General view of the 2017 Sydney Contemporary art fair. All photos by Michael Young for ArtAsiaPacific.

Sep 11 2017

Highlights from Sydney Contemporary 2017

by Michael Young

Now in its third edition, the four-day Sydney Contemporary, hosted at Carriageworks, featured some-90 galleries and attracted over 26,500 visitors, hitting all the right notes to cement its position as Australasia’s premier international event of its kind.

Tim Etchells, who owns and runs Art Fairs Australia, the parent company of Sydney Contemporary, possesses the Midas Touch when it comes to art fairs. In 2008, he founded Art HK, a 60-percent share of which was acquired by Art Basel three years later. More recently, in March 2015, he co-founded the satellite Art Central fair, again in Hong Kong, and next year will make Sydney Contemporary an annual event, a move that many galleries welcome.

John McCormack of New Zealand’s Starkwhite gallery and Ursula Sullivan of Sydney and Singapore’s Sullivan + Stumpf gallery were both having a good fair and by the morning of the second day were able to claim that they had nearly sold out their booths.

MICHAEL ZAVROS with his Untitled (Flex) (2017), which sold for AUD 90,000 (USD 72,300), at Starkwhite’s booth.

TONY ALBERT with his installation of trays, Made in Australia (2017), at Sullivan + Strumpf’s booth. The work sold for AUD 14,300 (USD 11,500).

Sullivan + Strumpf brought several works by Indigenous Australian artist Tony Albert that featured his extensive collection of “Aboriginalia”—that is, anything related to Aboriginal life, including drink coasters, small toys, Indigenous books, and inexpensive kitsch that Albert has accumulated since childhood. Such items were worked into aesthetic patterns that briefly masked the reality of what we were seeing: Indigenous Australians paraded as decorative adjuncts to land invaded by white Europeans. Prices started at AUD 2,000 (USD 1,610) and climbed to AUS 44,000 (USD 35,400).

Starkwhite had sold several paintings by Brisbane-based photorealist painter Michael Zavros. His latest works seem to carry a memento mori theme, with skeletons much in evidence, in place of the pastiches of luxury brands for which he is known.

ROBERT KLIPPEL’s sculptural installation of 93 arrangements of colored paper at Tim Olsen’s booth.

Sydney gallerist Tim Olsen was negotiating hard to place a late Robert Klippel sculptural installation made up of 93 vibrant paper arrangements, Opus 363 Ninety-Three Constructions of Coloured Paper (1980), for AUD 350,000 (USD 281,800). Klippel, who passed away in 2001, is often regarded as Australia’s greatest sculptor, but his reputation has lagged in recent years, though there have been rumors of a warehouse full of his work existing somewhere in a Sydney suburb. Even so, Olsen sold two large bronze sculptures to private collectors and indicated that both the National Gallery of Australia and the National Gallery of Victoria are interested in acquiring Opus 363.

John Gow of Auckland’s Gow Langsford Gallery secured the sale of an exquisite Tony Cragg sculpture WT (Grey Stone) (2011) to a local private collector for AUD 365,000 (USD 293,800) on the first day. Also, black stickpins indicated that an Australian institution had placed on hold two large paintings by Vienna-based New Zealand artist André Hemer, priced at AUD 16,250 (USD 13,100) each. Gow Langsford also offered a gorgeous and lascivious Brett Whiteley untitled ink drawing of a female nude created by Brett Whiteley on a hotel sheeting board in 1981. It was priced at around AUD 695,000 (USD 559,100).

Gow Langsford sold TONY CRAGG’s sculpture, WT (Grey Stone) (2011), to a private collector for AUD 365,000 (USD 293,800).
Gow Langsford sold TONY CRAGG’s sculpture, WT (Grey Stone) (2011), to a private collector for AUD 365,000 (USD 293,800).

ANSELM KIEFER’s Your age and my age are the age of the world (1992) at Sundaram Tagore’s booth.

HIROMI TANGO at Sydney Contemporary’s Kid Contemporary section.

The most expensive work at this year’s Sydney Contemporary was a historic assemblage of oil, varnish, emulsion and tar on canvas with sunflowers and resin by Anselm Kiefer at Singapore gallery Sundaram Tagore’s booth.  Your age and my age are the age of the world (1992) was priced at an eye-watering USD 1.6 million, though it didn’t attract much attention.

As part of Performance Contemporary—a series of performances dotted throughout the venue—Sydney artist Garth Knight occupied a space marked “adults only” with a work from his bondage series, in which he bound a pierced, buxom, female nude model in skeins of colored rope. Curiously, Knight’s enclosed area was opposite Kid Contemporary, where Australia-based Japanese artist Hiromi Tango, known for her highly appealing and colorful installation-performances, was entertaining children in a predominantly red room. Hiromi believes in the therapeutic benefits of art; having spent a few wild moments with Garth Knight, I was immediately calmed by Hiromi’s presence at the fair.

UJI HANDOKO EKO SAPUTRO standing before Speculative Entertainment No 1 at Sydney Contemporary 2017. The work was divided into square tiles with sides measuring 10 cm, and sold to fair-goers, who could then resell their new acquisition to other attendees. The artist would then charge 10 percent of the reselling price as commission.

Indonesian artist Uji Handoko Eko Saputro, who is also known as Hahan, had fun with his performance and installation, Speculative Entertainment No 1, that hacks the art market and satirizes art collecting. His 7.5-by-2.6-meter, vivid painting was divided into 1,619 squares, each measuring 10 cm on one side and available for purchase at double the fair’s entrance fee. There was no shortage of takers. 

In all, the fair took in over AUD 16 million (USD 12.9 million).

Michael Young is a contributing editor of ArtAsiaPacific.

Sydney Contemporary was hosted at Carriageworks from September 7 to 10, 2017.

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