The sales pitch is pretty compelling – it’s an art fair at Redfern’s Carriageworks. There will be cheap art, cool people and a VIP experience.
If I’m honest, Sydney Contemporary delivers on two of these three things and delivers on them pretty well.
For a start, the art is good. Not kind of good, not OK, not interesting – just flat out good. There are 80 Galleries in the Carriageworks selling you their wares and displaying artists new and old.
Don’t believe the line about there being a lot of cheap art – there isn’t. But that’s the same way of saying there isn’t a lot of junk art either. It’s good quality and it’s interesting and a lot of it is worth having.
I went to the opening night last night, though there was also a soft launch Wednesday night.
And it was – to put it bluntly – chaos. Whoever organised it hadn’t thought through the traffic. There isn’t much parking at the best of times in Wilson Street, so art punters – who, let’s face it, don’t really get the train, brought the traffic to a standstill because the drop off zone was at the roundabout in front of the building.
Note to organisers: if you create a drop off zone at a roundabout – you will bring four roads to a standstill just by stopping one car. Now bringing four roads to a standstill by stopping one car isn’t easy to do – but between 5:30pm and 7:00pm last night – you achieved it. You might want to mention that when you send out the invitations – Please come at 7pm. You will be taking part in a new contemporary art work called, Badly Örganised Gridlock. Make sure you smile for the camera.
Once you have parked though, it’s worth it. We were lucky enough to have VIP passes which means a short line to get in – the punters who had paid $50 for the privilege of going were queued back up the stairs of the Carriageworks waiting to be scanned in. And once you are in, it’s crammed. That Melbourne-Cup-Day-at-the-Pub kind of full.
To meet friends, (I know, I know, it’s kind of shocking I have any – it just confirms that people really do have very low standards) I went to the VIP Lounge.
It’s not really a VIP room though. I mean, I’m not really a VIP room regular so I don’t know what to expect from a VIP section, but here’s what I would expect: someone on the door checking passes. There wasn’t anyone, so everyone was walking in.
I would also expect a bar which has service. The people behind the bar either weren’t trained or were also performing in a piece of performance art. This piece was called Confusion in which 20-somethings dressed in black try to work out how to use the Point Of Sale Systems or where, if anywhere, the drinks were stocked. Or what ice is for. You could almost hear the gears in their brains working.
“What I have here is three things: some bottles of warm white wine, a large silver bowl – big enough to take six other of the warm white wines and hold them attractively and a batch of this crunchy cold stuff. What will I do with these things? I know – I will store them next to each other on the counter so the water coming off the crunchy cold stuff runs all over the counter and the floor…”
The other bit that goes with this is the 40-year-old noisy blonde dressed in black. This play has three women in it. Their job is to dress in black and show each other pictures on their iPhones and say the word “gorgeous” to each other.
This isn’t the best bit though. The best bit is when they get to the bar and then read the drinks menu and discuss all the options while the queue behind them grows.
By 8pm the food options – tiny hamburgers, called sliders (I assume because this is what happens to you if you step on one) – were all unavailable. Whoever was organising this event had failed year 10 economics. Supply and demand – the most basic of Keynesian Principles. The supply of food didn’t meet the demand for food.
The people running the VIP room solved this pretty quickly though – because while they may have missed the day in which the teachers taught them about Alfred Marshall and the mathematics of supply and demand, they made it to the day when they taught them about his other brilliant idea – Price Elasticity. If you don’t have enough of something – jack up the price – that will reduce demand. A glass of Champagne at the VIP room is $20. I mean if getting $20 for a glass of Champagne isn’t art, what is it?
But enough about the experience – what about the ART.
For a start the place suits the exhibition. Who ever designed the layout and lighting has done an excellent job. The space works perfectly as 80 separate art galleries.
There is in truth a mix of everything: sculpture, paintings, people dressed in clothes so odd you aren’t sure if they are part of the show or just happen to really, really think it’s OK to wear a pink ball gown and silver wig out in Sydney on a Thursday night.
The stuff that was interesting: Can Xin – a Chinese artist that encases himself in a box and licks things that people put in front of him. I liked it a lot for reasons I can’t explain – but that’s art too isn’t it?
Other things that were really worth it: Michael Muirs Fauve suburban scenes – electric and colourful and very good; Clara Adophs swimming pool series; Vipoo Srivilasa’s sculptures; Rosemary Laing’s view of the Australian bush; Blak Douglas’ work and look for the post colonialist work of Paul Ryan. But there were three that stopped me and had me inquiring for the price; George Byrne, Roger Swainston, Lucas Grogan and Tony Albert.
Something else unusual also happened when I was touring the place. I took a selfie. I never, ever take selfies. I have been in private boxes with famous sports stars – no selfie. I once had coffee with Lilly Allen – no selfie. But at the Sydney Contemporary I bumped into Reg Mombassa of Mambo and Mental As Anything fame – literally. Tiny little Reg careened into my 190cm 120kg frame and started apologising.
“Reg!” I said. “How are you? I love your work – I’ve got four… Jesus how are you?” He looked bewildered but smiled indulgently like any smart person confronted with an idiot and said, “I’m well.” We chatted and I said “Look I never do this, but I really love your stuff. Can I have a selfie?” And I whipped out my iphone and took one. He smiled in a way that would have people thinking he doesn’t think I’m a moron.
I have printed it out and taped it to the back of my favourite painting of his, Haystacks, which hangs in the stairwell of my home where it is lit by the morning sun every day.
In summary – go. Have fun, take public transport, take a selfie with a confused artist, expect the service to be poor the drinks and expensive, but go. It’s totally worth the $30 they want from you to look around.
What: Sydney Contemporary
Where: Carriageworks, Redfern
When: 7-10 September
Cost: Adult $30