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Sydney Contemporary: Barry Keldoulis says think bold (but wear comfy shoes)

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The Sydney Contemporary art fair is at Carriageworks in Redfern from Thursday, September 10 until Sunday, September 13. Ninety galleries from 13 countries will be selling work at the fair which also includes talks and workshops. Daily Review asked Barry Keldoulis, the CEO of Art Fairs Australia (which stages both Sydney Contemporary and the Melbourne Art Fair)  about next week’s Sydney event. Daily Review is a sponsor of Sydney Contemporary.
Tell us about your artistic background. What inspired you to pursue a career in contemporary art?
I like things that are different, and contemporary art is really about new ways of seeing, new ways of doing things and new ways of expressing yourself. I landed in New York at a time when there was an explosion of creativity downtown in the visual arts and landed a job with the then Commissioner of Cultural Affairs for the City of New York, which was an incredible education by osmosis. I had studied philosophy, but a background in thinking is actually good training for contemporary art, which is really a marriage of ideas and aesthetics.
You’ve worked in contemporary art for over three decades. How has the art world changed, and how has it stayed the same?
The variety of mediums that artists can use may have expanded, and advances in technology have made certain fields of endeavour easier, however art is still about new ways of seeing and making work that affects people. The world of course is more globalised and the artworld along with it, and in a way that has obviated the idea of a single ‘art capital’ (Venice, Paris , New York) ; now you can lead from the edge, live a life as an engaged artist or art enthusiast in almost any decent-sized city . The internet of course is changing most aspects of our lives, but one constant is that most good art still needs to be seen in the flesh to be fully appreciated.
In today’s digital world, why and how is contemporary art still relevant and important?
I think the digital world is actually making the contemporary visual arts more relevant and perhaps more important. We humans have always been very visual creatures and perhaps we’re becoming more so! The growing popularity of Instagram, for example, and over the text based social media, perhaps confirms the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. And images cut across language, cultural and social barriers, and can provide a viewpoint and insight instantly, without the need for translation.
What are some tips for starting a contemporary art collection?
To a budding collector I’d say be bold, follow your gut feeling and overcome your fear and buy work that challenges you; these works will remain fresh. And remember, the choices you make today help determine what we will be considered our culture in the future!
How adventurous are Australian collectors?
Australian collectors are increasingly adventurous. There was never a shortage of people buying cutting edge art and works in sometimes highly unusual mediums from my gallery. And when the Aussie dollar was high international work seemed more reasonably priced, and many collectors travelled and brought work home, which is helping our artworld to become enmeshed with the global scene.
Do collectors still have a preference for paintings? 
It’s too difficult to generalise, each collector is different, but a lot of collectors still like painting and that’s because there’s a lot of artists still doing very interesting work with paint and pushing the boundaries of what paint can do. Video art is also very popular, as is sculpture, both large and small scale, and at this year’s fair you’ll see a resurgence of interest in ceramics. The medium is less important than the impact of the work.
Is video art a hard sell?
Australia leads the world in the penetration of video art into the domestic space, mainly because we have very good video artists, and we are rapid absorbers of new technology. So people might be having drinks or a dinner party and they don’t want the TV on, nor a big black rectangle on the wall, so they see video art almost like a moving painting, and an interesting conversation starter.
What are some of the differences between international vs. Australian art?
Contemporary art is of course generally representative of the culture from whence it comes, from obviously so to subtly nuanced. Australia has a distinct sense of humour, and often this underlies the work from here, but also we are a multicultural society, and home to the longest living culture on earth, so there are many different aspects and contexts that play out in Australian art, which makes it interesting for us and intriguing for outsiders!
How does Sydney Contemporary compare to, or differ from, the Melbourne Art Fair?
Art fairs reflect the flavour of their host city, and the Melbourne/ Sydney difference is perhaps succinctly expressed in their distinct venues: Melbourne think grand ‘ole ornate Victorian pile, Sydney, also Victorian era but industrial with award-winning contemporary architectural interventions.
Sydney Contemporary and the Melbourne Art Fair are rather small events compared to other art fairs around the world. Is that a negative? 
Medium-sized is good —  it’s about quality rather than quantity. You want a fair that people can comfortably get around and then go back to the things that they loved, and not to be worried that they hadn’t yet seen everything!
What will be the main differences be at this year’s festival compared to the 2013 event?
We have grown a little, to now take over the whole footprint of Carriageworks, and the curated sections — video, installation, and particularly performance — have expanded. We also welcome a new section, almost a fair within a fair — ‘Paper Contemporary’ showcasing master printmakers from around the country. Also, and importantly for hungry art lovers, our food and beverage offerings are greater and more diverse!
How is Sydney Contemporary reaching out to the younger generation?
We have ‘Kid Contemporary’ for very young folk to experiment with drawing in a collaborative atmosphere.
Education is an integral part of Sydney Contemporary, and Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) will be conducting free educational tours providing insight into contemporary art. (Tours are approximately one hour long, and cover highlights of the Fair. Spaces are limited and bookings are essential!)
Also, for teens interested in studying art and students preparing for the 2016 HSC, we have a tour lead by SCA — ‘PREPARING FOR YOUR HSC MAJOR WORK’ — which will provide insight into contemporary art and help find inspiration that will kick-start the creative process. (Tour departs from the Information Booth, Carriageworks —  Sunday September 13, 11am to 12noon)
We are of course also on all social media too!
Do you have any tips for how to best experience the fair?
Wear comfortable shoes and allow enough time – there’s a lot to see! Don’t be afraid to engage with gallery staff; they are there to talk to you about the work. Take advantage of ‘Art Money-, the interest-free loans to buy art — you may be able to afford that piece you love!

One response to “Sydney Contemporary: Barry Keldoulis says think bold (but wear comfy shoes)

  1. Oh Barry….Australia just thinks it only needs to show yet more pluralistic but homogenous Contemporary Art to be a Player internationally. WRONG! The art world has so much art product its about to burst. If one steps back a bit one can see that in reality all Contemporary Art looks the same. What Australia needs to do is actually add new ideas to the international debate. Instead we just import exhibitions to the MCA and elsewhere. The AGNSW contemorary aquisitions are always “late” and often not at all good (the Twombly triptych is a failed work). Even the APT is only content to find artists from “new” countries not in previous APTs. I’ve been told by one roving selector finding anything at all is often hard. Can anyone tell us when a real new idea came from Australia? In Berlin we are seen as a nothing country, boring like Canada and NZ. Also our art is hamstrung by the public service art employees of our Government Art system and a small but rich and powerful few who “own” the top end of Australian Art and the collectors. Any new ideas are ignored because people don’t want an idea that isn’t theirs.
    Contemporary Art is an epoch like Art Deco and has a distinct “look”. Contemporary Art became a marketing term used by two auction houses in the late 80s and then very quickly was taken up by the art world to describe the global growth of new markets for art starting with China. Contemporary Art is sold as a “new eternal”…suppossedly there will always be Contemporary Art but like all epochs CA will pass. One could argue the Internet and social media has created the real new contemporary artists as now anyone can both create images, disseminate them and indeed curate images on Tumblr etc.
    So Barry nice “nothing” puff piece but I’m afraid Australia can’t turn the ship around. We have been sailing into obscurity for decades.

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