This year’s Sydney Contemporary was the biggest iteration yet featuring some 500 artists and 100 local and international galleries. The breadth and quality of the works on display attracts art collectors and curators from across the region. This year’s fair was complemented by an extensive program of illuminating  talks and artist events. It really is exciting to see so much contemporary art in one place. A multi-day pass is the way to go, allowing you to step back and focus your energy on the dazzling array of work without becoming completely overwhelmed. And there are numerous pop-up bars and coffee stations to sustain you during your explorations.

After spending a busy two days at the Fair, here are just a few personal highlights:

Abdul-Rahman Abdullah’s astonishing ‘Dead Horse’ is a must-see piece. Lying on the floor in the corridor between the Restaurant and the VIP Lounge, this life-size hyper-realistic sculpture is one of 13 major pieces in Installation Contemporary, curated by Sarah Hetherington. These innovative large-scale installations are strategically positioned in unexpected places in and around the fair. 

Another major installation piece, ‘Iris – the Messenger’ by Sam Jinks, is placed at the entrance to Hall F. This striking sculpture of a female nude with golden wings gazing into a reflective pool was a clear crowd-stopper.

Taking the coveted spot in Gallery (Booth) number 1 is Sydney’s Utopia Gallery with a colourful selection of Western and Central desert paintings by some of their leading artists. Celebrating its 35th year in business, Utopia makes excellent use of its prime position.

Next along is one of Adelaide’s leading galleries, Paul Greenaway’s GAGPROJECTS, where you can see some vibrant new works by artists including Deborah Paauwe  and Angela Valmanesh.

Throughout the fair, there are little surprises and unexpected delights. The Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery is showing a collection of paintings and poles by Arnhem Land artist Dhambit Mununggurr. These immediately catch your eye for the beautiful, and rather unexpected, shades of blue. There is an impressive range of contemporary indigenous art from across the country on display at many of the galleries. 

Manyjilyjarra artist Corban Clause Williams, from the Pilbara region, is the winner of the  inaugural $10,000 Art Prize from sponsors MA Financial Group for his vivid painting ‘Kaalpa – Well 23, Canning Stock Route’. The work was on display with EG Projects, located in the Future sector of the Fair. It is informed by time he has spent on Country at Kaalpa, a desert water site that features in traditional stories. His artworks contribute to ongoing dialogues about untold narratives of remote Australian life, bringing contemporary experience of ancestral Country to life on canvas. The acquisitive MA prize is designed to help identify, promote and realise the potential of emerging artists in Australia. 

There were also quite a few galleries from overseas showing interesting work from New Zealand, Japan, Indonesia, and other near neighbours. Tokyo-based artist Kiborio Takase is showing some striking blue and orange paintings with Diginner Gallery, one of the exhibitors in the Future section of the fair. Centrally located in Hall D, these are galleries that have been in business for five years or less; another Tokyo gallery, LOKO, is also exhibiting in the Future hall. 

A suite of sculptural works by Sir Antony Gormley was an absolute highlight of this year’s Sydney Contemporary. Displayed by Galleria Continuo these are instantly recognisable as Gormley works even if they are a little smaller than many of his pieces. Gormley speaks of ‘the utopian vision of a visual language that accepts the primacy of experiential truth’ in his excellent essay accompanying the works. 

One of the great aspects of the Sydney Contemporary is that it’s not just for the (very) well-heeled collectors of contemporary art. Whilst you can spend a million dollars for one or two of the big-name works, there are plenty of pieces to take home for $5,000 dollars or less. And it offers a great opportunity to talk to artists and gallerists and learn more about contemporary art. 

Sydney Contemporary is as a must-attend art event and the perfect place to meet, to discover, and to collect ambitious and cutting edge contemporary art. 

Sydney Contemporary ran at Carriageworks from September 6 – 10, 2023.