the AU interview: Glenn Barkley (Sydney) on curating Merivale's first pop-up bar 'A Work in Progress'

Synonymous with quality venues, Merivale Group have recently acquired a new space for an exciting CBD bar which will fuse the art world with drinking culture in a way that's never been seen before in Sydney. With the playful name A Work In Progress, the bar will constantly evolve as an entire art project, allowing guests to be part of the art-making process, and witness the pop-up bar evolve over time.

Glenn Barkley - former Senior Curator at the MCA - has been tasked with curating the art-based pop-up and as such has enlisted the talents of Darwin-based pop artist Franck Gohier to work on the bar.

Handling the food side of things will be Head Chef Air Jantrakool, who has come aboard Merivale after an impressive 18-year run at Sailors Thai Canteen.

Looking ahead to the launch of A Work in Progress (WIP), Barkley takes time to answer a few questions for the AU.

Work in Progress will officially open doors on Friday 2 May at 50 King St, Sydney.

What is the idea behind A Work in Progress and how did this idea evolve?

The artwork in WIP came out of Justin's generous idea to let Franck cut loose on the space. Franck is an artist I've worked with quite a lot over the 10 years and knew this needed an artist who was flexible but also had the skills and ideas to turn this around quite quickly.

Is there a certain aesthetic the bar is going for? What has inspired the look and feel of A Work in Progress?

I call Franck's work feral pop - it works within certain traditions like pop art and Sydney's radical political poster from the 1970s - but it is infused with his own particular wit and sensibility. I had every confidence Franck would be able to make a work that would fit in to the fairly over the top eye blasting idea that Merivale was after. So it was selecting the right artist rather than the right work.

The finished work has a pulpy comic book aesthetic informed by research Franck did on Sydney's past - some of the images are sourced from the influential book City of Shadows. Plus there's carp and floating boxers, and a peek inside Franck's brain and working processes - It will all makes sense when you see it!

What do you feel A Work in Progress will bring to Sydney's ever-growing bar scene?

Customers will have a sense of feeling part of an art work which is pretty unique. It’s not just art on the wall… in most instances, the artwork is the wall.

What will A Work in Progress offer Sydney artists and art lovers?

A chance to become immersed in an artwork that is ambitious, well executed and witty made by a great artist - they're all good reasons!

Some feel the entire city of Sydney, in general, is a work in progress. How do you feel Sydney - in particular it's art scene - has evolved over the past few years?

I think the best thing about this project is Merivale giving an artist an opportunity to make a work were the design brief was fairly open ended and speculative, this is rare. Even rarer in a CBD where artists have been nearly completely pushed out due to crippling rents. Hopefully Merivale can demonstrate to other business and landlords in Sydney that working with professional artists can give an extra smart and creative element to a project... As well as being an artwork worth visiting for its own merits.

Are there any other pairings of bar culture and art culture around Sydney that stands out to you?

I think major museums are moving into bar culture - it's nice for bar culture in this case to be moving into art culture!