We’re getting used to doing things differently in 2020, and the art world is no different. Those who were looking forward to attending this year’s Sydney Contemporary, Australia’s leading international art fair, will have to forego wandering the installations, sparkling wine in hand, at Carriageworks this time around. But Sydney Contemporary Presents 2020, a new digital concept that launched earlier this month, means art lovers can now enjoy an artist-led, experiential Sydney Contemporary substitute at home.

In lieu of this year’s physical art fair, the new digital platform showcases 450 artworks by more than 380 international and Australian artists. The works were all created in 2020, and many reference the landmark events and challenges of the year that has been. And to give a much-needed boost to the arts community, all sales revenue from the fair will go directly to the artists and galleries involved.

“2020 has been an extraordinary year on many levels,” fair director Barry Keldoulis tells Broadsheet. “We believe it is important – now more than ever – to support artists and the arts community, and have created this new digital initiative specifically to do so.”

The colourful website displays works spanning painting, drawing, photography, video, mixed-media, virtual reality and sculpture.

Visitors to the platform will be led through artist-focused channels to discover works by Australians including Guy Maestri, Ben Quilty, Daniel Agdag, Brook Andrew, Juan Davila, Juz Kitson, Lindy Lee and Joshua Yeldham, and international artists such as Zico Albaiquni, Jan Albers, Atong Atem, Seung Yul Oh, Lisa Reihana and Guan Wei.

Viewers can scroll through the works, search for a specific artist by name, or use the “Help choose the perfect artwork for me” function – a kind of perky digital-art advisor, taking users down a choose-your-own-adventure path where they select the size, style, price and medium that best suits them. The result is a curated selection of artworks that match each individual’s taste and budget. It does double duty by opening viewers’ eyes to works they may not have been expecting to see, even within the boundaries they had set.

“We wanted to do things a little differently to the presentations by other art fairs,” Keldoulis says. “Most of the fairs have gone with online viewing rooms, which are very gallery-first. And while we do work within the gallery system, we are trying to capture the other very real aspects of the event, such as the sense of surprise and joy that you’d experience at seeing not only the artists and the works that you were expecting to see, but also the ones that are delightful surprises.”

To make the experience even more interactive, Sydney Contemporary has enlisted Sydney-based Koori artist SJ Norman and New York-based Cherokee writer Joseph M Pierce for a series of live-streamed performances. Each day of the fair, the pair write love letters to one another and read them directly to the camera as the sun sets over their respective cities.

There’s also a 360-degree video adaptation of Fleshold Crossing, the first chapter of Terminus, a five-part virtual-reality artwork by New Zealand artistic duo Jess Johnson and Simon Ward. Terminus was part way through a world tour when lockdowns kicked in, forcing them to cancel. The artists created the video so viewers would at least have the chance to see the work on a standard desktop.

“I think people are going to be excited to see how much good work there is out there that’s been made during 2020,” Keldoulis says. “Work that both reflects this time, and also expresses a hope, expectation and joy in coming out of what has been a very dark year, with a positive spirit going forward.”

Sydney Contemporary Presents 2020 runs until October 31, with new artworks added each week.