Sydney Contemporary, a major event on the city’s cultural calendar, returns next month – from September 7 to 10 – with 96 galleries exhibiting over 500 cutting-edge contemporary artists from Australia, New Zealand, Asia and around the world.

Alongside the galleries, there’ll be ambitious art installations; a dynamic program of talks on art and architecture; and live performances dabbling in ceremony, song and dance, using the body as a medium to explore key social, cultural and political ideas. With an anticipated 30,000 attendees, it’s a chance for both established artists and emerging talent to reach new audiences of industry professionals, collectors and casual art lovers.

“Artists are certainly putting their very best foot forward,” says Sarah Hetherington, Sydney Contemporary’s director of galleries. “Each year, the galleries’ presentations become more ambitious, and artists really look at Sydney Contemporary as an opportunity to show new work and to experiment.”

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There are three main sections at this year’s event. In addition to the main Galleries sector, Future spotlights emerging galleries less than five years old, and Paper, curated by the Print Council of Australia, presents a series of watercolours, prints, etchings, lithographs and artist books. Thirteen leading artists have also created large-scale new installations to be displayed across the sprawling Carriageworks space.

One to look out for is Lindy Lee’s One Bright Pearl, a giant stainless-steel sphere inspired by an ancient Chinese folktale. During the day, the sculpture reflects its surroundings, while at night it’s internally lit, casting light over Carriageworks’ heritage-listed exterior.

“We are excited to have Lindy Lee’s major sculptural work outside the Fair,” Hetherington says. “The dazzling light that will be cast onto the facade of the building will be quite mesmerizing for people to see, especially if they’re coming on Art Night.”

Greeting visitors as they make their way inside Carriageworks will be ilma – rare hand-held cultural objects used in ritual dances and ceremonies by the Bardi people of Western Australia – by the late Roy Wiggan. His ilma represent intimate knowledge of the tidal patterns and coastal areas of his Country, passed onto him by his father.

Another memorable piece is Abdul-Rahman Abdullah’s Dead Horse, a sculptural work that plays on the potency of still life. “It’s a life-size wooden carving of a dead horse which will be lying on the floor at Carriageworks,” Hetherington says. “The work itself has an incredible kind of aura and presence to it.”

Beyond the artworks on display, Sydney Contemporary will also present a two-pronged program of speakers and panels under the Talk Contemporary banner. One strand focuses on art; the other is on architecture and design. The talks will cover a wide range of topics, including love and identity, designing spaces for art, generative AI and tips on starting your collection.

“We’re really hoping that these talks will provide different insights into the intersection between art, architecture and design, and open up new audiences to come to the fair,” Hetherington says.

Another draw is the opening night party, Art Night, featuring vibrant performance art and a special musical showcase. On the line-up is Wiradyuri conceptual artist and cultural practitioner Amala Groom, multidisciplinary artist Riana Head-Toussaint and dancer Fetu Taku, as well as headlining DJs Stereogamous.

For Hetherington, the performances are an especially important aspect of the fair. “We provide a platform for those artists to experiment, to develop previous works, to make new work, in a very commercial environment,” she says. “Performance art perhaps may not be always seen in that light, so we’re really proud that we have [this] performance program that’s really an integral part of the fair.”

In addition to the art and performances, there will also be activities to take part in, guided tours, areas for relaxing, and pop-up food and drink experiences including Vino Bistro by Yalumba, Champagne Duperrey Bar, Campari Lounge, Gage Roads Brewery Bar and Four Pillars Gin Bar.

Heading down? Hetherington has three tips for visitors: “Wear comfortable shoes. Everything’s for sale, even the furniture, so don’t hesitate to ask a gallery. Just come along to the fair and buy what you love.”

Broadsheet is a proud media partner of Sydney Contemporary.