Sep 14 2018

Roundup from Sydney Contemporary 2018

by Michael Young

General view of Sydney Contemporary 2018 at Sydney’s Carriageworks. All photos by Michael Young for ArtAsiaPacific.

Sydney Contemporary was conceived originally as a biennial art fair. At its third edition in 2017, however, founder Tim Etchells announced that the event would thereafter be staged annually. Aiming to attract more galleries from around the world, Etchells speculated that it was the right time to make the switch. There was therefore much expectation surrounding the 2018 edition of Sydney Contemporary, the preview of which kicked off on September 12 at the cavernous Carriageworks.

JEAN DUBUFFET’s L’Incivil (after maquette dated 2 August-December 1973) (1973/2014), offered by Pace Gallery (New York/Hong Kong/London/Beijing/Seoul/Palo Alto/Geneva) who were participating in the fair for the first time.

More than 300 hundred artists, emerging and established, were featured across the booths of 87 galleries from over 30 countries. However, the majority of the participating galleries hailed from Australia and New Zealand, leaving just a sprinkling of true international attendees who had made the trek down-under from locations such as the United States, Japan, Singapore and the United Kingdom. One of the heavy-hitters from the international contingent was Pace Gallery (New York/Hong Kong/London/Beijing/Seoul/Palo Alto/Geneva), which showed works from its stable of art superstars, including David Hockney’s recent iPhone and iPad drawings and an ash painting by Zhang Huan. Prices at the Pace booth started at USD 7,000 for a small, vividly colored photograph by Dutch photographer Viviane Sassen. The most expensive work on offer was a sculpture by Jean Dubuffet, L’Incivil (after maquette dated 2 August-December 1973) (1973/2014). At over four-metres in height, the painted epoxy work of a single abstracted figure exemplifies how the artist drew from outsider art, or what he called art brut. Whitney Ferrare, Pace’s Hong Kong-based senior director, was coy when asked about the sculpture’s price but fair director Barry Keldoulis had suggested that somewhere between USD 4 to 5 million might secure it. The work will most likely only attract institutional buyers keen to fill holes in their collections.

IMANTS TILLERS’  Fiction of Place  (2018) was sold to a private collector on the first day of the fair for AUD 200,000 (USD 143,000) by Arc One Gallery (Melbourne).
IMANTS TILLERS’  Fiction of Place  (2018) was sold to a private collector on the first day of the fair for AUD 200,000 (USD 143,000) by Arc One Gallery (Melbourne).

Elsewhere at the fair, sales were brisk from the get-go. On the first day, Fran Clark, director of Melbourne’s Arc One Gallery, sold sublime multi-panel works by Australian artist Imants Tillers, including Fiction of Place (2018), a large landscape pieced together from 132 canvas boards, for AUD 200,000 (USD 143,000) to a private collector. Gow Langsford Gallery from Auckland were pleased having found takers for Tempest (2017), a sparkling white sculpture made of Statuario marble by ever-popular British sculptor Tony Cragg, priced at EUR 300,000 (USD 351,000). Sullivan +  Strumpf (Sydney/Singapore) were evidently busy during the preview. The gallery offered works by local ceramic artist Glenn Barkley, priced from AUD 440 to AUD 6,000 (USD 300 to 4,000), which were virtually sold out by the end of the day, as well as assemblages featuring “Aboriginalia”—kitschy items bearing caricatures of Aborignal people—by Indigenous artist Tony Albert. So popular was Albert, the gallerists had to go to his studio the next morning to replenish supplies. “Visitors to the fair are very active, have a great attitude, are willing to be introduced to new artists and are happy to spend,” co-director Ursula Sullivan told ArtAsiaPacific. Even so, a museum-quality painting by late Australian abstractionist Sydney Ball languished unsold at AUD 99,000 (USD 70,000).

Indigenous art proved to be in demand. Justin Miller Art (Sydney), which specialises in the secondary market, brought bark paintings by John Mawurndjul—who was concurrently the subject of a retrospective at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art—on offer for AUD 48,000 (USD 35,000). Melbourne’s Alcaston Gallery sold an abstract Sally Gabori painting, rendered in the Aboriginal artist’s characteristically bright color palette, for AUD 75,000 (USD 54,000). The gallery claimed that the vertically oriented work, measuring three meters in height, would possibly be the last of its kind to be released by the Gabori estate. Cooee Art gallery (Sydney), with a nearly 40-year history of selling Aboriginal art, had a “fantastic fair,” according to proprietor Adrian Newstead. They were also highlighting John Mawurndjul’s bark paintings, pitched at approximately AUD 65,000 (USD 47,000). Additionally, the gallery offered a monochromatic linen painting by Paddy Nyunkuny Bedford, priced at AUD 220,000 (USD 160,000).

The booth presentations were supplemented by large-scale installations, located strategically where the aisles crossed. The standouts among these works were Patricia Piccinini’s The Field (2018), a theatrical landscape of 3,000 apparently genetically modified flowers, and Abdul Abdullah’s looming embroidered pieces featuring emojis.

Justin Miller Art (Sydney) brought bark paintings by JOHN MAWURNDJUL.
Justin Miller Art (Sydney) brought bark paintings by JOHN MAWURNDJUL.

ABDUL ABDULLAH in front of his work Call Me By My Name (2017), displayed as part of the Installation Contemporary sector.

Etchells had clear goals for this year’s edition of Sydney Contemporary, including pushing the fair’s attendance figures past last year’s 26,500 visitors and box office takings beyond AUD 16.5 million (USD 12 million). Based on the bustling first two days of the event, Sydney Contemporary 2018 looked set to deliver on both counts.

Michael Young is a contributing editor of ArtAsiaPacific.

Sydney Contemporary is on view at Carriageworks, Sydney, until September 16, 2018.

To read more of ArtAsiaPacific’s articles, visit our Digital Library.