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  • Writer's pictureAndrew McIlroy

Preview - Sydney Contemporary 2018: The presence of behemoth Pace Gallery a vote of confidence

Each year the release of Sydney Contemporary’s final list of galleries and their exhibiting artists is eagerly anticipated. It provides a snapshot of the health of the Australian art market, more intriguing than the dry sales data spasmodically cast out by the art auction powerhouses. It is notable that there are not many new entrants to this year’s galleries 'rich list', that is those galleries that have remained standing after the vicissitudes of the GFC, with their reputations and client lists intact and have the wealth to invest in art fairs and elsewhere.

There are however emerging from the rubble of old, fractious art world relationships challengers to the high position that Sydney Contemporary has cemented for itself. And while the recent reborn Melbourne Art Fair promised much, it fell short this time around in its ambition to ignite the excitement of the art going public.

But what will make or break art fairs like this and the artists investing works is their global reach. Not only must our art fairs establish a financially sustainable model in a tight local market, they must also ensure they remain a relevant force in the making and showcasing of Australian art talent to an international audience. These two goals are fundamentally entwined.

Last year's Sydney Contemporary momentarily lost sight of this duality, promoting its aim at "hooking in young buyers". This year, it is thankfully more aspiring.

Sydney Contemporary Opening Night, 2017

I will run through some of the exciting and in my view must-see booths at this year’s Sydney Contemporary. But first, one thing stands out for me that commands attention and sets this year’s event apart from others.

Pace Gallery at Sydney Contemporary

The international behemoth Pace Gallery, resident of New York, Paris, Hong Kong Beijing, Palo Alto, Seoul, Geneva and London will for the first time present new and historically significant works at Sydney Contemporary. This is quite a coup for the fair’s directors, and affirms the strength and potential of the Australian market.

And Pace is bringing the full force of its offering to Sydney through a range of media by leading contemporary artists from across its international program, such as Joel Shapiro, Michal Rovner, Kiki Smith, Song Dong, teamLab, Leo Villareal, Fred Wilson, and Zhang Huan; as well as major paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by seminal figures of the 20th century, including Jean Dubuffet, Louise Nevelson, and Kenneth Noland.

Kenneth Noland, 'Blue Painted Blue', 1959 (Left) / 'And Half', 1959 (Right) Photo: MoMA

Louise Nevelson Photo: St Louis Art Museum

Pace promises also to showcase works by artists who have recently had major institutional exhibitions across Australia, including James Turrell - exhibiting the artist’s Ukiyo-e Japanese style woodcut prints inspired by his monumental 2013 installation Aten Reign, and David Hockney - presenting a selection of his recent iPhone and iPad drawings, as well as one of the artist’s new works in computer manipulated photography.

Joel Shapiro Photo: Levi Gorvy Gallery

James Turrell: Rendering for Aten Reign, 2013 Photo: Guggenheim Museum

Installations Contemporary

For the fair’s special section dedicated to ambitious, large-scale works, Pace will exhibit Jean Dubuffet’s L’Incivil (1973/2014). L’Incivilis one of the five figures that comprise the artist’s monumental sculptural complex Welcome Parade, originally conceived by Dubuffet during a long collaboration with architect I.M. Pei.

Jean Dubuffet, 'L’Incivil' (1973/2014) Photo: Pace Gallery

This unique sculpture was produced in 2014 based on a model the artist made in 1973. It is the largest version of its figure and part of the only grouping that can be installed individually. Most recently presented in a major outdoor sculpture exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in 2017, L’Incivil highlights the artist’s continued interest and support of art brut – “raw art” – which for Dubuffet sprang from a spontaneous and obsessive need for the artist to express himself and rely on his own language and means of expression. (Source:

Pace’s showcase itself is arguably enough to guarantee good crowds. But there is more than enough Australian talent to ensure the fair remains true to its dual purpose. Here are a few.

Michael Reid

Michael Reid has long been at the forefront of innovation. Establishing a gallery presence in emerging far-flung art hubs, most recently setting up in Berlin, Reid knows what resonates with international art buyers, and making his selection of artists for this year’s fair a valued study of the artists well worth collecting.

Marc Etherington, Alesandro Ljubicic, Robert Malherbe, Michael Peck, Jordan Richardson, Joan Ross and Christian Thompson will make up Reid’s exhibition block this year. And while Joan Ross accolades are well deserved, Marc Etherington’s humorous takes on pop culture will no doubt see this artist in high demand by collectors looking for an edge to their modern collection. The colourful, vibrant works of Robert Malherbe likewise will be highly coveted.

Marc Etherington, 'Paul (Paul Williams in his studio)', 2017 Photo: Art Gallery of New South Wales

Robert Malherbe, 'French Painting in the Golden Age', 2011 Photo: Olsen Gallery

Niagara Galleries

Many artists over the years owe much to Melbourne stalwart Bill Nuttall and his Niagara Galleries. Nuttall brings a first hand, encyclopedic knowledge of great Australian artists, so his choices here represent the continuation of a long tradition of picking winners.

Niagara Galleries will feature works by Rick Amor, Angela Brennan, Gunter Christmann, Jennifer Joseph, Kevin Lincoln, Euan Macleod, Noel McKenna, Sean Meilak, Hu Qinwu and Neil Taylor.

Biographer and art critic Gavin Fry describing Rick Amor as “a master draughtsman, printmaker and sculptor says “his paintings are full of drama, deep melancholy and foreboding, yet their subject matter is, more often than not, the mundane and everyday places of suburbia and the drab underside of the city. (Gavin Fry, Rick Amor, The Beagle Press 2008) Amor will provide art lovers with another reason to gather at the fair and revisit familiar places through the lens of this master painter.

Rick Amor, 'Storm from the South', 2016 Photo: Niagara Galleries


While its move from Sydney’s CBD to an impressive and much larger space in the hip inner suburb of Chippendale in 2017, made sense for this burgeoning gallery and presented an opportunity to add a broader range of new and exciting talent. In this way we are seeing works by rising art stars sitting comfortably alongside works by Giles Alexander, Jonathan Dalton, Dianne Gall and Stuart McLachlan, who will feature with Nanda\Hobbs at this year’s fair.

Stuart McLachlan showing here for the first time with one of Sydney Contemporary’s founding exhibitors continues to build on an impressive volume of work. His handmade paper sculptures, renowned for their porcelain-like effect have featured in exhibitions around the globe, and will now return home to Sydney’s Carriage Works.

Dianne Gall, 'Repose' 2016 Photo: Nanda\Hobbs


Sullivan+Strumpf continue to confound the establishment. Their success and foothold as one of Australia’s premier galleries has been earned by pushing the envelope, listening to the cries of discerning collectors for works by innovative, provocative and highly proficient artists, and that add colour to the fabric of the Australian art scene.

This year the gallery brings works by Sam Leach, Alex Seton and the late Sydney Ball to the fair. The reasons why these artists – representing three generations of Australian art making - are held in such high regard will be on full display.

Sydney Ball, 'Chromix Lumina #1', 2015 Photo: Sullivan+Strumpf

Olsen Gallery

Tim Olsen has no off-switch. With his hard-working staff Olsen is able to deliver success-after-success for the artists exhibiting in his Woollahra and New York galleries. The challenge for this tall poppy is to keep it fresh, without compromising quality. Fortunately Olsen has an eye for talent. This year sees the gallery presenting a solo exhibition at Sydney Contemporary of the luminous and universal work of John Young. This should appeal to the fair-going crowd looking for impact.

John Young, 'Spectrum (Medium) I', 2018

Arthouse Gallery

Rushcutter’s Bay is home to Sydney destination gallery, Arthouse. And it is always worth the trip. Opening nights here are always a ‘who’s who’ of Sydney’s art scene. This time will be a little different, with the gallery and its selected artists coming to the party. For me, this gallery never fails to serve up affordable, quality and collectable art. This year Arthouse will show a long list of talented artists, Janet Beckhouse, Fabrizio Biviano, Michaye Boulter, Samantha Everton, Belinda Fox, Katherine Hattam, Aaron Kinnane, Kendal Murray, Emma Walker, and Joshua Yeldham. This will be a busy booth.

Emma Walker, 'Purple Rain', 2016 Photo: Arthouse Gallery

Martin Browne Contemporary

Martin Browne appears ever-present. Without his exhibit at this year’s fair, Sydney Contemporary would be notable for his absence. And Browne has again selected well, choosing to showcase works by internationally acclaimed artists Tamara Dean, Fiona Lowry and Alexander McKenzie. These artists will appeal to both local and overseas collectors.

Fiona Lowry, 'I am not what you supposed, but far different', 2018 Photo: Martin Browne Contemporary

Other exhibiting galleries will be worth watching closely as they release their artist lists in the coming weeks. At the time of writing, I am disappointed in one respect. I had hoped by now to have access to the images of many of the works to come on for view at Sydney Contemporary. While art buyers may have to wait until the doors open to sight and get their hands on prized works, the wait may in the end be worth it.

It remains to be seen whether Sydney Contemporary works for Pace Gallery and other international invitees.

Sydney Contemporary runs from 13 to 16 September 2018 at Sydney's Carriage Works.


Joshua Yeldham, 'Morning Bay – Serpentine Rock', 2014 Photo: Art Gallery of New South Wales

Stuart McLachlan, work in progress for Sydney Contemporary 2018 Photo: Stuart McLachlan

Main Photo: Sydney Contemporary 2017 Photo: Australian Financial Review

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

Disclosure: The author is represented by Nanda\Hobbs, Sydney

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