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Sydney Contemporary Art Fair (Scaf) 2013: Part 1

By Rachel Fuller  |  Sydney, 21 September 2013

After the swift success of ART HK and the launch of Art13 London in March of this year Tim Etchells (Founder of SCAF) is now turning his hand to the Australian art market with the inaugural Sydney Contemporary, Sydney’s first premium art fair. Etchells’ company, Australian Art Events has also taken over the management of the Melbourne Art Fair with the respective art fairs to be now held in alternate years. 

Sydney Contemporary is housed at CarriageWorks, the former rail yards of Redfern, now a cultural precinct. By most accounts the location is a hit. The main exhibitor hall is located in George Miller’s recently vacated animation studio, adjoining Anna Schwartz Gallery, and as such has never before been open to the public. It is certainly an impressive space – the soaring ceilings and raw warehouse appeal of the buildings appear to be a perfect partner for the showing of contemporary art. I overheard one fair-goer on opening night say, “Well, we’re not in Moore Park anymore, Tonto.”  And with Sydney’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week having relocated from Circular Quay to CarriageWorks earlier in 2013, for the first of a three-year arrangement, it seems that the Redfern site is fast becoming Sydney’s centre for large-scale creative events. For a global audience, Redfern oozes edge but there are still some teething issues to take care of.

As the largest event to take place at CarriageWorks since opening in 2007, Thursday’s opening night tested the capacity of the site. Bars were rammed and the queue for the VIP lounge snaked the entrance foyer. Outside, scores of Sydneysiders arrived, as we tend to do, in cars. I’m sure organisers will iron out these difficulties in the coming years. On the plus side I think we can safely say that there has never been a Sydney traffic jam caused by the art hoards. There’s a first time for everything.

Etchells has said that the aim of Sydney Contemporary is to show the Australian art scene to the world, to do what ART HK did for Asian art. In terms of important Australian mid-career and established artists there are some missing from Sydney Contemporary purely because their galleries aren’t showing. No Simryn Gill or Ricky Swallow to name but two. The other interesting omission is a lack of Aboriginal work – both contemporary and more traditional. A couple of works from Sally Gabori are present in the main hall at the Alcaston Gallery booth and I was impressed (and refreshed) to find Tim Klingender Fine Art in Bay 17 with a full showing of important, historical Aboriginal works including Charlie Numbulmoore’s Untitled (Wanjinas) c.1965. Also situated in Bay 17 is Michael Reid who now boasts Christian Thompson as part of his stable. Reid also has a work by Danie Mellor on view and Mellor is present in the main hall at Jan Murphy Gallery, and by the close of Friday all five of his works had sold.

Painting rules as is mostly the case with art fairs but galleries which stand out for their handsome hangs and more interesting work are Starkwhite (NZ) with Ross Manning, Seung Yul Oh and Rebecca Bauman; The Commercial (Sydney) with minimalist paintings by Gail Hastings and an arresting, ceramic installation by Yasmin Smith in Bay 20; Ryan Renshaw (Brisbane) with photographic and video works by Yvonne Todd; Tolarno Galleries (Melbourne) with Rosemary Laing’s new photographic series The Paper (2013) and The Drawing Room (Philippines) with exquisitely crafted tin works by Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan.

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