A citywide sweep of vibrant and diverse art events including art fairs, exhibitions, public programmes and performances, graced this year’s edition of Sydney Art Week. SPRING 1883, a satellite art fair that started as a rebellion to its more traditional counterpart, Sydney Contemporary, also comprised the abundant cultural calendar. A showcase for the latest visual art, current trends and emergent practices, SPRING 1883 was well worth the visit.
Following the success of the inaugural SPRING 1883 in 2014 at Melbourne’s Windsor Hotel, the fair expanded to Sydney’s Establishment Hotel this year, inviting twenty-five galleries to participate, with each one occupying a different room across four floors.
The three gallerists behind SPRING—Vasili Kaliman of Station, Geoff Newton of Neon Parc, and Vikki McInnes of Sarah Scout Presents—disregarded the familiar white booth in favour of small boutique hotel rooms. Drawing on the traditions of the Gramercy Park Fair in New York, this style of presentation prompted participating galleries to conceive innovative ways to showcase their art and address their curatorial and spatial concerns.
Michael Lett joined forces with long time friend and gallerist, Phillida Reid, of Southard Reid in London, to present works by Hany Armanious and Edward Thomasson, among others. Spread out over two floors in a naturally lit corner room, the highlight was two video works by Edward Thomasson, an emerging video artist who has quickly established himself as “future great” of the increasingly popular medium. Thomasson’s meticulously constructed videos, typically set in institutional environments, oscillate between a small selection of characters, scenes and storylines, before culminating in a deeper meaning at the conclusion of each video. The artist employs amateur and professional actors to address the unspoken rules of social interaction, whilst also getting inside the characters’ heads through the projection of internal monologue.
Several galleries resourcefully incorporated the bed into their presentation. Robert Heald Gallery presented a solo exhibition of large yet intimate works by Jae Hoon Lee. Lee’s lightjet print on metallic paper work, Cloud 4, took on the form of an intricate headboard. A selection of Paul Yore’s colourful needlepoint works were sprawled on the bed of Neon Parc’s room, while works by Trevelyan Clay, Dale Frank, Elizabeth Newman and others occupied the remaining furnishings, including the television stand, which had been tipped on its side. Over the corridor at Hamish McKay Gallery, watercolour works by Rohan Whealleans were neatly draped across the bed.
Sarah Cottier Gallery’s room was big on colour; the shower was illuminated with Brendan van Hek’s Arrangement #1, a repurposed neon light on a found lamp stand, while the walls were lined with Esther Stewart’s exquisite abstract boards. Works by Julie Fragar, Huseyin Sami, Jonathan Zawada, Matthys Gerber, Nicola Smith, Elizabeth Pulie, Koji Ryui and others were a visual feast for the eyes on every other surface of the room.
Hopkinson Mossman presented an exhibition of solo works by Fiona Connor, namely her recent Community Notice Board works, which provide a social commentary on a certain place and time—whether this be a church, a park, or a community centre—by replicating exact information from existing notice boards. The subtle presentation proved rewarding for those who took time to read the small text.
In contrast, Darren Knight Gallery brought a full roster of artists, including Chris Bond’s Vogue Hommes oil on linen works, Jon Campbell’s enamel paint and cotton duck works (bearing irreverent phrases), Matlok Griffith’s colourful oil on cotton works, Rob McHaffie’s surrealist oil on linen portraits and James Morrison’s five panel Limmen Bright work. Upon closer inspection, Michelle Nikou’s intricate gold sculptures, Kenzee Patterson’s found objects (such as a stainless steel ruler) and Ricky Swallow’s magnifying glass with rope could be found.
With its quiet and serene hotel rooms, SPRING 1883 provided a welcoming contrast to the inherent spectacle of art fairs. Presenting art in hotel rooms, which is more akin to a domestic setting than the traditional white booth, activated the works in a different way. The private confines of the rooms also removed the friction often observed at art fairs when works of high value are placed beside those of lesser value, leaving visitors to make sense of it all themselves.
SPRING 1883 managed the unlikely task of presenting refreshingly emergent art that was both experimental and challenging without comprising on substance or standing. Here you could enjoy art and feel free from the pressures and tensions of larger, established art fairs.