Feeding Australia’s art hunger: Sydney Contemporary 2013 Director Barry Keldoulis – interview

“Australians are hungry for culture from around the globe,” says Barry Keldoulis of Sydney Contemporary.

Sydney Contemporary, Sydney’s first high-end contemporary art fair, will open its doors to the public on 20 September 2013 for three days at Carriageworks art centre. The brainchild of Tim Etchells, Co-founder of ART HK (now Art Basel Hong Kong) and London’s new Art13, the biennial art fair showcases works by emerging and established contemporary artists from Australian and international galleries.

CEO of Art Fairs Australia Barry Keldoulis discusses the upcoming Sydney Contemporary 2013.

CEO of Art Fairs Australia Barry Keldoulis discusses the upcoming Sydney Contemporary 2013.

For an inaugural art fair, Sydney Contemporary boasts a varied line-up, with almost a third of the 86 participating galleries hailing from offshore. Australia’s relative geographical isolation is no barrier to international galleries looking to tap into the country’s thriving art market and growing collector base.

Following the format for many international art fairs, Sydney Contemporary will feature three distinctive areas showing a cross-section of work by high-profile artists as well as emerging new talent.

  • Current Contemporary, the main gallery section at the fair, featuring established galleries from Australia and abroad.
  • Future Contemporary, a platform designed for promising young galleries, incorporating curated group or solo exhibitions created in the last two years.
  • Project Contemporary, a space for new galleries from around the world that have been in operation for three years or less and have never taken part in an Australian art fair.

In anticipation of the upcoming Sydney Contemporary, Art Radar caught up with Barry Keldoulis, CEO and Group Fairs Director of Art Fairs Australia Pty Ltd, the organisation behind the Melbourne Art Fair and Sydney Contemporary, to find out more.

Carriageworks, Sydney, interior view, location of Sydney Contemporary. Image by Tony Burrows.

Carriageworks, Sydney, interior view, location of Sydney Contemporary. Image by Tony Burrows.

Art fairs seem to have become an integral part of how the art world functions now. What do you think the future is for art fairs?

The world these days is all about constant change, and it would seem at an ever-increasing rate. Art fairs have survived and become of increasing importance by adapting and in some ways leading the change. They are appropriate to a more globalised world in which we are increasingly time-poor, and [they] foster cultural tourism. Sydney Contemporary will be a more “whole of scene” affair than others, by including Artist Run Initiatives (ARIs) and working with the non-commercial sector, so for visitors to Sydney it will be a wonderful introduction to the cultural life of the city, rather than just the commercial gallery sector. Fairs will have to continually develop.

Art Stage Singapore this year has facilitated Indonesian artists in selling their works directly to collectors. What are your thoughts on art fairs turning into dealers?

It sounds awfully complicated for fairs to become dealers. And I don’t see how an annual or biannual event can convincingly represent an artist full time. I know some cultures have a more flexible model of representation or even a tradition of self-representation, but here the core is the strong gallery system, and the galleries are our major stakeholders.

Reko Rennie, 2011. Commissioned by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. Image courtesy the artist and AGNSW.

Reko Rennie, 2011. Commissioned by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. Image courtesy the artist and AGNSW.

Prices for contemporary art have skyrocketed in the last few years. Is art also more valuable now than ever before?

I think visitors to Australia will find art is comparatively undervalued here, and they may pick up some bargains. But as the trend is for more and more people, both here and around the globe, to enter the cultural marketplace, the value of art will increase.

What is the biggest challenge for a newcomer like Sydney Contemporary and why?

I think for any inaugural event the most important thing is getting the word out there, which is why the marketing and publicity budgets are usually of a greater proportion of the overall than subsequent iterations. But also establishing the quality of the fair is very important.

Location, in the sense of both geography and architecture, is very important in creating a successful art fair. Did you have these things in mind when putting together Sydney Contemporary?

Geography and architecture. Absolutely. There can be a tendency to think the world stops at the date line, but Australia is well positioned to be a bridge between the Americas and Asia. We have a great selection of galleries from New Zealand, across Australia and arching up through South East Asia and into North Asia. We’ll be completing the Pacific Rim by bringing curators and collectors from South and North America. And Carriageworks, the venue for the fair, is an amazing, award-winning contemporary architectural intervention into a Victorian era rail yard, so the fair will automatically look and feel different to other fairs.

Anna Carey, 'Sunset Place', 2012, digital print, 100 x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist and ArtReal Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand.

Anna Carey, ‘Sunset Place’, 2012, digital print, 100 x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist and ArtReal Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand.

What are some of the key considerations in creating the public programme? And the VIP programme?

The public programme is designed over the three days to appeal across the board, from the more academic end through to popular culture, with academics and well-known public figures converging on issues of creativity. The VIP programme is extensive and features curator-led visits to not only the public institutions but also the private museums and private collections. Also, there are numerous tours of the fair by art world identities.

Could you talk about how Australian collectors’ tastes are gradually changing?

One of the public panel discussions will look at issues surrounding collecting domestically or internationally, in response to the growing internationalisation of Australian private collections. Should one only support local cultural output or does buying internationally help build a two way trade? The popularity of Sydney’s White Rabbit Collection, which only collects and exhibits Chinese art since 2000, would suggest Australians are hungry for culture from around the globe.

Five galleries from China will travel to Sydney for the fair. Could you talk about Sydney’s connection with the Chinese art scene? What is the biggest draw for these Chinese galleries?

Sydney’s connections to China go way back, so that’s a huge question. Apart from the aforementioned White Rabbit, which is a reasonably recent addition to the scene, Sydney has long been host to Gallery 4A, which was originally the Asian Australian Artists’ Association and has morphed into the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Asian cultural thinking will have an important impact on the future, and 4A’s aim is to ensure contemporary visual art plays a central role in understanding the dynamic relationship between Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. Sydneysiders are generally an open-minded people and have a huge fascination for and growing engagement with China, and I imagine the galleries from China will be looking to expand and exploit the relationship.

Lara Merrett, 'Stop Making Sense', 2013, acrylic and ink on linen, 183 x 230 cm. Image courtesy Jan Murphy Gallery, Fortitude Valley, Australia.

Lara Merrett, ‘Stop Making Sense’, 2013, acrylic and ink on linen, 183 x 230 cm. Image courtesy Jan Murphy Gallery, Fortitude Valley, Australia.

What are the most important changes happening in the Australian art scene?

Visitation to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) has more than doubled I think since the revamp, the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) has doubled its floorspace dedicated to contemporary art, attendance at the Biennale of Sydney continues to increase in leaps and bounds, and John Kaldor managed to pull 30,000 to a performance art based event. So the growing interest in contemporary art is perhaps the most important change.

Which new directions in Australian contemporary art do you find interesting?

Australia has long had interesting video art output and is perhaps the first place in the world where moving image work has penetrated beyond the domain of museums and major collectors into the home market. So it’s always interesting to see the directions in which video is developing, and Video Contemporary, curated by Mark Feary of Artspace, will be a comprehensive overview of the state of play. And the new “maximalism” of some of the younger artists I think could be an indication of greater aesthetic engagement with Asia.

Melbourne vs Sydney: which is Australia’s art capital and why?

You know I am also the director of next year’s Melbourne Art Fair, so the answer to that has to be both! The good thing is they are very different cities. Each fair will reflect the different sensibilities of its host city, making my job of creating unique fairs easier.

Yvonne Wang 

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Related Topics:  art fairs in Asia and beyond, events in Sydney, interviewsemerging artists, globalisation

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Comments

Feeding Australia’s art hunger: Sydney Contemporary 2013 Director Barry Keldoulis – interview — 2 Comments

  1. Hallo Peter en Clara,nooit gedacht dat er maar 22 m. meensn woonden in Australie, maar het klopt inderdaad.Na jullie vakantie ervaringen moeten jullie maar eens een keer bij ons langs komen. Gezellig!We wonen practisch bij jullie om de hoek. Fijne feestdagen toegewenst in Australie.Groetjes,Arthur

  2. I would like to participate in your art sho,how should i go about it?

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