Art fair etiquette: the dos and don’ts of navigating Sydney Contemporary

Art fair etiquette: the dos and don’ts of navigating Sydney Contemporary

Insider tips

Text: Yeong Sassall

Kicking off our Sydney Contemporary series, Noelle Faulkner is going in with a plan. Here, she hits up independent curator Glenn Barkley for his tips on piloting one’s way through an art fair

First up, I'm going to preface this with an apology to all the non-Sydney locals this week. Because it's highly likely that over the next two weeks, as we highlight the best Sydney Contemporary has to offer, major FOMO may occur to those who can't make it down. But, hey we're only a plane/train/automobile away...

Held every alternate year between its big sister fair in Melbourne, Sydney Contemporary returns for its second installation this week (September 10-13), bringing over 90 galleries from 14 different countries to Sydney's chic cultural hub Carriageworks, along with several hot spots around the city - so you can imagine the kind of scope we're talking about here.

Related story: Must see: Sydney Contemporary art fair hits Australian shores next week

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Art fairs can be daunting, hell, the art world can be daunting - especially if you're a newbie collector or an art fair virgin. However, that doesn't need to be the case - yes, art fairs are a gateway drug to the addiction that is collecting, but they're also an education, a teller of the current Australian art climate - and essentially, a sales game.  You'll fall in love a thousand times, have feels, and you WILL get caught up in some hype, even if that wasn't your intention.

Knowing there is an in-the-know skill to getting the best out of a fair, we called in the big guns. I sat down and shared a croissant with Glenn Barkley, an independent curator, co-founder of The Curator's Department, ex-MCA  Senior Curator, 2015 Art Month Artistic Director and co-curator behind the Aleks Danko retrospective on now at the MCA (go see it, it's brill), to share his tips for a killer fair game plan. Listen and learn...

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Don't think you can just rush through it
"The most important do is to make time. Don't think you can see everything in a day, you just can't - the fair is so vast. Some people can go there and search to strike, but they tend to be the collectors who know what they're doing. If that's not you, buy a weekend pass to the fair and take your time. Why not, make a weekend of it! Leave your house! Book into a hotel nearby!"

Do educate yourself
"Do your research and try and work out what you want to see. Look at the art fair as an education process. There's another one in two years, so if you want to dip your toe in the water and have a look around, do that."

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Don't believe the hype
"When you see people start getting hyped up, take a step back and have a good think about it. It may not be the right time to buy and art fairs are capable of building up the art so much that it can become about consuming. So, if it gets too much, stop and think about what you're doing."

Do get in early
"If you're interested in something and there's an artist there you love, VIP tickets are a great idea because they'll get you in before most people. It's like when you have a garage sale and you open at 7am, people will turn up at 6 - you need to be prepared if there's something you have your eye on."

Do make connections
"If you find an artist you love and are interested in investing in, make yourself known to the people at the booth. Don't be afraid to ask questions too, as much as it's about the galleries selling at the fair, it's also about making connections with potential new clients."

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Don't underestimate the education programs
"Art fairs are interesting because on one hand, they are for the high-end collector, but they're also great for people very new to art. There are lots of events going around Art Week and away from the fair that support and educate in that sense - attending these are a great idea. You have to look at it as a whole learning experience."

Don't think you will walk away with a work today
"It could take you years to get a work and don't forget, artists continue to make things. Quite often the galleries might have extra works there, but if they don't, tell them you're interested. Some will often have more in the stockroom at their gallery, which they can organise for you to see at another time, or put you on a waitlist for new works."

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Do take time to see the alternate programs
"In the past, as a curator, there's been this idea that art fairs have been sort of sullied by the market [laughs]. But actually now, they're almost becoming almost equal to biennales. They have much better curatorial programs and alternative programming. Have a look at some of the other things going on there too [such as Installation Contemporary, Video Contemporary and Performance Contemporary]. Quite often they're with younger and more emerging artists - so get into the whole thing."

Barkley and the team from The Curator's Department are heading up Installation Contemporary, a towering, immersive project bringing 18 hyper-engaging, mostly sculptural works to play with the spaces amongst the fair, and he will also be showing his ceramic work at the fair with Utopia Art Gallery. 

Special offer: Sydney Contemporary is offering friends of Buro 24/7 the chance to purchase Opening Night tickets and Day tickets at 20% off. To book, simply enter the promo-code BURO990294 here and click 'APPLY'.


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