Top Five Inner West Art Galleries

Andrew Mun
11th Sep 2014

Sydneys’s fast-growing art scene has exploded in recent years with various independent galleries and art spaces dedicated to promoting Australian artists on the national and international level. This week we discover the top five independent art galleries in Sydney’s inner west.

1. Artsite

For the majority of the past twenty years, Artsite in Camperdown was only open by appointment and just cherished by a select few, but the cat is now out of the bag. Established by printmaker and painter Madeleine Tuckfield-Carrano, the gallery has now become a burgeoning hub for artists in Sydney’s inner west.

Since its public opening in 2010, it has been producing high caliber exhibitions of Sydney’s most creative artists. Alongside recognized artists like landscape painter John Caldwell, local sculptors like Julie Ashcroft and young photographer Hamish Campbell among others, have also had their works gracing this space.

Artsite’s angular showroom offers an atmosphere of drama and discovery. The high ceilings and partitioning of the exhibition space impart freedom between the works yet there is also a sense of conscious aesthetic fluidity.

My visit coincided with the gallery preparing its installations for this year’s Sydney Fringe Festival in which Artsite coordinates an exhibition called The Great Unknown. This initiative calls local artists to submit their work and was designed to support local contemporary art practice.

With a strong curatorial eye to their exhibitions, Tuckfield-Carrano mentions that setting up was quite an arduous process to ensure the artworks did not “fight”.

“This is the advantage of this space, because when it’s finished, you’ll get into a position where you’ll be able to see one work without the other work dominating, or you’ll be looking at that one and that one won’t drag your eye.”

Artsite, 165 Salisbury Road, Camperdown, NSW 2050

2. Glass Artists’ Gallery

The Glass Artists’ Gallery has long been a vital part of the Australasian art world of glass. Being one of the first galleries in Australia that developed the eminence of glass work since its opening in 1982, its founder and established artist, Maureen Cahill also taught the first university glass art course in Australia at the Sydney College of the Arts.

Drop by at any given time and Cahill is ever ready to discuss the many exquisite pieces in the gallery and the history of glass art in Australia. Many of its represented artists are now well recognised in public and private collections, for example Kevin Gordon and Cahill herself.

But don’t anticipate what the gallery name suggests, Cahill’s Gallery has two floors of gallery space that feature more than just glass art. The ground floor gallery space, officially called Gauge, provides a promotional space for artists of other mediums to present their work. This complementing secondary space has also drawn in a greater audience who may have been at first hesitant to appreciate glass art work.

“Some people only thought it was glass. So while we have other people from different demographics coming in to see other people’s work, it has attracted them more to see the glass,” Cahill said.

A staircase at the back opens to a beautifully landscaped garden before leading into the upper gallery dedicated purely to glass. At the other end, natural light filters through the French doors allowing the surrounding glass sculptures to each sketch shadows in the quiet loft like space, a true sanctuary from the bustling streetscape below.

Glass Artist’s Gallery, 68 Glebe Point Road, Glebe NSW 2037

3. Factory 49

Hidden in the industrial area of Marrickville, the smallest and only non-commercial gallery on this list, Factory 49 is less of an official art gallery but a space run by a small committee of artists. Opened now for nine years, it is a relative veteran of Sydney’s artist run initiatives.

Driven by the difficulty for new artists to have a voice, Sydney artist Pam Aitken spearheaded the project to provide a meeting point and space for emerging artists to feature their work as well as for established artists to present their less commercial work.

Devoted to conceptualism and non-objective art, the space presents artworks that are challenging and ambitious. As such, the gallery functions as a place for the appreciation of abstract art as well as a forum for the consideration of emerging ideas. Marlene Sarroff, an artist and one of the gallery’s minders was on hand to talk me through one of the works by Susan Andrews.

“Her work is very geometrical. She’s also working with shapes and colour, and playing with the eye, how the eye sees things. This is a very minimal work, a reductive work. It is reduced down to the material, the application, the process.”

An unusual space that resembles an old industrial workshop more than a conventional white cube, Factory 49 is deliberately unfinished. Concrete floors and old pipes haunt the building, but it is this physical rawness which creates a conscious dialogue between object and space, between what is commercial and non-commercial art.

 Factory 49, 49 Shepherd St, Marrickville, 2204

4. Artereal Gallery

Located in a former heritage fire station and then publishing house, Artereal, conceived by its founder Luisa Catanzaro in 2006, is dedicated to representing both established and emerging artists across Australia, for example London based Australian multimedia artist Jess Macneil and young Melburnian painter Michael Staniak.

The inner gallery space retains its architectural features of its history with large arches and high ceilings. Now renovated with polished amber floors and clean white walls, natural light ethereally distils through and provides an open atmosphere for its installations to breathe.

What the gallery does aim to do is to constantly make it new for the public. Curated by Barbara Dowse and the rest of the passionate team, their exhibitions are conceptually heavy, but done so that subtly balances the commercial aspects of the gallery with the academic and culturally engaging ethos the public now demands.

“Last month we had print making, and also print making on glass, and now this month we got sculpture, next month photography and the following month is paint, so we basically show what we really love,’ said gallery manager, Rhiannon Walcott.

What sets this gallery apart is the quality of light that pours through its huge bay windows. On my visit, the gallery was showing Stevie Fieldsend’s exhibition, Umbra, featuring freestanding totemic sculptures in the main gallery space. The slanted light coming from outside created an immediacy and depth of space, perfect for the sculptures confronting nature. In this way, as the light changed the art pieces seemed to completely transform with it.

Artereal, 747 Darling St, Rozelle NSW 2039

5. Annandale Galleries

Annandale Galleries, owned by art collectors and dealers, Bill and Anne Gregory, is a relative super-gallery in comparison to all the other independent galleries in this area. Opened since 1990, part of the galleries high profile is due to the impressive building in which it is housed, a former Masonic lodge and Methodist Church.

Although the gallery shows a range of artists across all mediums, the gallery’s staple reputation is for its extensive exhibitions of internationally recognised contemporary art, European modern masters as well as being one of the first galleries in Australia to commercialise Indigenous Australian art. In addition to the two-tiered public galleries, they have a private showroom with works from celebrated artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Derain to name a few.

Despite the majesty of the architecture and spaciousness of the upper main gallery, the lack of natural light inside on the oak-panelled floors and stark white walls, give a museum like atmosphere. That said, the gallery’s quietness and clean presentations provide many moments of stillness and intimacy with the artworks.

As a large commercial gallery, they have formed many relationships with large collectors, foundations and museums around the world. Currently showing is a collection of Robert Motherwell paintings on consignment from Bernard Jacobson Gallery in London.

“This show, I can actually say, that some of these works will be several million dollars either in two years or ten years, because he’s one of the last American Expressionists. I mean he’s worked with Pollack and de Kooning…Rothko,” the co-owner, Anne Gregory said.

If you want to browse and buy recognized contemporary art, Annandale galleries rivals some of the best galleries in Australia.

Annandale Galleries, 110 Trafalgar Street Annandale Sydney NSW 2038