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  • Writer's pictureAndrew McIlroy

Sydney’s summer group art shows carry risks, some worth taking: A review of Nanda\Hobbs Contemporary

Over summer, group exhibitions swamp the art scenes of most cities. Some shows give us a unique opportunity to view a cluster of new and unseen works from a gallery’s premier artists. Other galleries perhaps fatigued from a busy calendar regrettably expend little effort, simply recycling with little publicity previously unsold artworks in the belief that collectors have themselves lost interest, packed up for the year and headed to the beach for their annual time out.

Against this, summer group exhibitions do carry risk. Artists are competing with fellow artists for attention and sales, testing relationships. A haphazard collection of stale works can do more harm than good to perhaps fragile reputations.

In my experience, a well-curated summer group show, presenting a larger than normal range of artists and works, not only provides each artist with access to a different audience but can also give up fascinating insights.

Sydney's art enthusiasts show their support: Nanda\Hobbs Contemporary's new Chippendale gallery

The smarter galleries will always have an eye on the future, on reinvigorating their offering to clients with fresh and accomplished works carrying equally engaging ideas and stories. Without pressing new markets, it may only be a matter of time before a gallery is forced to close its doors. And with this in mind, the summer is not a time to rest on one’s laurels.

Of course heading out in the summer heat to attend a gallery, among everything else going on, may not be attractive to many people, particular in the Australian context where buyers are forced to compete with frenzied Christmas shopping crowds and inebriated revelers spilling onto streets outside pubs and restaurants. However, a gallery’s well-catered opening night, come end-of-year celebration and the promise of an exceptional show is sure to entice collectors, critics, and artists and their friends out in any weather.

Sydney's Martin Place, Christmas 2017

And Sydney is not immune from this phenomena, as a wave of exhibitions descend across the city in December each year. With many galleries offerings this year looking less than ordinary, the good shows easily stand out. I was particularly interested to see those galleries that presented new works by artists as teasers, pointing towards their solo exhibitions scheduled in the year ahead.

Often artists have to bide their time until the chance for an exhibition comes around. It is not unusual for the sought-after galleries to have over 100 artists on their books. For each artist it can be 18 months to 2 years or longer then between exhibitions, depending on the circumstances. So when snippets of good work are thrown up, expectations and the excitement of what’s ahead mount.

​Installation view of Sydney's Nanda\Hobbs Contemporary 2017 Summer Group Exhibition

I find Sydney’s humidity in mid-December overwhelming, particularly if one is not used to it. Being from more temperate Melbourne I was finding getting out and about in the heat of this past December difficult, not least because I was decked in my unseasonable and uncompromisingly fashionable Melbournian black outfit. Still I was determined to get to Nanda\Hobbs Contemporary's Summer Exhibition opening event. It just took longer than anticipated as my route through the inner Sydney suburb of Surry Hills was laden with irresistible and gratefully refreshing pubs.

The crowd gathered at Nanda\Hobbs Contemporary’s vast new Chippendale gallery space was extraordinarily large and vibrant, even by Sydney’s standards. The buzz of an opening night in Sydney’s art scene seemed to have held its allure despite it seemed the industry’s lean years of late. It was the gallery’s first group opening in the new space, and appropriately a showcase of its stable. And the faithful were rewarded and they clearly appreciated it.

This was a carefully curated, and stunning exhibition.

Installation view of Nanda\Hobbs Contemporary 2017 Summer Group Exhibition

The huge street front glass doors were thrown wide open in the twlight, ensuring as I walked through an amazingly lit and panoramic view of the gallery. Scanning along one wall, Anthony White’s heavy brushstrokes and vibrant colours collided successfully in his elongated work, The Hall of Atlas (2017). My eye was taken seamlessly then to the large painting of the immensely talented James Drinkwater, Arriving in Tahiti (2017), alongside which hung Two Suns (2017) by Sydney artist Christopher Horder. Each work a playful delight.

Continuing the emerging theme of monumental works, Dianne Gall’s masterly technique was on display in her work, Love’s Young Dream – an enthralling portrait of a young woman looking somewhat lost in thought with indistinct city or perhaps carnival lights framing her isolation. This enchanting work to me provided a wonderful complement to Giles Alexander’s nearby large mesmerising planetary Landscape Painting 12 (2017).

Dianne Gall, Love's Young Dream

Giles Alexander, Landscape Painting 12

One of the standout paintings of this exhibition for me was Adam Nudelman's highly refined and methodical landscape, Before the Night Divides the Day (2017). This artist's juxtaposition of complex, skeletal structures in an otherwise romantic setting is striking.

Adam Nudelman, Before the night divides the sky

The works of the highly skilled painterly hands of Adam Chang, Tibetan Girl in Purple, Tasmanian Katy Woodruff, Illuminated Beauty, two-time Paddington Prize winner Nicholas Blowers, Lake Debris Study 1, Jonathan Dalton, Onions in a plastic bag, Matthew Quick, Security Requirements, and Kathryn Longhurst, Pilot Girl Revisited IX were all drawing viewers close.

Katy Woodruffe, Illuminated Beauty

Chen Ping’s expressive Red Girl in Forest (2017) and Zoe McDonell’s enticing Stronger were conceptually outstanding, again highlighting the superior quality of the works by a multitude of artists hanging together in this one exhibition.

Anthony White, The Hall of Atlas

James Drinkwater, Arriving in Tahiti

Weaving my way through the large crowd to the rear of the gallery, I found that the show did not taper away. Gria Shead’s painting of a burqa clad Kate Kelly on horseback mimicking Sydney Nolan’s iconic paintings is confronting. Paul Ryan’s headless James Cook in Cook and Hounds (2017) and Laura Matthew’s, richly textured Inside Out (2017) are foreboding and lushly rendered. Side-by-side there I find the larger-than-life superb paintings of Luke Cornish, Benny (2017) and intrepid adventurer, film-maker and leading intellectual, George Gittoes, The Transparent Road.

Nanda\Hobbs Contemporary director, Ralph Hobbs, echoes the sentiments of those gallery owners that value the summer group exhibition as an important opportunity. “We want to show what’s new, and point to future exhibitions", says Hobbs. "We want people to come in, experience the works up close, engage with us in conversation about the artworks and come again to see the exhibitions in the near year ahead”.

Nanda\Hobbs Contemporary Director, Ralph Hobbs

No doubt, the discerning buyers and art enthusiasts will reward the hard work that so self-evidently sits behind the efforts of all involved here. Time will tell whether that appreciation will extend further to other less forward-looking galleries vying for the attention of a discerning art market.


Paul Ryan, Cook and Hounds II

George Gittoes, The Transparent Road

Gria Shead, Kate Kelly

Kathryn Longhurst, Pilot Girl Revisited IX

Chen Ping, Red Girl in Forest

Christopher Horder, Two Suns

Luke Cornish (ELK), Benny

Disclaimer: As an artist I exhibit with Nanda\Hobbs Contemporary in Sydney, and was represented in its 2017 Summer Group Exhibition. Artists reviewed in this article retain copyright to the images of their works reproduced here, with the permission of Nanda\Hobbs Contemporary.

Andrew McIlroy is a visual artist, living and working in Melbourne, Australia

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