Ninety galleries showing art from 34 countries under one vast industrial roof, all showing off the art they are proudest of, and which they think will sell best. Sydney Contemporary is back after “two years and fifty-one weeks”, as SC’s Artistic Director Barry Keldoulis likes to insist. The online fairs of the last two years may have kept the bank balances ticking over for artists and galleries, but there’s nothing like this “community event”(Keldoulis again) for potentially bringing everybody in the visual art world together. For the artists themselves, “It’s simply Christmas”.

And after nine years of trying, Founder Tim Etchells has finally brought the NSW government aboard through Destination NSW. Given the length of the queue for the 2pm Wednesday “Collectors’ Opening”, it would seem that there is a pent-up demand.

Thirteen of those 90 galleries are offering Indigenous art, good enough reason for people with a specialist interest to pay a visit. Hard to decide where the headlines are – but ‘The Last Ronnie’ on offer at Utopia Art Sydney must be up there. For Ronnie Tjampitjinpa is now in a retirement home and will paint no more of his familiar concentric squared canvases. Then the 1990s paintings from Balgo that D’Lan Davison has brought delighted me, as that’s when I visited and earned a skin name from the community. They’re also straight out of John Carty’s brilliant new book on Balgo’s history – and you can buy that if the art itself is beyond your financial reach.

Other delights were Tim Klingender’s collection of Alair Pembegan’s ‘Bonefish’ works from his Wik lands on Cape York – including film of the artist explaining the mysterious origins of their mythological attachment to ‘Walkain-au’, an almost inedible fish (because of its boniness) famed for its speediness. Michael Reed has a mass of Arnhemland carvings from Jeremiah and Serena Bonson that have sold as an installation. Arthouse Gallery offer some spectacular Naomi Hobson canvases. I discovered the newish Brisbane gallery, onespace, showing Queensland’s own Teho Ropeyarn and Elisa Jane Carmichael. And A Secondary Eye, also from Brisbane, has some interesting old works by Gordon Bennett, Rover Thomas, Paddy Bedford et al.

The APY Art Centre Collective must be offering one of the best-priced works in the whole show, Myra Kumantjara substantial painting from the new Umoona Arts Centre in Coober Pedy. Elsewhere, the emphasis is on the hundreds of thousands – three of them for ‘The Last Ronnie’.

Chris Hodges from Utopia Art Sydney justifies this premium price in a booth showing almost equally fine contemporary works – while his Sydney gallery is showing historic works to mark the 50th anniversary of Papunya Tula Artists – as follows: “For nearly 50 years, Tjampitjinpa created bold and confident paintings. Drawing on iconography from his Pintupi tradition, Tjampitjinpa crafted paintings with a  visual sophistication that ranks his work with the best contemporary artists of his generation”.

In fact, Tjanpitjinpa, born in 1943, was a youthful assistant to the elders who began the PTA movement and became a founding shareholder in the artists’ cooperative. But he really only hit his painting straps in the 1980s. His move to a Kintore outstation in 1983 gave him the connection to Country that allowed him to develop the style which became his trademark.

Utopia has a prime placing for its offerings near the SC entrance. Given seven halls in all, it’s definitely worth planning your visit on a map – perhaps you won’t then miss (as I did on an initial exploration) larrikitj by Naminapu Maymuru-White at Sullivan + Strump and Vincent Namitjara’s royal suite at THIS IS NO FANTASY. Surely every gentle image of the late Queen Elizabeth – accompanied by his own imagined presence representing airbrushed First Nations Australians – will have been snapped up by now.

The same is probably the case in the Alcaston booth where gaudy Sally Gaboris stand out in the shadows of her current brilliant solo show in Paris at the Fondation Cartier. Sydney’s Cooee Gallery also has work from Mornington Island – the paintings of Gabori’s Bentinck Island colleague, Netta Loogatha – along with some classic works by Dorothy Napangardi. Finally, the Kimberley Aboriginal Artists group of art centres has a selection of works from communities from Derby to Kununurra.


Artist: Ronnie Tjampitjinpa, Alair Pembegan, Jeremiah Bonson, Serena Bonson, Teho Ropeyarn, Elisa Jane Carmichael, Gordon Bennett, Rover Thomas, Paddy Bedford, Myra Kumantjara, Naminapu Maymuru-White, Vincent Namitjara, Sally Gabori, Netta Loogatha, Dorothy Napangardi,

Category: Art Fair , Australia , Blog , Event , Exhibition , Feature , Industry , News ,

Tags: Alair Pembegan , balgo , Barry Keldoulis , dorothy napangardi , Elisa Jane Carmichael , gordon bennett , jeremiah bonson , Myra Kumantjara , naminapu maymuru-white , netta loogatha , paddy bedford , Queen Elizabeth , ronnie tjampitjinpa , rover thomas , sally gabori , Serena Bonson , Sydney Contemporary ‘22 , Teho Ropeyarn , Vincent Namitjara ,