Art Gallery of NSW unveils opening program for expanded museum

Installation view of the Yiribana Gallery featuring (left to right) Ronnie Tjampitjinpa 'Tingari fire dreaming at Wilkinkarra' 2008, Willy Tjungurrayi 'Tingari story' 1986, Yhonnie Scarce 'Death zephyr' 2017 (top), Rusty Peters 'Waterbrain' 2002 and Vernon Ah Kee 'Unwritten #9' 2008, photo © Art Gallery of New South Wales, Jenni Carter
Installation view of the Yiribana Gallery featuring (left to right) Ronnie Tjampitjinpa 'Tingari fire dreaming at Wilkinkarra' 2008, Willy Tjungurrayi 'Tingari story' 1986, Yhonnie Scarce 'Death zephyr' 2017 (top), Rusty Peters 'Waterbrain' 2002 and Vernon Ah Kee 'Unwritten #9' 2008, photo © Art Gallery of New South Wales, Jenni Carter

The opening program for the expanded Art Gallery of New South Wales has officially been unveiled.

The program, featuring works by more than 900 Australian and international artists, will be free to visitors when the transformed art museum opens on 3 December.

On Gadigal Country, overlooking Sydney Harbour, the expanded art museum comprises the new SANAA-designed building and the existing late-19th-century building, connected by an art garden.

“My vision for the Sydney Modern Project has been to transform the Art Gallery into an art museum campus with seamless connections between art, architecture and landscape; a generous and intelligent art museum that believes the art of the past is crucial to understanding the art of our own times,” says Art Gallery of New South Wales director Dr Michael Brand.

‘The new building, designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architects SANAA, almost doubles our exhibition space and, with a more porous connection between indoors and outdoors, delivers new types of spaces for new thinking and new forms of art.

“It is through a series of creative transformations – such as the centrality of Indigenous Australian voices, SANAA’s elegantly restrained but technically complex design, site-specific commissions from some of the leading artists of our time, and new cultural juxtapositions in the display of art in both buildings – that will better connect the voices of artists past and present with our audiences.”

The Tank space in the new building at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, photo © Art Gallery of New South Wales, Jenni Carter

Inaugural Tank commission

Argentine-Peruvian artist Adrián Villar Rojas has been announced as the inaugural artist commissioned for the underground gallery known as the Tank, located on the lowest level of the new building.

Villar Rojas’ The End of Imagination will take over the 2,200-square-metre former oil tank, now a spectacular exhibition space. The installation is the culmination of a four-year long engagement with the Art Gallery for Villar Rojas, who is known for collaborative, site-specific sculptures, including on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2017.

View from live environmental simulation generated by ‘Time Engine’ software © Adrián Villar Rojas, 2022

Site-specific commissions

Nine bold new commissions will be on display both inside and outside the new building. These include:

  • Francis Upritchard’s Here Comes Everybody, a trio of playful pairs of bronze beings that will greet visitors in the Welcome Plaza
  • Jonathan Jones’s bial gwiyuŋo (the fire is not yet lighted), a living artwork at the heart of the expanded Art Gallery
  • Lisa Reihana’s (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine, Ngāi Tū) moving-image work GROUNDLOOP, overlooking the central atrium
  • Richard Lewer’s multi-panel painting Onsite, construction of Sydney Modern which resides on the lands of the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, which records some of the individuals involved in constructing the new building
  • Yayoi Kusama’s Flowers that bloom in the cosmos, which will be prominently positioned on the stepped terrace overlooking Woolloomooloo Bay.

Opening exhibitions and collection displays

Visitors to the new building will be welcomed by the the inaugural display of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art in the newly relocated Yiribana Gallery, which emphasises personal connections and is inspired by ideas of generosity and care.

Other exhibitions in the new building include:

  • Dreamhome: Stories of Art and Shelter – artists reflect on ‘home’ from their own richly local perspectives, while also registering shared hopes and anxieties that are felt in many places at this time
  • Making Worlds – features ideas of mapping, time, creation and connection centred around Kimsooja’s monumental participatory work Archive of mind in the large column-free gallery
  • Outlaw – celebrates the antiheroes of popular culture in the Art Gallery’s first purpose-built new media gallery
Installation view of the 20th-century galleries at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, featuring (foreground) Bob Apuatimi, Don Burakmadjua, Charlie Kwangdini, Laurie Nelson Mungatopi, Jack Yarunga, Tiwi artist ‘Pukumani grave posts’ 1958; (walls, far left and far right) Tony Tuckson ‘Five white lines’ (vertical), ‘black ground’ 1970–73 and ‘White lines (vertical) on ultramarine’ 1970–73; (wall, centre left) Noŋgirrŋa Marawili ‘Baratjala – lightning and the rock’ 2018, photo © Art Gallery of New South Wales, Christopher Snee

The gallery’s existing building, which has been revitalised with refurbished spaces and restored architectural features, boasts a fully re-installed collection across all galleries.

Visitors can journey through time, ideas, human stories and contested histories, including:

  • From Here, for Now – a new exhibition which presents works in 10 curated rooms that begin with Australia’s outback as a signifier of national identity, connecting this with American stereotypes of outsiders, and hidden histories, through works by Charlene Carrington, Rosemary Laing, Robert MacPherson, Richard Prince and Kaylene Whiskey. The exhibition also features a new commission, Simryn Gill’s major new work Clearing, responding to elements of the natural history of the new building’s site.
  • 20th-century galleries – featuring works from the Art Gallery’s Australian and international collections that highlight the connections and distinctions between local artists and broader global developments over some of the most tumultuous, exciting and innovative decades in art and human history. This new display includes the restaging of Ken Unsworth’s Suspended stone circle II, with 103 river stones each weighing around 15kg suspended by 309 wires, now hanging over two levels for the first time in the newly unveiled atrium.
  • Asian Lantern – featuring the exhibitions Correspondence, where visitors will find works of art marking important moments in Asian art and history, and Elemental, which investigates the natural elements of earth, water and fire.
  • Grand Courts – with a focus on the Art Gallery’s historical collections, enlivened by contemporary voices that encourage moments of pause and reflection.

Learn more about the opening program and the Sydney Modern Project here.

Architectural render of the Art Gallery of New South Wales forecourt and reflecting pools, designed by Kathryn Gustafson and GGN, with the new building to the near left, render produced by bloomimages Berlin GmbH


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