Dale Frank, She continually tried to convince everyone she was Jewish, 2016, Shattered glass in liquid glass on Perspex, 200 x 160 cm x 7 cm
Credit: Courtesy of the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong

Sydney Contemporary, Australasia’s premier contemporary art fair, returns this coming weekend for its fifth edition: the country’s largest and most diverse gathering of 90 galleries from around the Asia Pacific region exhibiting the work of established and emerging artists alike from throughout the Asia Pacific region alongside a program of talks, performances and events.

Now a yearly event (recent editions of the Fair have been biennial) it’s a considerable undertaking as far as regional surveys of contemporary art are concerned – one that has grown over the years at a rate commensurate with the increased faith of participating galleries, artists and contributors in the Fair itself.

“As the confidence of the galleries in the event has grown, so has the level of their presentations,” Fair Director Barry Keldoulis tells GRAZIA. “Most galleries returning from 2015 have asked for more space, which is a wonderful endorsement of the success of the fair, but also means this will be an even more elegant affair! Very few now do what you might call ‘stock presentations’; most show only new work, and quite a number are doing solo presentations of complete new bodies of work by one of their major artists, as in the past one would have expected to see in their gallery. This is of course what the collectors, curators, and the wider public want to see: a very contemporary cross-section of what is going on now. ” 

The Fair is the flagship event of Sydney Art Week, a city-wide, week-long celebration of the arts that has expanded to include events, talks, tours, artist takeovers and parties staged around the city. It’s no small feat. There’s Talk Contemporary, a program of talks and panel discussions taking place across a five day program that features some of the city’s most engaging artists, media personalities, collectors and creatives; Installation Contemporary, a series of large-scale and site specific artworks created by 15 Australian and international artists that will be installed across the Carriageworks precinct, the Fair’s central hub; Performance Contemporary, a number of dance and choreographic works that will be performed on at Opening Night celebrations and across the duration of the Fair; and Night Caps, a series of free late-night parties hosted by artists that will transform The Old Clare Hotel into a glitter-filled, karaoke-soundtracked wonderland – a “VIP party for everyone”. A site-specific, immersive ‘play-scape’  created by the Japanese-Australian sculpture and installation artist Hiromi Tango has also been commissioned as part of the Fair’s Kid Contemporary program.

Hiromi Tango, Electric Human Chromosomes 1, 2017 pigment print on paper 80 x 114 cm
Credit: Courtesy of the artist and Sydney Contemporary

The prospect of taking it all in certainly is a daunting one. To remedy early onset Fair fatigue, Keldoulis recommends adopting a methodical approach when it comes to tackling the exhaustive array of festivities; it is, to borrow a phrase, a marathon and not a sprint. “Luckily the fair is of a good size that one can see it all. But I would say make sure you see and engage with all the international galleries – perhaps thank them for coming all this way! The Future Contemporary section, of young galleries, this year all in one space, Bay 20, should not be missed. Paper Contemporary is a must for first-timers, as you can get an appreciation for how an age-old medium can be, and is being constantly reinvented by inventive artists. Have a look at the program and engage with the artists giving talks in the booths and in Talk Contemporary. And see as much Performance as possible; Opening Night is probably best for this. And get down to Barangaroo and see Sulman Prize winner Joan Ross engage with the location, its past and present, and everyone around in her performative activation near the ferry terminal.”

Ultimately, the message imparted by the wealth of options presented by the Fair is a heartening one, indicative not only of the health of Sydney’s contemporary art scene, but that of the country, as well as the Asia Pacific region. “Although we have a good stab at it, with exhibitors from Artist Run Initiatives, through specialist printmakers and young galleries to established ‘blue chip’ galleries, what is possibly most exciting and indicative of the health of the scene here in Sydney and across Australia is that we can’t quite show it all! And to be able to compare and contrast what’s going on here and from other parts of the globe helps give one a sense of how vibrant and interesting our creative environment is.”

What then unites each of these disparate worlds is something Keldoulis describes as the irrepressible drive to create, a trait shared by each and every participant in the vast array of events that comprise an incredibly diverse program. “To make work that may delight but also confront, confound and make one question the way one sees the world. And then have the courage to put it out in the public domain.” That in itself is an achievement worth celebrating. Best get planning.

Sydney Contemporary takes place from September 7-10 at Carriageworks and participating venues around the city. You can find out more information here.

Tile image: Noula Diamantopoulos, How are you, you, 2016, neon, acrylic sheet, unique edition 20 x 110cm/Courtesy of the artist and Artereal Gallery 
Cover image: Todd Robinson, Oooh Aaah, installation view for the exhibition, Soft Core, 2016, Casula Powerhouse/Courtesy of the artist and Brenton McGeachie