As your regular commercial gallery has undoubtedly told you several times, the 7th Sydney Contemporary is now OPEN! Those galleries really have to work hard for the Fair– to afford a stand on the extensive, idiosyncratic floors of Carriageworks, to plan its appealing content, to get artists involved in talks, etc, to publicise the lot, to lay on the champers etc, etc.

Seven different halls, 96 galleries taking stands and 500 artists to be found somewhere. And my hit-list of 17 stands/galleries offering First Nations works was sufficient challenge for the two hours allocated to my press preview.

What hit me? Well, proceedings began well with the news that the Fair had come up with a new prize for emerging artists in the name of sponsors MA Financial. And this inaugural efforts had gone to Martumili youngster Corban Clause Williams, just 28 (pictured with his art). The artist tells me that as well as his Ranger responsibilities and the many cups of tea he’s made in the studio and out hunting with the likes of elder artist, Jakayu Biljabu, he’s been inspired by a visit to his ancestral Country at Kaalpa, Well 23 on the Canning Stock Route, to paint for himself. The new prize is worth $10,000, and involved judges from MA Financial and the contemporary non-Indigenous art scene.

Good start. I then needed to follow up with a sentimental visit to the Tim Klingender Fine Art stand, proudly there despite Tim’s recent, tragic death. Filling in for the master were son James and curator Lauren Harvey (pictured), though all the art had been selected by the man himself, headed by an already-sold Kngwarreye masterpiece from summer/autumn 1991 that went for $750,000. A Boxer Milner diptych followed soon after – Harvey admitting that the Balgo painter was one of Tim’s favourites.

Being Klingender, he’d also challenged expectations with a fabulously scarred old shield and a selection of Young carvings by Guykuda Mununggurr – ranging from the fabulous fishes that I featured recently in the National Maritime Museum to a striking Mermaid/Merman pairing. But of course the future of TKFA mattered almost as much. And Harvey revealed that she and Tim’s widow Skye had commitments from Sotheby’s in New York to continue his annual auction and the appointment of two senior advisors, specialists in the Indigenous, would be announced soon to ensure the expertise necessary to match the master’s. It helps that the National Gallery has a big Kngwarreye show coming up and Tim’s name has been attachd to finding the finest works for that.

Two significant aspects of change in the Aboriginal art market stood out at the Fair. Gone forever is the old community art centre priority. A Fair like this needs stars! And in the likes of the late Roy Wiggan, Dhambit Mununggurr, Brian Robinson, Owen Yalandja and Jack Nawilil they were certainly on offer.

Wiggan was the most obvious with six mighty ‘Ilma’ featuring as an installation, you couldn’t miss him. They’re headed for a major institution. But he also turned up on A Secondary Eye’s stand, where Jesse-Jack De Deyne was introducing himself to the scene via a collection of smaller ‘Ilma’ (pictured) that’s been returned to the market by a major collector. Backed up by a catalogue featuring Broome expert Emily Rohr’s essay, Jesse is clearly following a specialist secondary market trend established by D’Lan Davidson in Melbourne.

But the West also has Emilia Galatis, a well-known facilitator who works with art centres such as Martumili to promote the Corben Clause Williams’s of the world. She’s also worked with Bardi man Garry Sibosado to bring a future to the tradition of riji/jakoli pearl shell carving – reducing his modern take on classic patterns as seen at the recent Tarnanthi Festival to miniature size. This is a trend that finds a valuable home between the community art centres and the naked market. Mind you, it turns out that Galatis was funded by the WA State government to the tune of $53,392.

Oddly a small forest of Jack Nawilil’s complex Spirit Poles from Arnhemland turned up on the distant Mornington Peninsular gallery, Everywhen’s stand. Given each one is a unique mix of paperbark pole, handwoven string and bush feathers, they represent a major investment by the NATSIAA 3D Award-winning artist. By comparison, Owen Yalandja’s forest of decorated forked sticks is much simpler but looks great on a wall of Michael Reid’s stand above his field of Yawkyawks.

And talking of fields, Dhambit Mununggurr’s vast pasture of outsize, electric blue artworks – both barks and lorrkon – more than justified Ros Oxley’s pick of her as a star in 2021. Amazingly, the artist herself is tiny, trapped in a wheelchair and forced to paint with her left hand. I wonder whether the petite gelleryist identified with her (pictured)?

Not quite as showy, Brian Robinson’s complex, multi-referential prints are in the Paper hall on the Mossenson stand. But he also has an installation that makes his political stance crystal clear – ‘Bank’s Bounty : Exotic Cargo’ colourfully features the flora that went back to the UK in 1770 as exotica, totally excised from its role as food and medicine for the people who didn’t apparently exist in Australia.

Less obviously, look out for the following:
Some hot Spinifex works at D’Lan Contemporary
Helen Ganalmirriwuy Garrawurra with some innovative basket shapes on the Sabbia stand
A new Bobby West artwork being snapped up by the NGA on the Utopia stand
A Rex Battarbee watercolour that shows how much he learned from Albert N about painting desert gums at Cooee Art Leven
A Danie Mellor canvas selling for $110,000
A feast of Betty Mufflers and Iluwanti Kens at Jan Murphy’s stand
A resurgence of Frank Young’s enthusiasm for ‘Kulata Tjuta’, his campaign for traditional spear-making amongst desert men – on both canvas and pottery – on the APY Art Centre Collective stand.

And why was that there, you may ask? Fair founder Tim Etchells was expecting that question but told me no one else had asked. It seems he has faith in returning galleries, and the APYACC has been with Sydney Contemporary for two years. He also accepted their application in March before any excrement hit the fan, so felt it couldn’t be rescinded while enquiries continued.

And this no doubt justified the Alcaston stand featuring a hectic Yaritji Young canvas, bold as brass on its front wall.

All of this and much, much more can be found online too – another commitment by the galleries!