Shaping up ... <em>Square Dance</em> by Adrian McDonald (a member of SNO).

Shaping up ... Square Dance by Adrian McDonald (a member of SNO).

With so many hopeful artists looking for exhibition spaces, the artist-run initiative (ARI) makes a frequent but rarely sustained appearance. One of the most prominent was ROAR Studios in Fitzroy; a shambolic, intensely democratic concern launched in 1982 by David Larwill and others in a former shoe factory. As a self-funded, non-profit co-operative, its 19-year existence made it possibly the most successful artist-run gallery in Australia.

Artists were not charged a commission when they exhibited. Instead, they paid the rent for the period their works were hung, and arranged friends to ''sit in'' if they themselves couldn't be ''on duty''.

The spaces - factories and warehouses - are mostly a temporary opportunity, while a developer does the ritual rain dance with councils for approvals to demolish or restore. Many an art identity began his or her exhibiting - and partying - life in one. Sometimes it's someone's living room. No matter, the New York art dealer Leo Castelli began his ascendant selling career this way.

ARIs are a useful introduction to the invisible expenses borne by galleries that show young painters with no reputation to speak of, and works that can, at best, be sold for a few hundred dollars. Young artists have to negotiate their rental for a fixed period, prepare the space, hang the pictures, compile mailing lists and send out invitations. A sprinkling of sales is almost a fringe benefit in a culture where so many offerings are bidding for attention.

Writer Caroline Blackwood, a former wife of painter Lucian Freud, once remarked: "When I first got to know [painter] Francis Bacon in Soho he was 40 and he had not yet found any gallery prepared to give him a show because his work was considered to be too off-putting."

Two of the most vibrant artist-run spaces today are the Sydney Non Objective Contemporary Art Projects (SNO) and Factory 49 - both in Marrickville. By February, SNO had mounted 77 shows featuring local and international artists, half of them ''emerging''. The dynamic of the gallery is, as the name suggests, ''non-representational''. Factory 49 also favours the geometric and the constructed in both two and three dimensions. Some of the best abstract work in Australia is being showcased in these two galleries.

Factory 49's artists can be viewed at factory49.blogspot.com.au.