Sydney’s art and culture calendar for March is brimming with exhibitions, events, performances and so much more. The proliferation of programs and publicity can be a bit overwhelming, but here at Contemporaries we’ve done the hard work for you. Let a critic, a curator, an artist and a consummate creative set your itinerary for the month ahead, as some of our favourite art insiders share their highlights of the 20th Biennale of Sydney, SafARI, Spectrum Now Festival and Art Month.

March 1-16

 Jess Scully is a curator, policy thinker, festival director and media producer with a focus on the arts, creative industries, and engaging communities in the public realm. Wrap your head around the Spectrum Now Festival program with Jess’ top-picks for the 16 day extravaganza.

There’s nothing like getting to see the process, and meet the people behind the artworks – so I’m excited to explore the studios of Marrickville and Leichhardt on the Open Studio Trails. Tom Polo is one of my favourite artists working in Sydney today, he creates such striking spaces, and uses colour in the most visceral, vibrant way. I’m looking forward to seeing how he draws from the world around him and turns it into an artwork, while we watch. And I’ll be listening in as DLux Media Arts ask that ever-shifting question, “Is This Art?”.

Tom Polo, The Fool Faces Sideways, Station GalleryTom Polo, The Fool Faces Sideways. Photo by Zan Wimberley, image courtesy Spectrum Now Festival

18 March – 5 June

John McDonald is an art critic for the Sydney Morning Herald. John also contributes to numerous local and international publications and is one of Australia’s best-known art critics. Here he shares with us some of his thoughts and highlights of Australia’s largest contemporary arts festival.   

This year’s Biennale appears to be curated by an entire committee, which is usually a dangerous practice. However, after Juliana Engberg’s 2014 Biennale, the only way is up. I’m cautiously optimistic about Stephanie Rosenthal’s plan for multiple embassies, including one devoted to one of the few really great science fiction authors – Stanislaw Lem, for whom I’ve proselytised for many years. I’m also looking forward to Justene Williams performance of Victory over the Sun, the Russian Futurist opera that I’ve seen once before, many years ago in the Netherlands. As for a new work by Mike Parr, and a sand version of Guernica by Lee Mingwei, well, the suspense is murderous.

If the previous Biennale seemed too capricious in its choices, this year’s model seems to be structured like the most intricate diagram – although too much structure can be as opaque as mere chaos. Somewhere amid those ‘embassies’, those multiple curators and mystery artists, there should be plenty to admire.

Lee Mingwei, ‘Guernica in Sand’, 2006 and 2015, mixed-media interactive installation, sand, wooden island, lighting, 1300 x 643 cm. Courtesy of JUT Museum Pre-Opening Office, Taipei. Photograph: Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei

March 1 – 20 June

Joan Ross is one of Australia’s preeminent contemporary artists, known for her idiosyncratic explorations of colonisation that traverse the personal and the political. She is represented by Michael Reid in Sydney and Bett Gallery in Hobart. To help you get the most out of the 2016 Art Month program, we’ve asked Joan what exciting events are on the top of her must-see list. 

I’m particularly looking forward to seeing Grant Stevens at Sullivan + Strumpf and Clare Milledge at The Commercial. I’ll be going to see Courtney Gibson’s collection at The Collectors’ Space and Disrupting Tradition, a panel discussion at Gallery 9 with Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran and others. You won’t want to miss talks by Caroline Rothwell and the delightful Daniel Boyd, who’s also having a book launch.

I’ll be taking my very own walking tour around Redfern, stopping at galleries and other secret places, maybe crossing paths with ARTcycle tours, who’ll be talking weeds with Diego Bonetto on their bike tour. I’m interested in seeing what’s happening at the Redfern Biennale, and will be heading to The Bearded Tit for a couple of refreshments and more art and events.

Joan RossJoan Ross, The VIP Lounge, hand painted pigment on cotton rag paper, 61 x 90 cm

March 11-26

Ivan Muñiz Reed is an independent curator and arts writer. He is a founding member and co-director of The Curators’ Department, as well as a former Vice Chair of the SafARI board. Get a head start to this year’s SafARI with Ivan’s insider knowledge of what to see and when. 

Although SafARI originated as a counterpoint to the Biennale of Sydney’s highly produced international ethos, the Biennial ‘artist-run initiative’ has now cemented its place in Sydney’s cultural fabric through its sustained engagement with and embrace of local emerging talent.

Not to be missed at Alaska Projects are David Attwood’s clever and hilarious works dealing with masculinity and identity through the Australian vernacular (watch out for the thongs!), and Claudia Nicholson’s floral sculptures that reflect her Colombian identity and the diaspora of colonised communities.

At The Cross Art Projects keep an eye out for Emily O’Connor’s sculptural video work and at Kudos Gallery, you physically can’t miss Sarah Poulgrain and Llewellyn Millhouse’s take on bodily fluids, with two large rubbish bins shooting liquid back and forth between each other.

A series of launches, talks and performances are happening on Saturday 12 March around the Kings Cross/Paddington area, so check out the exhibition venues and soak up some public programs while you’re at it. From 3pm onwards there will be talks and roaming performances; the opening of a bookstore at Minerva featuring texts by writers from their EXPLORER program; a public show of the project UNDRAWING THE LINE and much more.

David Attwood, A story told and retold (8-10), 2015, Texta on card, 297 x 420mm

TICKET GIVEAWAY20130228_Cacti_010
Thanks to our friends at Spectrum Now Festival, we are pleased to offer a double pass to one lucky Contemporaries subscriber for the Sydney Dance Company double bill performance CounterMove. Explore luminescence and life in Alexander Ekman’s Cacti, a prickly parody taking aim at modern art critics, and Rafael Bonachela’s world premiere of Lux Tenebris. Enter the draw here and don’t forget to subscribe to Contemporaries mailing list for more news and special offers.

Sydney Dance Company, Alexander Ekman’s Cacti. Photo © Peter Greig