The tondos by Danie Mellor at Sydney Contempory 15
Posted by Jeremy Eccles | 11.09.15
Is it four or is it five art fairs opening in Sydney this week? It seems they have a tendency to multiply; for Sydney Contemporary 13, two years ago, pioneered the arrival of serious artfair business in Sydney all on its own. Now it's returned for SC15, and it's brought with it three or four others. Do the locals drop everything and just artfair themselves out – with the assistance of a quite excessive increase in delicious food and fizzy drink available at both the fairs I've visited so far? Or are some galleries and artists going to miss out on the punters and sales that are essential to cover the cost of their stands at the fairs?
But it seems we've been missing out on a serious fair like SC15 for at least a decade. More than a hundred galleries exhibiting, about 500 artists from fourteen countries on show and a notional $10 million expected in turnover. Mind you, on the basis of 2013, you never actually get a hard and fast number out of those galleries – partly because the 'introductions' that occur during the fair may well lead to sales down the track. Tim Etchells who 'owns' SC15 – and who founded, then sold out of the Hong Kong Artfair as he moved into Australia (Sydney & Melbourne) – has managed a downturn in Asian galleries coming down to Australia this time, though an increase in South American. I suspect disappointing sales for the less-than-local in 2013, though he blamed Ramadan, whose moveable dates means Sydney is competing with a Jakarta artfair this time.
Asked about discernible trends in the art, Director Barry Keldoulis named a four-day candle and some wacky sharks. A more serious trend would have to be the growth in Indigenous art offered by high-end galleries – not necessarily specialist dealers. When so many writers are crying doom and gloom in this market, it would seem that quality – quite a bit of it older, secondary market offerings – win out!
So, a round dozen galleries at SC15 had some Indigenous art for sale. After the 'rubbish' Emily Kngwarreyes from her least appealing 'Colourist' period seen in the recent Vroom sale – which, however, sold like hot cakes to an over-stimulated audience – it was a joy to see Utopia Gallery offering sheer magnificence from the lady at her 1991 best – a substantial, smoky-pink small-dotted work with all the movement of wind through desert flowers that you could want. At an asking price of $750,000 it had to be special!
Justin Miller, secondary market specialist, also offered Emily – not so fine, but nice, with a hint of Yam roots showing through the 1992 dotting. He was also hoping for $88,000 for a Kitty Kantilla – which would surely be a record. And he had a cluster of Buku Larnggay lorrkon that would look a treat in my 5 metre front porch. They were tall! But were they a match for the specialist Aboriginal dealer, Annandale Galleries, with the pioneering Gunybi Ganambarr's latest poles – defiantly un-smooth, carved and accreted, animal shapes and miny'ti patterns, in fact blatantly sculptural. Just as the 'discovery' of the stage boards left behind by visiting dance company, Bangarra (now painted and seen at the NATSIAAs and Raft Gallery in Alice) has allowed Yolngu artists to avoid the unpredictability of bark and come somewhere near to the constancy of canvas, so Gunybi – as ever – is going in the opposite direction in order to give himself ever greater challenges.
And that great spotter of trends, Tim Klingender was thinking along Gunybi lines with the Indigenous part of his mixed offering – all of it three-dimensional. From an elegant little Groote Eylandt coral fish to a mighty 205 cms Lipundja spirit figure from 1965, he enlarged my experience. But then I was blown away not once, but twice, by an unpainted, bandy-legged female Mokoy figure with such a haunting face from an even earlier time; and then by a Purukapali/Bima matched pair of sculptures from Cardo Kerinauia, the Tiwi carver hailed as the non-pareil by Jenny Isaacs in her magisterial book on the islands.
The other specialist dealers, Mossenson, are back with their favourite Ngarra, the WA painter beloved of Dennis Scholl in his US tour of Aboriginal 'Abstract' art – and a book on the man who's hardly known over-East is imminent. Mossenson house artists Kitty Malarvie, Brian Robinson and the footballing Kunoths are also on offer. With her fellow Warringarri Art centre artist, Ben Ward taking out the prestigious John Fries Award (a first for an Indigenous painter), Kitty will have to watch her laurels!
From Warmun, just down the road in the East Kimberley, SC15 showed a handful of canvases by senior ladies – Mesdames Nyadbi, Purdie, Thomas and Julie. But it was quite a surprise to find them in the hands of the NZ gallerist Tim Melville. He's Maori himself, so believes he's creating an Indigenous dialogue across the Tasman and showing respect to Whenna, the Maori equivalent of Country with this Gija quartet.
From Far North Queensland, Kick Arts brought the Torres Strait and Cape York into Carriageworks. The great Alick Tipoti may be 'retiring' to his Badu Island home, but he's still experimenting with some bold new prints - linocut and then screenprinted. And Brian Robinson has a five-colour etching. From the Cape, two generations of the de Jersey family tackle both canvases and ghost-net bird sculptures. And from Melbourne, Alcaston Gallery has pride-of-place in the Fair to show a vast black and white (with a hint of pink) Sally Gabori, Naomi Hobson from the Cape (but present in person) and the NATSIAA-winning bark artist Nongirrngga Marawili at her wildest.
And then there was urban art – with Christian Thompson and Christopher Pease fulfilling 'contemporary' expectations on Michael Reid's stand and Danie Mellor exceeding them on Sophie Gannon's. Mellor is now offering mazily blued, mighty-sized photographs of his ancestral FNQ rainforests, the setting for so many of his Spode blue paintings. Bring the tropics into your living room! Or buy a much more affordable Mellor tondo. Various sizes of circular paintings offering snapshots of Mellor imagery, still in his trade-mark blue, irresistibly turned my mind towards Della-Robbia, another man who made his name through blue and tondi.
Over at The Other Art Fair in Chippendale, artists without gallery representation in Sydney were offering themselves directly to the public – an Australian first. This is a mixed blessing: wonderful to have access to their approachable creators when I wanted to know more about particular artworks; daunting when I chose to ignore the artist watching my every move on pretty narrow aisles and seeming to offer the evil eye to my disinterest! However one Aboriginal artist has braved the Fair – Niah Juella McLeod, daring to show her painting in public for the first time! This Yuin lass is the daughter of the late Bobby McLeod, Aboriginal activist, poet, healer, musician and elder from Wreck Bay on Jervis Bay. His books of poetry include 'Ngudjung Yugarang: Mother's Heartbeat' – and that's also the title of Niah's most attractive canvas.
Sydney Contemporary (tickets from $25, sydneycontemporary.com.au) at Carriageworks, Redfern; The Other Art Fair (tickets from $15, theotherartfair.com.au) at Central Park building on Broadway; Spring 1883 (free, spring1883.com) September 12pm – 7pm daily at the Establishment Hotel, off George Street; and The Volume art book fair (free, volumeartbookfair.com) at Artspace in Woolloomooloo. All end September 13.
Gunybi Ganambarr's new, sculptural 'lorrkon' on the Annadale Galleries stand
The Ancestors who brought death to the Tiwi Islands - Purukaparli and Bima - carved by Cardo Kerinauia
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