Sydney Contemporary Presents 2020 is open online


One of the many challenges facing galleries and art institutions during the Covid-19 pandemic has been how to provide a point of difference, of innovation, of intrigue, in their digital presentations. Sydney Contemporary, in the absence of a physical version of the annual international art fair, is embracing digital possibilities with gusto with a new initiative, Sydney Contemporary Presents 2020, which is open online from 1-31 October.

This month-long program will showcase more than 450 artworks by over 380 artists. The works will be presented via a custom-made platform designed to recreate the experience of wandering around the Sydney Contemporary fair, which would normally take place at Carriageworks.

“We felt there was fatigue over the usual online fair offerings, which attempt to replicate the fairs by gallery-based online viewing rooms but which, we felt, fail to capture the awe and excitement of a real fair,” says Sydney Contemporary fair director Barry Keldoulis. “As you walk around you see so much more than what you expect: young galleries, unfamiliar artists, something new around every corner. The challenge was to create a new design that captured some of the surprising, exciting and fun aspects of the fair.”

The platform attempts, Keldoulis says, to “replicate an aspect of the organisational floorplan of a fair.” When visitors are initially captivated by an artist’s work on display, they are then led to a gallery’s “virtual door.”

Familiar names among the artists exhibiting include Ben Quilty, Brook Andrew, Lisa Reihana, Lindy Lee, Tamara Dean, Guan Wei and, of course, hundreds more from both Australia and overseas. Keldoulis says that the process of invitation and selection involved Sydney Contemporary asking each gallery in its community to nominate five of its artists to submit works that were created in 2020. “And they have responded with an enormous variety of work across all mediums, sizes and price points, which is what we had hoped for,” he says.

Amid that variety, one theme does unite all the artists: the dramas and horrors of 2020, whether the works directly address the pandemic or not.

“In a sense all the works [respond to the pandemic], even if it’s not obviously or explicitly so,” says Keldoulis. “For most artists, the conditions they are working under have changed, often physically, but also mentally and emotionally. There will also be works made in 2020 before the pandemic struck, that will have been under the cloud of the bushfires.”

Another thing that distinguishes Sydney Contemporary from other festivals and art events is that, as a fair, it has a strong emphasis on sales. So Sydney Contemporary Presents 2020 is also a vital exercise in providing support for artists during a time of unparalleled upheaval. This also presents a potential challenge, as the project must engage possible buyers who might not necessarily have a strong participation in the digital world – it’s a challenge, Keldoulis believes, that can be overcome.

“I think the lockdown may have done some of the heavy lifting there, forcing people online as there was no other option. But also, the artist-led design of the platform will make it easier for people to browse and see work that appeals to them – and acquire it.”

Sydney Contemporary Presents
Online, 1 – 31 October

Preview Words by Barnaby Smith