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The Bluffer’s Guide to Sydney Contemporary

We show you how to navigate Sydney's hottest new art event

A mega new art event has got everyone talking. That much is clear. But if you're out there thinking 'What is it?', 'What can I do there?', 'Does it have food?', 'Does it have Ferris wheels?', 'Is it blue?', 'Does it fit in a station wagon?' and so on, we've got the breakdown for you. And the answer to the ultimate question — 'Should I go?' — appears to be 'yes'.

What is Sydney Contemporary?

Sydney Contemporary is a biennial art fair in its inaugural year to be held in the newly expanded Carriageworks. Put simply, an art fair is a no-holds-barred, flat-out, art-buying frenzy. Galleries set up in booths under one roof and vie for the attention of collectors. They're like incredibly cool, high-end trade fairs and they're terrific fun. At Sydney Contemporary you'll be able to flit from stand to stand, seeing works from each gallery's stable of artists, chat to the gallerist and check out the incredible lineup of programs, guided tours and workshops on offer.

Kelly McDonald, assistant curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Sydney Contemporary panelist explains, "Sydney Contemporary affords the opportunity to make the work of Australian artists available en masse within the context of international galleries. It's fantastic that visitors can come and see the broad spectrum of artists working today and hopefully be introduced to the work of artists they may not otherwise have encountered".

Who will be there?

Sydney Contemporary is shaping up to become one of the more influential art events in Australia. The exhibitor list is impressive, with many of Australia's top commercial galleries participating. Roslyn Oxley9, Olsen Irwin, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Alaska Projects, Firstdraft, Sullivan + Strumpf, Tolarno Galleries, Sophie Gannon Gallery, Art Equity, Michael Reid, and Annandale Galleries will be some of the many highlights of the Fair. There are also a slew of international galleries winging their way Down Under to take part including Sundaram Tagore Gallery (New York, Hong Kong, Singapore), Nature Morte (Berlin, Gurgaon, New Delhi), Everard Read (Cape Town), Paragon (London) and Starkwhite (Auckland). de Sarthe Gallery (Beijing, Hong Kong) will be bringing with them works by Chen Zhen, Jenny Holzer, Gilbert & George, Richard Long and Zhao Jinhe.

Who else?

Notable gallerists, artists, collectors, curators and everyone in between will be rubbing shoulders at Carriageworks come Thurday, 19 September. A range of talks will be held throughout the weekend with speakers including actor Rachel Griffiths, Sue Cato, Glenn McGrath AM, Akira Isogawa, Lisa Havilah, Bianca Spender, Kylie Kwong, architect Nick Tobias, Sydney Contemporary director Barry Keldoulis and artists Del Kathryn Barton, Nell, Quilty and Island 6.

We strongly recommend coughing up the extra dosh for an opening night ticket. In terms of people-watching opportunities, it will be up there with airports and your therapist's waiting room.

Can I buy art?

If you're thinking of dipping your toe in the art-buying pool, Sydney Contemporary is a good place to start. You can get a really solid overview of what's on offer in a more informal setting than the traditional gallery back room. Prices will vary dramatically from gallery to gallery, but at the lowest end you probably won't walk out with much change from $1000 for a work. If you're a seasoned collector, you'll be au fait with the ins and outs of purchasing works, but if you're new to collecting, use the fair as an opportunity to suss out which galleries are showing art you like at a price range within your budget. Art fairs are designed to encourage impulse buying, but you shouldn't panic and feel you need to purchase on the day. Chat to the gallerist and ask what else they have that isn't on display. They will be more than happy to arrange an appointment for you to go to their gallery to see more works.

The golden rule of art buying? Remember that galleries will almost always negotiate on the price of a work.

What can I do if I can't buy art?

The fair promises to cater to everyone from the art novice to the most seasoned connoisseur. Even if you're not looking to buy, the weekend will be a wonderful opportunity to see the most exciting contemporary art being produced at the moment. There is an incredibly rich range of public programs, tours, talks and workshops to participate in. Join industry leaders Alexie Glass-Kantor (curator and director of Gertrude Contemporary), Firstdraft directors, and Jane Gillespie (arts administrator at Arts NSW) for daily tours around the fair. Hear Art Pharmacy founder Emilya Coliver's advice on how to engage with contemporary art and follow Sebastian Goldspink of Alaska Projects around as he highlights works by younger, emerging artists. And if, after a long day of art viewing, the dreaded gallery fatigue sets in, you can cool your heels at award-winning restaurant Longrain's pop-up.

Sydney Contemporary opens on the evening of Thursday, 19 September, and will then run from 20-22 September at Carriageworks. Tickets are $15-$60. To get you in the mood, Concrete Playground and Sydney Contemporary are giving you the chance to win a bold, hand-signed Perspective scarf by Ai Weiwei and Third Drawer Down. Enter here to win.

Published on September 13, 2013 by

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