Forget horoscopes: this digital art fair predicts the perfect work for you

Tired of visual fly-throughs and online viewing rooms? Sydney Contemporary has reinvented the way we engage with art fairs in these digital times – and it’s fun!

Sydney Contemporary has been Australia’s fastest growing art fair since it started seven years ago, generating over $80 million in art sales and attracting over 25,000 visitors to its annual, five-day event.

Like arts fairs internationally, which often rely on international travel and high visitor volume to help generate sales, Sydney Contemporary has been hard hit by the pandemic.

Rather than create a virtual fair by migrating directly online – all too often the response to COVID – Sydney Contemporary has re-thought not just how we engage with art, but why.

‘We wanted to do something different and not play that game of just attempting to recreate the floor plan of the fair, but rather to capture the atmosphere – the spirit of discovery and engagement with new things that sits at the heart of Sydney Contemporary,’ said Barry Keldoulis, CEO, Art Fairs Australia and Sydney Contemporary Fair Director.

To achieve that, Sydney Contemporary has worked with innovative web designer Isabella Sanasi to create an ‘experiential platform’ that, in some ways, could be described more as an ‘art game’ than a market-driven dive into contemporary art.

‘Each year, the fair is the largest concentration of art sales annually. We wanted to still support artists and galleries during this time, but to try and create a new sales platform that was true to the spirit of the fair,’ said Keldoulis.

Running from 1-31 October 2020, Sydney Contemporary presents 2020 is accessible via a bespoke website.

Keldoulis noted that there is an altruistic motive to Sydney Contemporary presents 2020.

‘That is definitely part of why we are doing it and it’s part of our messaging, and it is resonating with people. Artists are the least well remunerated group in society, and yet they are responsible for how we think, we feel and how we see ourselves as society.

‘Hopefully,’ Keldoulis continued, ‘it will be a shot in the arm for artists and galleries.’

Over 450 new artworks by over 380 artists were made for this special edition of the fair, with some directly responding to the year’s events.

‘We always remember the story of when, how and why we bought an artwork, so why not take this opportunity to acquire a work created during this memorable year?’ Keldoulis said.

Buying art has never been so fun

Sydney Contemporary presents 2020 makes buying art as fun as rolling a dice or having your fortune told.

‘It is experimental! We are not all tech geniuses. You can go the traditional way developing these platforms, or you can do something different,’ Keldoulis said.

‘Online Viewing Rooms (OVRs) attempt to recreate a fair in a very literal way, recreating galleries’ booths to see the works on show. But we really tried to capture another aspect of the fair – that feeling you get when you are struck by so much work; that visual excitement, surprise and intrigue.’

The creation process involved turning to people who have never known a world without the internet. ‘They talk about the emotions and feelings of websites, not just purely a functional way of navigating.’

As a result, rather than approaching Sydney Contemporary presents 2020 from the gallery perspective, you are invited to go on a journey and go straight to the artists and their work.

The platform can be engaged with in several ways, Keldoulis explained, such as scrolling through a visual kaleidoscope of contemporary art or playing a kind of art search game: ‘Help choose the perfect artwork for me’. Viewers can also do a more traditional search by artist or gallery name, if they know what they’re looking for.

The graphics and animation allow for fun journeys. ‘People get that first impression of “OMG!” where they are struck by works that they didn’t know about, as they scroll down the stream of 450-plus works available,’ said Keldoulis.

For the game, you can answer specific questions – about genre, medium, price point and size – that will lead you to the perfect artwork for you.

‘It is a really fun way to engage with art,’ Keldoulis said, adding that is has been a mammoth job to load each work and get the mechanics working.

Among the works on offer are pieces by Brook Andrew, Atong Atem, Juan Davila, Juz Kitson, Lindy Lee, Oh Seung Yul, Ben Quilty, Lisa Reihana, Guan Wei, and five New Zealand artists presented by PAULNACHE, two of whom – Matthew Couper and JK Russ – are based in Las Vegas.

Kimberly artist John Prince Siddon, Fitzroy Crossing. Showing at Sydney Contemporary Presents with EG Projects. Image supplied.

The platform launches on 1 October 2020, with new artworks to be added each week throughout its month-long presentation.

‘We have always been concerned with broadening the access to good contemporary art, and broadening the understanding, breadth and depth of that experience. Our re-evaluation this year has only emphasized that now is as good as time as any to engage with good art,’ Keldoulis said.

Sydney Contemporary Presents 2020 runs online from 1-31 October 2020. Register on the website for access. Sydney Contemporary will return to Carriageworks in 2021.

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina