Sydney’s Art Month celebrates contemporary art
Sydney’s Art Month for 2012 is a shining success, further establishing Sydney’s growing reputation as an arts city. Anita Senaratna reports.
Every year, the bright geometric posters adorning Sydney billboards and bus stops signal the beginning of Art Month, a festival that celebrates visual art in all its forms.
This year’s festival consisted of over 300 artists and 200 events spread out across Sydney in the month of March. Held in over 100 different galleries, the festival combined commercial galleries and galleries in the inner city with smaller Artist-Run Initiatives (ARIs) and venues in Blacktown, Parramatta, Casula and Gymea.
James Dorahy, former 2011 Art Month board member and current operator of the James Dorahy Project Space in Potts Point, said that Art Month festival served a broader purpose than just showcasing art.
“[The main goals were to] to celebrate the diversity of contemporary art in Sydney and to create a festival which opens up the idea of new audiences to galleries,” Dorahy said.
Besides the exhibitions, this year’s events included: walks, conversations with notable people in the Sydney art world, art workshops for children and adults, dinners, drinks and art bars that allowed visitors to socialise after viewing exhibitions.
Jo Holder is the director of The Cross Art Projects in Kings Cross, one of the 100 Sydney galleries that participated in Art Month 2012.
‘The art scene is certainly more fragmented than it used to be. I think that’s led to a lack of cohesion in the art world in Sydney,” Holder said.
Holder identified that one advantage of this year’s Art Month was its structure – the way it simultaneously united all the different galleries spread out across Sydney and divided them up into more accessible “precincts.”
“Melbourne’s still got everybody going to everyone else’s openings, so it’s still got a kind of group dynamic…whereas Sydney tends to be more little groups associated with certain spaces or certain geographic areas,” she said.
Holder said the guided walks and precinct parties allowed visitors to see numerous galleries in the one area at the same time, providing Sydney’s art world some much-needed “cohesion.”
“In that way I think it’s a good idea to map it all out and just give people a sense of what’s in an area, you can take an area and go around it and that’s kind of one day… and it can be fun and social,” she said.
However, Holder did express doubts about events such as art bars-bars set up specifically for Art Month visitors to drink, dance and discuss exhibitions – in relation to the festival’s goals.
“I don’t think art needs art bars,’” said Holder.
“It’s good to have it but not as an end unto itself, art is not an accessory to drinking…why make it decor for some other agenda?”
Holder admitted that although she did tend to have more of a “purist” approach to events, she felt like this year’s Art Month had conveyed its message a lot better than it had in previous years.
“I think this year they’ve pulled it back a bit, it’s not to where a purist like me would like it which is sort of no logos, just do the art…more unmediated… so it’s much more about the artist and the spaces rather than a kind of intermediary layer of people promoting it,” Holder said.
Sebastian Goldspink, the producer of this year’s Art Month, said that Sydney has just as much to offer in terms of art as cities such as Melbourne with more of a reputation for being arts-focused.
‘The whole Melbourne/Sydney debate is more and more kind of diminishing. It used to be said that Melbourne was the more cultural centre of Australia but there’s amazing stuff happening in Sydney and Art Month is definitely a celebration of visual arts in Sydney,” Goldspink said.
On the subject of art bars, Goldspink said that the idea behind them was more to do with extended opening hours for galleries then having people meet up at the bar and discuss what they had seen.
“It’s based on the German kaffeeklatsch [literally ‘coffee and chat’] kind of idea, of going to the theatre then meeting up afterwards, saying “Hey, did you see this? Did you like this?” “Oh, it’s great,” he explained.
Goldspink said that responses to this year’s festival had been extremely positive, and that contemporary art, both in Sydney and on a global scale, was continuing to grow and change.
“It’s always happening. There’s definitely no decline in contemporary art, and it’s always rapidly evolving…and we never know exactly where it’s at because it’s only in the benefit of hindsight, it’s so mercurial and you can’t really put your finger on it.”