Sydney Contemporary Art Fair preview & interview with director Barry Keldoulis

Sydney Contemporary, Australasia’s international art fair, begins next week. Held over 4 days from 10 – 13 September at Carriageworks in Eveleigh NSW, beautiful.bizarre co-founders Danijela Krha and Richard Purssey are attending and hope to see many of our beautiful.bizarre followers there!

The Fair presents over 90 galleries from 13 countries, presenting cutting-edge art from some of the world’s most respected artists as well as the opportunity to discover the next generation of emerging talent. Alongside the galleries are curated sectors for contemporary video, installation art and performance as well as a dynamic talks and tours program presented by industry leaders.

Sydney Contemporary

10 – 13 September 2015

sydney contemporary_beautifulbizarre_001a

Opening Night: Thursday 10 Sept, 5pm – 9pm

One of the most anticipated events on Sydney’s cultural calendar, the official Opening Night transforms
the Fair into an immersive, all-encompassing night of art, music and food! Some of Sydney’s most exciting
performers including Alaska Orchestra, Rosie Deacon, Hissy Fit, Matt Format, Betty Grumble, Jessica Lavelle,
Sarsha Simone, Jake Meadows and Bhenji Ra will tantalise your senses
and take you on an exciting journey throughout the Fair.

Get your tickets here > Sydney Contemporary Opening Night

More Information

Full Program | Talk Contemporary | Performance Contemporary | Paper Contemporary | Installation Contemporary | Video Contemporary | Participating Gallery ListArt Tours


Exclusive Interview with
Barry Keldoulis, CEO and Group Fairs Director

Part 1 of beautiful.bizarre’s in depth interview with Barry Keldoulis.
beautiful.bizarre is attending the Opening Night, the Fair and many of the talks and extra VIP events during the course of the 4 day program. We will bring you the second half of this fascinating and insightful interview with our post Sydney Contemporary Wrap up article next week. 

Barry Keldoulis_beautifulbizarre

In an wide-ranging and informative interview, Barry Keldoulis spoke to beautiful.bizarre co-founder Richard Purssey about the influence of art fairs, his personal collection, the Sydney art scene, and many factors influencing contemporary art. Essential reading for artists and gallery directors as well as all art lovers and collectors, this interview provides an insight into the highest levels of the contemporary art world.

Barry has more than three decades experience in contemporary art. Since his return to Sydney after nearly fifteen years in New York and Europe, Barry has worked in the museum and commercial gallery worlds, and in 2003 opened his own gallery to fill a gap in opportunity for young artists to exhibit between artist-run spaces and the major commercial galleries. He chose the transitional City of Sydney neighbourhood of Chippendale, before moving into the Danks Street, Waterloo complex in April 2004 and then in February 2008 to a warehouse conversion on Young Street, Waterloo.

Artists from his stable are represented in all Australian state galleries and the National Gallery of Australia, and now exhibit in museums and private galleries around the globe.

I was enthralled by my time with Barry and I am certain you will be too.  The full interview will be divided between this article and the follow up at the conclusion of Sydney Contemporary.

There seems to be a proliferation of art fairs of late, why do you believe art fairs have become so popular in recent years?   Do you think the art consumer/collector is now more informed and choosier about which Gallery to visit with the huge scale and availability of art on the internet?

There’s no denying the proliferation or their popularity, I recall a recent survey which showed 45 to 50% of art sales worldwide were now being purchased through art fairs. Without doubt they are popular and increasingly so. There are a number of factors coming in to play, one of which is the influence of the internet. The internet is influencing all aspects of our life, and it has affected the way people engage with art. Galleries are saying that people aren’t going to the galleries as much anymore; they are often looking online initially at what’s going to be shown before deciding if they are going to come. It’s also that people are time poor now, and where before they might have gone to a half-dozen galleries on a Saturday there are now so many other things to do.

The art fair is almost like a manifestation of the internet itself, in that on the internet you can see art from your city, your country, and from around the world at the click of a mouse, and in the case of an art fair you have a similar variety of art in a set location over a short period of time. But most good art still needs to be seen in the flesh to be fully appreciated, to get that visceral reaction to a work, something that the internet can never deliver.

It’s fantastically convenient and there is also the effect that an event like this increases the energy level. For a country like Australia where a lot of people are not comfortable in the contemporary art world, where they probably feel they don’t know enough, the art fair breaks down a lot of the barriers that I think people sometimes feel about going to a gallery space. It creates an environment where the gallery directors are on their feet and talking to people and the mood is not intimidating but intriguing and interesting, and there are lots of people around, so you don’t feel like you’re sticking out like a sore thumb.

That’s good for the part of the population for whom there seems to be some sort of intimidation factor when dealing with the contemporary art field, and then also for your serious collectors who appreciate saving time with the aggregation of good work in one place at one time.

I don’t think, in terms of the availability of art, that the internet helps most artists. Although it is there and it is available to look at I don’t think it helps that much apart from prints and for the well-known artists where you will know what you are getting. It’s easy to forget in all this that selling their work is the main way that artists get enough money to continue their practice which is the basis of all that we do.

What is your personal preference in art styles when collecting for your own home? Let’s preface this by saying, “living artists” only.

For me contemporary art is a marriage of ideas and aesthetics, so I look for work that is interesting in both of those realms. Work that stimulates or perhaps challenges me in regard to the ideas behind the work, work that is aesthetically not necessarily just appealing but can be confronting as well. A good example is a painting I have by Fiona Lowry that is part of a series, the other one going to the MCA (Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney), I remember thinking that when the works came to the gallery that the colour combinations in the work were extraordinary, that one would have to go to the museums because you couldn’t live with that. I couldn’t stop looking at the work again and again, and when the curators chose the other work I had to buy the one I found most challenging – it’s it my bedroom now and I love it!

I don’t go for something that’s just pretty, I go for something that’s challenging and pleasing at the same time.

Another common problem for collectors is wall space, which is where I find that video pieces can offer so much. Turn that blank screen on the wall into a potential canvas for moving paintings. A third of my sales during my time at galleries were of video art, and by the end of 10 years pretty much all of the artists I represented had at least dabbled in video work, in fact just a couple of weeks ago I went to an exhibition by Debra Dawes, where as one of the last holdouts as a painter she premiered her first video work.

This all came about on the tail of the boom in sale of large flat-screen TVs, people were saying when they have guests they don’t want the TV on, but they also don’t want this big black rectangle either. So there was increasing interest in these non-narrative, intriguing, conversation-starting video works that would loop – it put Australia in the forefront of video art in the domestic space. And storage isn’t a problem!

I have a very eclectic collection; I like art that opens up a new way of seeing for me. (On non-Australian art in collection) As a gallerist I always had an international show or two each year, because I thought it was necessary to develop a two-way street because it wasn’t easy back then to sell works by international artists to an Australian audience. In fact I would often buy these works from my exhibitions myself.

It’s good with contemporary art being an international phenomenon to be able to compare and contrast what is going on in the rest of the world and see what is distinctive in Australian modern art. I do find it interesting when you go to [art] fairs around the world you see similar themes pop up at different parts of the world at the same time, which is why I say to my artists if you do have an idea, get it out there now. These are often a reflection of the collective unconscious, and if you don’t have your work out it will come up in someone else’s unconscious and you’ll find yourself left in the dust – following the trend rather than leading it.

It has recently been announced that you are to be Artistic Director of  Art Month Sydney 2016, could you tell us more about this event

That’s a different event for Sydney, a very exciting and challenging event with Sydney Mardi Gras festival leading into the event and [Sydney] Biennale immediately at the end of it. It will be interesting working with those people as well, hopefully cross-promoting and expanding the audience for contemporary art that way.

I understand you spent many years in New York deeply immersed in the art scene.  Can you tell us what you believe is the main difference in the art scenes between New York and Sydney.

When I lived in New York in the 1980’s it was a hotbed of creativity, the contemporary art scene in Manhattan took off and it was an extraordinarily exciting time for making art in New York. Sydney has a fabulous creative culture, and one of the things I hope that the art fair does, for the local audience as well as inter-state and internationals, is help them appreciate what a fantastic generator of creativity and art that Sydney is, and not just a marketplace.

What has happened to New York is that subsequent to the extraordinary rise in the cost of real estate – similar to what is happening here – New York has really become a marketplace for art and less so a place for creating work. A lot of the artists moved to Berlin, and now there is a large exodus to Los Angeles where it is cheaper to live and create work. I think Sydney has to be careful of not falling into the trap of losing its creative people because of its phenomenal real estate prices.

I think one of the things we have here which they don’t have to the same extent in New York is local and state – particularly local – government support. The local councils providing studio spaces, artist-in-residence programs and the like to support the creative industries in their areas is a very positive step.

Berlin has recognised the need to retain cultural tourism by preserving the accessibility of the city for creatives, New York is still a fantastic place for art but it’s not the creative centre that it was. Sydney is a fantastic creative hub, and we need to continue awareness of the need to maintain that through whatever mechanisms we can find. I have always thought of Sydney as the New York of Australia, we just need to be cognisant of learning from what has occurred there.

Figurative new contemporary art such as pop surrealism does not seem to have gained the same traction in the Australian market as it has internationally – any thoughts on why this is?

In Australia we get bombarded with imagery and culture from both Great Britain and the United States. We have our own culture that’s somewhere between the two in so many ways, but the new styles of art that come from those places, although we’re exposed to them they still have a sense of “otherness” and being from somewhere else. Although we love and absorb other cultures very quickly they don’t gain the same popularity here in the sense that we don’t own them emotionally.

That plays into the fact that although we connect with Britain, and to a lesser extent America, we are still a very young culture that is also home to the oldest continuous culture on earth. That is something that we are absorbing into the culture that we are now building, and that will become known as our culture in the future. We are still in the process of creating and shaping what will be called Australian culture and that’s what makes it exciting to be involved in contemporary art here, in contrast to some of these older places who have a set idea of what their culture is.

Portugal is a good example of one of these older cultures, when I lived in Portugal they had a very fixed Idea of what their culture is. It wasn’t as easy for contemporary artists to get a foothold there in terms of surviving as an artist as their work did not fit into that cultural mindset. There are some very good contemporary artists, who have come out of Portugal, but I think they may be surviving on that international recognition rather than domestic recognition.

We are feeling our way forward, we are constantly having new sources of cultural input, voices coming from different cultures that are adding to our multiculturalism and our creative output. I think that’s part of the reason that we are not latching onto foreign contemporary cultures as much as perhaps we might think we do. We absorb so much American television but it hasn’t diminished our sense of self, we haven’t become a little America. We still have a very distinctive Australian character.

In terms of contemporary visual arts as well there’s a lot of difference between us and other cultures and that comes through in the art that we ultimately tend to support. It’s a bit of a contradiction in that, as I have said, it’s important to continue to support international artists that exhibit here, to support their coming by buying their work. That doesn’t mean you aren’t supporting Australian contemporary arts, by bringing in foreign work it adds to the richness of our culture here and also helps Australian art to go overseas and become part on international culture as well.

Be sure to stay tuned for the follow-up article with a review of Sydney Contemporary and the second part of the interview with Barry where he gives his thoughts on Street Art, the influence of the internet on contemporary art, artists and galleries, and much more!


Preview & Teaser of Sydney Contemporary 2015

Sydney Contemporary Art Fair, CarriageworksSydney Contemporary Art Fair, Carriageworks

Sydney Contemporary Art Fair, Carriageworks

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About Author

I am a co-founder and the Technical Director of beautiful.bizarre


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