Peter Hill’s Top Ten Picks from Sydney Contemporary 2022

Peter Hill found much to be enchanted by at Sydney Contemporary 2022.

Peter Schjeldahl, the great American art critic for The Village Voice, and now The New Yorker, once described the visceral experience of viewing the astonishing late works of Willem de Kooning at the Metropolitan. “The effect was like a plane taking off, when the acceleration presses you against the seat. The painting’s violent intelligence detonated pleasure after pleasure . . . half an hour later I was beaten to a pulp of joy.”

I often get the same adrenaline rush pacing through the rat-like mazes that contemporary art fairs have become. You turn a corner and there, totally unexpected, is a large scale Imants Tillers (Bett Gallery, Hobart/nipaluna), a domestic-scale Pat Brassington (Arc One, Melbourne/Naarm), a kaleidoscopic Jim Lambie like an acid-drop in a hall of mirrors (Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney/Gadigal Country), or a monumental Sally Gabori (Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne/Naarm) that sears the back of your retina with its radiant heat. Lesser works in your sight line, and there are many, drop away from your peripheral vision as you are totally assaulted by this one work, for this one moment in time. It sings arias of increasing ecstasy at you, it teases, and cloaks you in remembrance of things past. It spits pain and desire in equal measure. Some reach for their chequebooks, others for a thesaurus, or smelling salts. Such are art fairs.

Elsewhere, you notice dichotomies of price, scale, and age. Mary Tonkin’s insanely large Ramble, Kalorama, 2017–2019, (180 ×1890 cm) at Australian Galleries’ double – or is it triple? – sized stand. Yes, almost twenty metres long! Not quite up there with Robert Rauschenberg’s The 1/4 Mile that I once saw exhibited at Mass MoCA, but decidedly ambitious. Compare this with the National Art School stand where Brydie Greedy, one of its most talented graduating students, exhibited her small white spheres, engaging with the expanded field of painting through curiosity and trial and error.

I tip my hat to all of the above artists, but will not include them in my top ten for purely selfish reasons. It allows me ten more picks. So, in alphabetical order rather than a meaningless hierarchy, here we go. I would happily live with all of them. 

1. Mikala Dwyer’s special presentation Backdrop for Rounders and Backdrop for Base Matter, both 2016, examining the origins of abstract art through the lens of Hilma af Klint, Sonia Delaunay and others, (presented by Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney/Gadigal Country). 

2. Holly Greenwood (James Makin Gallery, Melbourne/Naarm). As if painting to a Tom Waits soundtrack, Greenwood nods in the direction of Edward Hopper in one corner, and Eric Fischl in another, yet produces uniquely Australian interiors of bars, from Broken Hill to Botany Bay. So real, you can almost feel the sticky carpet beneath your feet.

3. Ariel Hassan (GAGPROJECTS, Berlin, Adelaide/Tarntanya) is an international artist with roots in Latin America, Australia, and Berlin. Ghost Painting No. 4, 2010–2021, references the forms and colours of Tiepolo at one extreme, and features (supporting the canvas) Hulk-like feet in cast metal.

4. Colin McCahon (Gow Langsford, Auckland/Tamaki Makaurau). Angels and Bed No. 1, 1976, is one of four classic McCahons for sale at the Sydney Contemporary. Domestic in scale, but absolutely museum quality, it is all the more poignant seeing them here in Sydney where, towards the end of his alcohol and dementia-scarred life, he went missing in the city at the time of his solo show I Will Need Words, part of the 1984 Biennale of Sydney. 

5. Madeleine Peters (Egg & Dart, Wollongong/Dharawal Country). Peters’s work is often small and intimate, but contains narrative universes in the same way as Scottish painter Andrew Cranston’s do, or Melbourne artist Merrin Eirth, currently exhibiting at Duck Rabbit Gallery a few minute’s walk from Carriageworks. The Pink Blankets, 2022, is classic Peters, continuing her obsessions with laundry and the folding of cloth.

6. Vincent Namattjira (THIS IS NO FANTASY, Melbourne/Naarm). What could be more (unexpectedly) timely than the 2020 Archibald Prize winner Namattjira’s Goya-esque parodies of the royal family? My favourite, The Royal Tour, 2020. The two parts of my Celtic-Australian identity have a bet each way on whether Australia or Scotland will become a republic first. Perhaps they could go down the aisle together.

7. Julie Rrap (ARC ONE Gallery, Melbourne/Naarm). I remember seeing a version of this work Siren from the series Persona and Shadow, 1984, in the 1988 Biennale of Sydney. It has stayed in my memory ever since. 

8. Scotty So (MARS Gallery, Melbourne/Naarm). Is it possible to buy the work of a performance artist sitting on a plinth? David Walsh at MONA managed it with his Tattooed Tim. A mesmerising performance on opening night, with seductive two-dimensional artworks for sale.

9. Aida Tomescu (Fox Jensen Gallery, Sydney/Gadigal Country). The Ear in the River and the Prayer in the Stone, 2022, is classic late Tomescu, painted with vigour. The work of a giant.

10. John Vella (Michael Bugelli Gallery, Hobart/nipaluna). Vella never disappoints, and is an artist of the post-medium condition, conveying his ideas and felt emotions, by turn, through paint, sculpture, and site-specific installation.

11. Louise Weaver (Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney/Gadigal Country). Weaver had a breath-taking survey show across both floors of Buxton Contemporary, VCA, a few years ago. Like Vella, she works across a range of mediums. Perched high above this complex, layered, drawing Off Harbour’s Mouth, 2022, were two of her iconic rainbow-coloured parrots. Keeping an eye on proceedings.

Weaver’s gallerist, Darren Knight, wallpapered his entire booth with a pale pink texture taken from one of Weaver’s works. It divided opinion; some loved it, others not. So probably a good thing. It was interesting to see how others made the most of the stands they had purchased. At the Melbourne Art Fair earlier in the year, James Makin Gallery split the space in two and created a discrete room to showcase the surreal paintings of Michael Vale, all of which sold quickly. In the other half he showed a selection of gallery artists. Makin took the same approach in Sydney with Godwin Bradbeer’s museum-scaled works occupying a room constructed in half of the space. 

 Artist Profile partnered with 3:33 Art Projects to create a booth that combined curated artworks with the written word, in the form of magazines and catalogues. My favourite a canvas by the legendary David Griggs.

Michael Reid took two separate spaces in different parts of Carriageworks to showcase his Indigenous and non-Indigenous works, while Kalli Rolfe Contemporary Art curated a museum-like space with massive canvases by Juan Davila.

And elsewhere? Ninety other galleries. 450 artists. Over 150 events, from panel discussions on collecting non-fungible tokens to a dynamic children’s workshop run by Nadia Hernandez who shows with STATION. Actor David Wenham gave a rousing speech to the art-buying VIPs. And the founder of Sydney Contemporary, Tim Etchells – who has a global art fair empire – told the packed press conference that his ambition was to create a Sydney Art Week, with the fair at the centre of it, similar to the Berlin model. See you next year!

Sydney Contemporary 
8–11 September 2022
Carraigeworks, Sydney

Latest  /  Most Viewed  /  Related