s experiences during the Cultural Revolution. Liu specialises in painting the inside of bottles, a traditional folk art in China of painting snuff bottles. With the lamplights, he has taken this one step further: initially painting a sparrow inside, a metaphor for his father’s role in a distant region of shooing the sparrows from the crops, now he paints ravens and crows inside street lamps which evoke childhood memories.
Courtesy of Niagara Galleries and China Art Projects, Liu was well represented with mini specimen bottles ala the snuff paintings, his installation of lamp lights and an 8 screen video piece describing his time spent in Tibet. Journey to the west documents the spiritual connection he observed whilst living in Tibet and is a poignant observation of the beliefs of the Tibetan people and their “pilgrimages” to Lhasa. In a similar way the viewer progresses from screen to screen, joining Tibetan citizens in spirit on this pilgrimmage.
But these are only snippets. I hope you got there, I hope you collected all the postcards from each booth and clipped them together in the give-away key-ring clip as your DIY catalogue and I hope you follow up with a few of those works which continue to resonate within you.
Now you have a taste for the quality and the buzz, you’ll be keen for Melbourne in 2014.