Sydney Art Guide

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.

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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.

Upcoming Exhibitions In Sydney

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Contemporary art exhibition, Paul Snell, Bleed at Gallery 9, Sydney
15 July–8 August 2020 Paul Snell Bleed Gallery 9Sydney
Contemporary art exhibition, Daniel Boyd, AND THE HORIZON SWALLOWED THE TORTOISE at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
15 July–15 August 2020 Daniel Boyd AND THE HORIZON SWALLOWED THE TORTOISE Roslyn Oxley9 GallerySydney
Contemporary art exhibition, Alfredo & Isabel Aquilizan, Arrivals and Departures at Yavuz Gallery, Sydney
19 June–11 July 2020 Alfredo & Isabel Aquilizan Arrivals and Departures Yavuz GallerySydney

Ocula Member Galleries In Sydney

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Contemporary Institutions In Sydney

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Sydney In Ocula Magazine

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Karla Dickens: ‘the more you know the rules, the more fun it is to break them’ Ocula Conversation Karla Dickens: ‘the more you know the rules, the more fun it is to break them’ By Emma-Kate Wilson, Sydney

Karla Dickens is an artist with Wiradjuri heritage, who combines fine art drawing and painting with rustic, abandoned materials imbued with history and contextual meaning, layered into mixed-media installations and sculptural collages on boards. In 2019, Dickens was among six contemporary women artists from New South Wales commissioned to...

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Mel O’Callaghan and Dr. Daniel J. Fornari: In Search of Life Ocula Conversation Mel O’Callaghan and Dr. Daniel J. Fornari: In Search of Life By Peta Rake, Brisbane

Working across film, video, performance, painting, and installation, Sydney -born, Paris -based artist Mel O'Callaghan explores the human condition through processes of resistance and endurance. In her video installation Ensemble (2013), most recently shown across a 20-metre-wide space at the National Gallery of Victoria (17 November 2017–12...

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Sydney Biennale Connects Here with Everywhere Ocula Report Sydney Biennale Connects Here with Everywhere By Soo-Min Shim, Sydney

'This year's Biennale of Sydney seems like a corrective,' writes Soo-Min Shim, 'prioritising autonomy in an international exhibition format that has all too often omitted or sidelined First Nations artists.'

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Taloi Havini: Reclaiming Space and History Ocula Conversation
In Partnership with Artspace Sydney
Taloi Havini: Reclaiming Space and History By Ruth McDougall, Sydney

Artist Taloi Havini and Ruth McDougall, curator of Pacific art at Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, discuss Havini's first Australian solo exhibition, Reclamation.

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Recent Events In Sydney

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Contemporary art exhibition, The 21st Biennale of Sydney at Ocula Private Sales & Advisory, London
16 March–11 June 2018 The 21st Biennale of Sydney


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