Art Guide

Sydney art galleries, exhibitions, news and editorial.

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Sydney is host to a wide-range of vibrant and diverse museums and galleries, alongside non-profit organisations and artist-run-initiatives. The Art Gallery of New South Wales boasts one of the largest collections in Australia and, since its establishment in 1871, has been fundamental to Sydney's cultural landscape. With the development of its 'Sydney Modern Project', the Art Gallery of New South Wales will double its exhibition and education spaces by 2021 with a new building design by internationally acclaimed architects SANAA.

Claiming space along Sydney's iconic harbour, the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia is dedicated to living Australian artists. It also hosts exhibitions by national and international contemporary artists such as Yayoi Kusama, Pipilotti Rist, Anish Kapoor, and Fiona Hall. Carriageworks, another key institution, is a multi-arts centre held inside the historic Eveleigh Rail Complex Yards. This enormous and unique industrial site lends itself to large-scale immersive programmes and international commissions.

Artspace is one of Australia's foremost non-profit contemporary art space and supports the production and presentation of new work, hosting an ambitious national and international program of exhibitions, residencies, and public programs that position art and ideas within a critical context. 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, another leading institution, is dedicated to facilitating dialogue between Australia and Asia through exhibitions, research, and collaboration. Working with artists from across the Asia-Pacific region, it plays a critical role in advocating for an expanded view of global contemporary art.

Alongside public institutions are different models of private initiatives. Kaldor Public Art Projects, for example, has been commissioning artists for over 50 years—among them Christo and Jean-Claude, Anri Sala, and Marina Abramović —to create public interventions across Sydney. A more recent example is White Rabbit Gallery, which opened in Chippendale in 2009, to showcase extraordinary works of over 500 contemporary Chinese and Taiwanese artists from philanthropist Judith Nielson's collection.

The Biennale of Sydney is arguably the pinnacle of Sydney's cultural calendar. Held biannually since 1973, the Biennale is one of the world's longest running biennales and occupies multiple venues including Cockatoo Island, listed under the UNESCO World-Heritage.

While Melbourne is known for its laneways filled with street art and graffiti, Sydney has a growing reputation for its public art spaces. For the 2004 Biennale of Sydney, Berlin-based American artist Jimmie Durham crushed a Ford Fiesta with a two-tonne quartz boulder (On Reason and Emotion [2004]). Originally displayed in the Sydney Opera House forecourt, the work is now permanently installed in the middle of a roundabout in Walsh Bay.

The City of Sydney also commissions a wide range of public art that encompasses fountains, monuments, sculptures, installations, street art and murals. Notable projects to date include Jenny Holzer's I STAY (Ngaya ngalawa) (2014), a 24-hour installation of text in English and First Nations languages; Chris Fox's impressive Interloop (2017) that reuses the old wooden escalators into a mind-bending installation at Wynyard station; and Tracey Emin's The Distance of your Heart (2018), made up of 67 tiny bronze birds perched on building window sills.

The city is also home to a variety of experimental and artist-run-initiatives that support emerging practitioners. Firstdraft, an artist-led organisation and the oldest of its kind in Sydney, has been the foundation of hundreds of artist's careers. More underground is Frontyard in Marrickville, a flexible community-run space that occupies the former Australia Council Research Library. Cement Fondu, one of Sydney's newest contemporary spaces, is situated in the old Stills Gallery space in Paddington. It runs an interesting program that brings together rising local artists with renowned international artists to build new relationships.

If looking to escape the city centre, there are many important galleries that can visited across Greater Sydney such as Campbelltown Art Centre, Blacktown Arts Centre and Casula Powerhouse.

Image: Sydney Opera House. Photo: Mfield, Matthew Field (CC BY-SA 3.0).

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