Archives for category: International perspectives


In September 2013 Australia’s new art fair, Sydney Contemporary will launch.  Francesca Valmorbida is the Art Fair Director of Sydney Contemporary and gave up some of her time to share her thoughts with arts interview. Sydney Contemporary will be held at Carriageworks, 20th – 22nd September 2013.

Interview by Leanne Rich

What does Sydney Contemporary do?

Sydney Contemporary is Australia’s newest art fair presenting modern and contemporary artwork including painting, sculpture, new media, photography and performance from leading Australian and international galleries. Essentially, it is a commercial platform for outstanding visual art; an event that brings together artists, gallerists, new and established collectors, and people who are generally interested in visual art – whether they are a seasoned collector or first time buyer.

What is your role within Sydney Contemporary?

As Director, my role is to collaborate, plan and deliver an art fair that everyone wants to be a part of. I work with a broad range of people – colleagues, contractors, selection committee members, ambassadors, institutions, corporations, sponsors, curators, art lovers, collectors and of course gallery owners – it’s exciting.

You have been involved in art events all over Australia, how do the states compare in promoting the local and international art industries?

Each Australian state is unique with its own personality and cultural focus. Sydney has not yet hosted a high end art fair and we have some fabulous art galleries, both public and private. As a new art fair, we will be primarily concerned with educating local audiences as to the role of a fair, and international audiences as to the richness of Sydney’s cultural scene.

How does Australia become an international contender in the art scene?

Australia is an international contender and we should perhaps stop questioning this and enjoy the abundance of talent we have on offer.

What strategy are you using to engage the Asia Pacific Regions?

Sydney Contemporary is open to applications from all new and established galleries who present excellent work by modern or contemporary artists. We welcome applications from commercial galleries across the Asia Pacific and beyond with a consistent history of exhibition. Sydney Contemporary is a dynamic event that has been developed to international standards and is exciting and enticing international galleries.

How would you like to see the future unfold for the arts sector in Australia?

Ideally, I would like to see Australians revel in the breadth of the arts available in this country and regularly attend the many cultural events, performances and exhibitions that surround them. Many public, and all commercial, galleries are free to enter, and I would like to see Australians take more time to drop in to local galleries for example, and to experience the work of some inspiring artists first hand. Online has its place, but there is nothing like seeing an artwork in the flesh.

tony bond

Photo: Anne Graham

Tony Bond OAM, is the Director, Curatorial at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), where he has collected international works for the gallery since 1984. In this interview, Tony discusses current international perceptions of Australian art, the benefits of collecting international art, and the challenges he has faced in building the permanent collection at the Art Gallery of New South Wales over the past thirty years.

Interview by Elinor King

How do you think the current Australian visual art sector is perceived by the wider international community?

Australian visual art is far better known now than it was 30 years ago.  A number of artists, writers and curators have made important contributions overseas and today they tend to be acknowledged as Australians, whereas they often used to disregard their place of origin and even disguise it.  However it is still difficult to have an international profile and live in Australia. This is partly a matter of visibility.  Even in an electronic age face to face encounters matter. Collectors often like to socialise with artists and if dealers can’t deliver this they tend not to make the artist a significant player in their stable.

I have also noted that international curators will often talk about the importance of a given Australian artist and how shocking it is that they are not better known overseas but when asked what they plan to do about it, they nearly always side step the issue. Artists one meets routinely at openings and dinners are more likely to get included in exhibitions and collections. While this might sound very unprofessional it is none the less a factor in human behaviour.  Some artists manage to shuffle back and forth between continents but it makes normal relationships hard and it is an expensive and uncertain way of doing things.

Having said this I should acknowledge that the Asian region has created new opportunities.  Japan and now China have become very open to Australian artists. In Japan the combination of Art Front and the Triennials organised by Fran Kitagawa have been very welcoming to Australians and in some cases opportunities to make permanent public artworks through Artfront have also been created. The Embassy in Tokyo is also very proactive as the opening of a new Australia House in Echigo testifies.  In China it has been expats who have created openings. Redgate residencies have a long history of helping Australian artists make work and find gallery spaces to show their work. China Art Projects also works to bring Chinese artists to Australia and vice versa.  Both these agencies are run by Australians and they make spending time in Beijing surprisingly easy and enjoyable.

Do you think that the current Australian arts sector represents international perspectives well? What would you change or improve?

I think that the best of Australian art is thoroughly engaged with the international art world.  Communications are so good these days and so many people in the arts travel as a matter of course that it is difficult not to be part of the conversation.  Recently a few commercial galleries have become far more international.  In the past dealers could not afford the risk of acquiring international work to exhibit in Australia but that was the only way they could get a serious body of work here.

Part of the problem was also that as collectors started buying overseas, they also became part of the art crowd turning up regularly at White Cube dinners for example –   why would they buy from a gallery here when the best work had already sold in London or New York and the artist was usually not around to socialise in Australia.  Some dealers have taken this head on and not only made sure the artist comes but have also taken the extraordinary risk of bringing out major works. One extraordinary case was Anna Schwartz commissioning Antony Gormley to build a monstrous steel figure that filled her vast Carriageworks gallery.

Some dealers have been regular participants in international art fairs representing Australian art in Europe, USA and now more and more in Asia.  This is an important way of bringing our artists to the attention of collectors and curators but it is also an expensive exercise. So far I have not mentioned the Australia Council whose programmes of residencies and involvement in biennales, especially Venice, has made some headway. I have always thought that there should be a sum set aside to support artists selected by overseas curators for significant exhibitions almost as a matter of course.  Most overseas artists get some support from their arts agencies or dealers.  The geographic isolation of Australia does add to the costs both for the artist and for the exhibitors so some assistance is a big incentive.  Such inclusion of Australians in critically reviewed exhibitions is worth any number of national flag ship exhibitions which tend to remain curiosities not always sought out by opinion leaders.

What do you believe are the benefits of representing international perspectives of art within public art collections in Australia?

It would be unthinkable not to represent a broad range of international art here.  While getting Australians out into the world is important, many more developing artists and students will encounter international artists in collections and exhibitions in Australia.   This exposure should be an important part of their early engagement with the best examples of the art of their time.  Isolation is not a good thing – you can see examples of it particularly in regional centres where many artists feed off their own community and spiral inevitably towards a form of repetitive craft activity that speaks only to a quirky local audience. The same would happen to Australian art as a whole if it did not engage. I hasten to add that there are some very fine artists living in relative isolation in the bush but who have maintained an expansive vision of the world. Brian Blanchflower is one of these.

Unfortunately there are far too few significant collections of international art on display in Australia.  In some cases it is lack of space allocated and this is a major issue for the future.  In other cases there just has not been the continuity and focus on contemporary art collecting.  This is why Biennales still have a place and why spaces such as ACCA in Melbourne and Art Space and [the] MCA in Sydney play such an important role.  Permanent collections are none the less important because if they are well made, well deployed and interpreted they form a lasting opportunity to reflect on the meaning and place in the history of art that exhibitions which come and go do not allow.  Generations of school children may then learn not only what is hot but what has been significant in getting to where we are today in terms of ideas and powerful experiences of objects from around the world and over time.

As head of curatorial at the AGNSW, you have been in charge of collecting international art for the permanent collection. What is the process to acquire a work and what are some of the challenges you have faced in acquiring international works?

The collection I have built is rather special because in 1984 there was no international contemporary collection so I had the opportunity to start one from scratch. That is a rare privilege that I have taken very seriously.  The first step was to decide on the scope of such a collection. Neither funds nor space permitted a comprehensive representation of art movements or individuals. The collection would start from 1984 rather than attempting a contemporary history from the 1960s or Avant Garde precursors of the early Twentieth Century.  This remains the most serious gap in the collection today.

I needed a framework to narrow the field and to allow for coherence in both display and interpretation which is essential for a collection to function in the gallery. I decided that the collection should explore key ideas in the recent history of art. The single most important figure in this history would be Marcel Duchamp. It was not the anti-aesthetic Duchamp I was interested in but the inventor of a language of objects and materials that had an affinity with the subject rather than making a picture of it.

This idea of Duchamp’s could be summarised as employing an ‘ontological communion’ between signifier and signified. It was to liberate art from the limitation of pictorial illustration for coming generations and this had become widely understood through diverse art movements such as Nouveau Realisme, Arte Povera, Minimalism and other forms of Neo Dada and conceptual art. This was the philosophical territory that allowed artists to explore the relation between mind and matter, embodied memory, affect as embedded in the object and liberated by the responsive observer.  It constituted a narrative about key issues in late twentieth century art.

In practical terms it involved a lot of travel to most parts of the world, but I confess most often to Europe in the early days. It was necessary to let the most relevant dealers know we were collecting seriously and to convey the ideas that were driving the process.  This involved multiple visits not only to dealers but to artists’ studios and major exhibitions.  Finding the right work by the right artist that would talk to other works in the collection was of paramount importance. Getting to know artists helped define the ideas I was to work with.  I have learnt far more from artists than from more academic sources but it is also true that most of the artists I admire turned out to be fantastically well read and profoundly engaged with art now and with art history.

How do major exhibitions at the gallery tie in with the permanent collection?

The major exhibitions I have curated provided fantastic opportunities to meet more artists and work with them.  All of them have fed into my ideas about what art is and thus to my interpretation of the collection.  I also often acquired work from the artists I exhibited.  Not necessarily straight away, our funds trickle in slowly and in any case the best works for an exhibition were not necessarily right for the collection.

Milestones have been The British Show (1985), Boundary Rider (the 9th Biennale of Sydney), Body, Trace (the inaugural Liverpool Biennale, UK), and Self Portraits: Renaissance to Contemporary.  The British show happened while I was thinking out the philosophy of the collection and helped me to get my head around a number of fundamental ideas such as ‘ontological communion’, the void and the horizon which I now see as paired manifestations of the boundary between consciousness and matter which is where art is the most powerful instrument for investigation. Artists I met then became lifelong friends and many of them came into the collection over the years including Gormley, Kapoor, Law, Houshiary, Deacon and Willats.

Boundary Rider used the idea of bricollage and found objects as a language that might transcend cultural difference.  Artists who came into the collection subsequently were Doris Salcedo, Perejaume, Haim Steinbach, Svetlana Kopystiansky, Adrian Piper and Rachel Whiteread.

Body was the natural sequel to Boundary Rider. It explored the principle of embodiment and embodied memory.  I included Salcedo again and we now have two very important works in the collection. I also acquired portfolios of Ana Mendieta, and Wiener Aktionismus artists, Videos of Abramovic, Acconci and Paul McCarthy.    


Gerald McMaster with co-artistic director Catherine de Zegher

This year’s 18th Biennale of Sydney: all our relations, is all about collaboration and conversation. Its co-artistic director, Gerald McMaster, speaks with arts interview about how he helped bring together more than 100 artists from around the world to exhibit across five iconic Sydney venues.

Interview by Heather Jennings

What are the challenges in working with artists and other stakeholders from around the world for a major arts event?

Communication is the most complex issue, though it’s partly solved by the latest generation of computer connectivity, something old-school curators had to live without from the 1970s to the 1990s.

We worked with over 100 artists from all parts of the world, each with challenges unique to their project: whether it was trying to raise additional monies to realize a large-scale idea; managing the complexity of shipping works from across the globe; or finding enough volunteers to help install the works in Sydney.

What sort of cultural differences have arisen in developing and implementing the event and how have you overcome these?

Cultural difference has been particularly interesting, especially in addressing contemporary art from different regions around the world. We visited at least 44 countries, so you can imagine the cultural differences we encountered. What helped along the way was talking with local curators, who often provided not only logistical assistance, but also conversational support to explore ideas and intellectual connections.

We assume today that cultural diversity is much more accepted worldwide. John McDonald of The Sydney Morning Herald recently said this is the “least Eurocentric Biennale”, which speaks to the fact we wanted to show great work from unusual sources. Australia prides itself on being a multicultural society, but this isn’t the reason we made the selections we made. The world is changing rapidly so it is counter intuitive to stick to old paradigms.

What time management methods have you employed to successfully travel and work in different countries in the lead up to the 18th Biennale of Sydney: all our relations?

I would have to say that recent trends in social media usage have reified our notion of collaboration and conversation. Without it we would not have been able to do an exhibition of this scale. Time has shrunk so much of what we do that many more details can be handled at once.

The Biennale staff were exceptional. They were organised in all aspects of creating a large and complex exhibition, so that helped to take away much of the worry from the artistic directors.

How does spending time in different countries inform your curatorial practices and ideas for future projects?

I find it almost obligatory to be in the country where the artists have lived most of their lives. In some instances, artists now live elsewhere, which made it difficult for me to visit, but on the whole it was important to visit the many countries if only to acquaint myself with the art and culture of the region.

“How much did I learn from others about their regional artistic practices?” and “What is it that I’ll take away from all this?” are questions that have guided me along the way, that will have a profound effect on how I see artists living and working in various parts of the world. I saw a lot that made me take notice.

The thing I take away from each of my visits is the many stories that were exchanged. Storytelling is such a beautiful human quality, and this is an idea that formed the basis for the exhibition.

The Biennale of Sydney: all our relations runs until September 16.


Photo: Alex Makeyev

Leigh Warren is an incredible talent in both the Australian and international dance scenes. His award winning dance company, Leigh Warren and Dancers (LWD) are touring the prestigious Edinburgh festival and New York Summer Stage Festival. Leigh Warren kindly shares with arts interview his thoughts on dance in Australia and the rest of the world.

 Interview by Vanessa Anthea Macris

You established Leigh Warren and Dancers in 1993 and next year will mark its 20th anniversary, which is an incredible achievement. What do you attribute to the longevity of the company?

Well I think it’s a little bit of passion and madness really. We are just dedicated to what we do and have been very lucky to receive support along the way. We really have followed our hearts performing what we want to perform rather than be dictated to. Sheer passion drives you through the more difficult times.

How would you describe the difference between the contemporary dance scene in Australia compared with Europe or the rest of the world?

The Australian tradition is not so long established in a way. There were some fantastic people in the early days, but it wasn’t until the 1970’s when Elizabeth Dalman established the Australian Dance Theatre that Australia got anything that remotely resembled dance companies that were in Europe.  I think we are certainly on our way but we have had a slower start because we are such a young nation. One of the major differences is our physical isolation from the rest of the world and the great thing is that we have managed to turn it into an advantage. Our isolation has allowed our dancers to develop our own way of doing things, of staging and conceiving performances. Whereas my generation of dancers went overseas to study and join companies before returning back home to Australia, young dancers these days have a variety of companies to join here in this country. Another difference is that we are not saddled with a long tradition in the same way as the Americans or Europeans and so our dance is far less pressured and this really impacts on the type of performances being made. When I was in Europe recently all the performances were really dark and when we took the stage it was like a room full of sunshine.

Is that how you’d describe the latest performance ‘Pari Pasu’ that you are touring to the Edinburgh festival and the New York Summer Stage Festival?

Well to a degree yes. Lets just say it will be a very uplifting performance. It was originally created for the outdoors for the WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) festival and so the whole focus is to recreate the sense of being outdoors and to really loose any sense of being in a theatre.  Audiences and performers are at times very conscious of being in the theatre or on the stage, but this performance really transports you. We hope that the performance will be very uplifting for an international audience and quite a surprise for them.

What are the challenges you’ve encountered in preparing for touring a production internationally?

Well the first challenge for us is that we are not a full time company and as such we always have very short rehearsal periods and to get the production up to international standards is always a huge task. Its tough work as you need to get the dancers into condition and then into a stylistic mode so the greatest challenge for my company is getting the dancers working to the best of their ability for the production in a short period of time. Right now we are rehearsing three productions, which at times is a little chaotic but I have total faith in the dancers that everything will come together. Everyone is so focused and all the dancers in the company are so passionate about dancing so they don’t really need reminders about where they are there which makes my job easier.

What are the key differences between dance audiences in Australia compared with the rest of the world?

I think every audience is different, but having said that there are certain cultures that are what I would describe as more ‘dance literate’. The most wonderful audience for me was in Indonesia because dance for an Indonesian audience was not abstract or disconnected from the body, but rather an extension of communication. Performing for that kind of an audience was wonderful. When I compare this to a more Western audience, they have a tendency to be more intellectual and analytical in nature and seem to always strive to derive meaning from the piece as opposed to just enjoying the piece.  Having said this, each culture is exposed to different forms of dance and so this will most certainly affect they way an audience responds.