September 22, 2013

At the Director and Advisory Board cocktail partly, on site at Carriageworks on Friday night, we were all looking so intently to find things wrong about the Fair – from our own experience, or from what we’d heard from exhibitors and public. Surely, we kept repeating, there has to be something wrong with this Fair? The one thing we came up with was: over-attendance. Instead of the predicted 3,000 visitors, 12,000 people attended the opening night event. So, catering was strained, and it was at times a little difficult to circulate. But, thinking about it, I reckon the complaint was less about the experience of being inside the Fair, as much as the experience of getting to it. Sydney-siders being car-obsessed, traffic jams were aggressive, and parking sometimes seemed an illusion. Even those who wisely chose to come by train found that Redfern station was immensely under equipped for the onslaught. What that all points to is a problem of infrastructure. Next year, we need more trains and buses, better parking and shuttle services. Just like Moore Park is furnished with for any major sports event. The fact that art has turned out as popular as sport, I find a particularly positive thing. And speaking of positive things, here are today’s picks from the Sydney Contemporary Art Fair.

Michael Zavros at Sophie Gannon gallery. Zavros has been heralded as ‘Australia’s finest realist painter’ and I can’t say I disagree. But there’s much more going on in his work that simple re-presentation of a subject. It’s the choice of subject that speaks to me, as much as the technique. In the first painting, a classic enough composition of sunflowers in a Waterford crystal  vase atop a richly worked wooden plinth, belies a charged setting: the antique cabinetry contrasted with the Damien Hirst work in the background, and so forth. Zavros is unashamedly seduced by luxe, by abundance. An artist does not have to starve in a garrett and art does not have to be only about those without. In the second work, a masterly pencil drawing of prototypical Marlboro Men, it’s the sheer exuberance of the technique that thrills me; I have, categorically never seen this technique pushed this close to the sublime. But there’s a trick too, in this most delicate of techniques being put to service depicting that most blatant icon of masculinity. I cannot enthuse enough.

Sarah Contos at Alaska Projects. Sebastian Goldspink is one of the edgiest of the new generation of curators and his Alaska Projects space in the bunker-like carpark behind Kings Cross is one of the country’s most avant-garde galleries. Little surprise, then, that the artists assembled on his stand are all so incredibly compelling, and none more so than Sarah Contos who takes essentially ‘feminine’ occupations such as embroidery and beading and imbues them with a totemic, voodoo allure. There’s a gentle melancholia to her work, a sense of the artist’s eye forever roaming the cultural landscape, occasionally alighting upon an object – a magazine cover, a parero, a record album – to celebrate by removing it from its context an embellishing it, thus ennobling it. Top-notch.

Hayden Fowler at Artereal gallery. I’ve had my sights set on Fowler for some time now – not least, I guess because the MCA has recently acquired quite a few pieces of his work. New Zealand born, with a Biology as well as a Fine Arts degree, he has an interest in the natural environment –in particular, human beings acting (or acting-up) within it. Typically, he constructs elaborate sets that become the stage upon which his human and animal subjects interact. The subtext – human destruction of the animal and vegetal environment – is bleak – but the pretext – kinda wacky mise-en-scènes – almost always makes me smile.


Author: Nick tobias