Left: The ferry to Cockatoo Island. (Photo: Belinda Rolland) Right: Artist Isaac Julien, Sydney MCA director Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, David Bailey, and Biennale of Sydney artistic director David Elliott.
“Cockatoo was established in 1839 as a prison in Sydney Harbour for convicts who’d been transported from England but were too wicked to ever give up their criminal ways. Things have not really changed; claimed by some as “our Arsenale,” Cockatoo has become the main venue of the Biennale of Sydney since its inauguration as a venue in 2008. It’s also the site of the hot-ticket event of the biennale’s opening week, last Tuesday’s The Artists’ Party.
“To get to the island and the party you needed to get on a ferry. To get on the ferry you had to get in a line and, with more than fifteen hundred people on the guest list all arriving at Pier 2/3 at the same time, some wags noted a resemblance to the evacuation of Dunkirk. And so we waited, and waited, better dressed perhaps than those hapless survivors of the British Expeditionary Force in France 1940, but just as desperate to rejoin friends and loved ones separated in the panic.
“Once on Cockatoo the crush at the bar in the cavernous Turbine Hall was intense. Above our heads Cai Guo-Qiang’s Inopportune Stage One—seven cars suspended from the roof exploding with disco lights—provided a spectacular decorative counterpoint to the mayhem below. With Brook Andrew’s adults-only Jumping Castle War Memorial situated just outside the “VIP Bvlgari Bar,” these were just about the only works of art visible at the party, the rest of the show cordoned off lest over-refreshed art lovers fall down a hole. The artists’ party was all about drinking beer and singing along to the tracks the DJ spun for the crowd—solid gold ’80s hits including “Tainted Love” and “Mad World”—these being, I am reliably informed, universal signifiers for art-world parties everywhere…”