The best public art in Sydney
Public art – in any city – is a notoriously fraught business. No matter how hard you try to make everyone happy, every work will have its detractors. Some more than others, of course. Notable spats in Sydney’s public art history include the time residents threatened to dismantle Ken Unsworth’s ‘poo on sticks’ sculpture in Darlinghurst (it still stands); the time NSW Parliamentarian Helen Sham-Ho said Lin Li’s ‘Golden Water Mouth’ sculpture in Chinatown “looks like a penis”; and the time Oz editor Richard Neville ran a cover photo of himself and two others peeing into Tom Bass’s P&O Wall Fountain. That said, who could possibly argue for a city without public art? It’s (mostly) good for the eyes, good for the soul, and improves even the most uninviting locations. It’s also good for business, which has been part of the drive in Sydney over the last decade to revitalise laneways and commercial precincts with commissions from contemporary artists, architects and designers. In 2007, the City of Sydney appointed their first Public Art Advisory Panel – a mix of artists, curators and architects that currently includes Carriageworks director Lisa Havilah and installation artist Janet Laurence. Now you know who to thank/complain to. Since it’s Art Month in Sydney, we thought we’d share some of our favourite public art works in Sydney.
Your guide to contemporary, fine and Indigenous art in Sydney
The best places to see art in Sydney
Sydney is busting at the seams with great art – from major institutions like the Art Gallery of NSW and the Museum of Contemporary Art, to incredible privately-owned but publically accessible (and free!) galleries like White Rabbit and Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, and right down to a thriving scene of independent and artist-run initiatives. Below are some of our favourites.
Upcoming events and exhibitions
Masterpieces by Monet, Picasso and Matisse are coming to Sydney
The Art Gallery of NSW's Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age attracted 130,000 people last summer, showcasing works from the 17th century held by Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum. For next summer (2018-19), the AGNSW is travelling east and skipping forward a few centuries with 65 paintings from St Petersburg's Hermitage Museum. There are more than 3 million items held in the Hermitage – and most aren't on permanent display – so picking works for a single exhibition is a bit of a tough ask. But this exhibition, called Modern masters from the Hermitage (October 13 to March 3 2019), focuses on works from the late 19th century and the early 20th century, showing the evolution from impressionism to modernism. And we're not getting dusty and forgotten works from the gallery's store spaces: almost all are currently on display at the Hermitage. (AGNSW director Michael Brand says you might want to delay any trip you may have planned to St Petersburg from October through March if you're wanting to see modern art – many of the Hermitage's best works will be in Sydney.) Pablo Picasso 'Woman with a fan' 1908 Image courtesy the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg There are eight works by Picasso, including his 'Woman with a fan', and eight by Matisse. There's also work from Monet, Cézanne, Kandinsky and Gauguin, and one of Russian artist Malevich's highly influential 'Black square' paintings. The exhibition will have a strong focus on French art from the 1910s, when Russian
The Museum of Contemporary Art has revealed its next summer blockbuster
The Museum of Contemporary Art has just closed the doors on one of its most successful exhibitions ever, Pipilotti Rist: Sip My Ocean. The blockbuster show, featuring large-scale light, video works and installations, was a veritable explosion of colour and became a social media sensation over the summer, with 110,000 people visiting and Instagramming their way through. But for next year's big summer exhibition, the MCA is changing directions drastically and presenting an exhibition of mostly black-and-white photos by South African photographer David Goldblatt. David Goldblatt, Young men with dompas (an identity document that every African had to carry), White City, Jabavu, Soweto (2_13545) 1972. If you're not part of the visual arts or photography worlds, you probably won't have heard of Goldblatt, whose images have traced the changing face of South Africa from the start of apartheid at the end of the 1940s through to 1991, when it was dismantled. But MCA director Elizabeth Ann Macgregor says most hadn't heard of Pipilotti Rist before her exhibition, the MCA's contribution to this summer's Sydney International Art Series, which had previously had exhibitions from heavyweights like Anish Kapoor, Yoko Ono and Grayson Perry. Macgregor describes the Rist exhibition as a big risk that paid off. "We really were a little concerned about it," she says. "It's not a name with a wide resonance outside of the art world – but how wrong
One of the biggest art installations ever seen in Sydney is coming to Carriageworks
American artist Nick Cave – not to be confused with the Australian singer-songwriter – is bringing 16,000 wind spinners, 24 chandeliers, 10 miles of crystals, thousands of ceramic birds and one crocodile to Sydney. Cave’s Until is a mammoth new installation work coming to Carriageworks from November 23 2018. It will be open until March 2019, so you’ve got plenty of time to explore every nook and cranny of this extraordinarily detailed, opulent, kitschy world. Cave is best known for his ‘soundsuits’: brightly colourful, full-body costumes covered in noise-making materials made of everything from dyed human hair to plastic buttons. He made his first soundsuit in 1992, as a response to the Rodney King bashing, and in late 2016 brought a herd of horse-shaped soundsuits to Carriageworks for a memorable performance parade. While the soundsuits aren’t the focus of Until (although one has crept in), a visit to the installation is a little like stepping inside the belly of Cave’s creations. Thousands of small found objects have been pulled together to create three major spaces full of surprising colours and textures. At the centre of this all is a huge hanging crystal cloud, topped with a beautiful “private garden”. You can climb one of four ladders for a peek into this secret world, complete with its own crocodile, golden gilded pigs and blackface lawn jockeys. Nick Cave, Until Photograph: James Prinz If those jockeys seem like an unusual addition, there’s a stron
The Archibald Prize
The Archibald Prize is the exhibition that stops a nation – well, a city anyway. Everyone has an opinion about who and what is most deserving of the $100,000 top gong – and the annual exhibition of fortyish finalists offers plenty to argue over, featuring faces familiar and not, by big name, mid-career and emerging painters. The top gong for 2017 went to young Sydney painter Mitch Cairns, for his portrait of his partner (and fellow artist) Agatha Gothe-Snape. If you prefer your painters pint-sized, then you should make a pit stop at the Young Archie exhibition, featuring portraits by artists between the ages of 5 and 18. Running concurrently in the gallery are the Wynne and Sulman Prize exhibitions – the former for landscape painting or figurative sculpture, the latter for subject painting, genre painting or mural art. Check out our hit list of the best art exhibitions to see in Sydney this month.
News and interviews
Meet the Archibald Prize's new head packer
Everybody's an art critic when it comes to Archibald time. The annual $100,000 portrait prize brings out the often deeply hidden aesthetic expertise in all of us as we argue over which artist deserves Australia's favourite art prize. But one particular man's opinion has more significant weight: the Art Gallery of NSW's head packer, who awards the annual $1,500 Packing Room Prize. Technically the Gallery's staff who unpack and hang the various entries are responsible for picking the winner, but the head packer holds 51 per cent of the vote. If there's any disagreement among the staff, he gets final say in the prize that's both a high honour and a bit of a kiss of death: no winner of the Packing Room Prize has ever won the Archibald itself. Steve Peters has been the Archibald head packer for more than three decades and has awarded the Packing Room Prize since its inception in 1991, but this year Brett Cuthbertson has taken over the role. We asked Cuthbertson a few key questions to understand what he'll be looking for. What have you learnt from working alongside previous head packer, Steve Peters?To not take anyone or anything too seriously. That’s most important. To carefully listen to what people have to say – particularly about the Archibald – but stick to your own opinion. Steve was a great teacher. How did you become a packer in the first place?I’m actually an installation officer. I’m part of a team that physically hangs the artwork. But at Archibald time, it’s all Pac
Sydney's newest public artwork is a tiny treasure hunt
Public art has a tendency to be big and controversial, but Sydney's newest work is small and unlikely to stir much scandal. Superstar British artist Tracey Emin has created 67 handmade bronze birds and perched them on poles, above doorways and under benches along Bridge and Grosvenor Streets in the city centre. The birds only measure a few inches each – they're not based on any specific species, but they're about the size of a sparrow – and mightn't be immediately obvious. Enthusiastic bird watchers can take themselves on a treasure hunt, but some are quite well hidden and catching them all may prove impossible. At the centre of the bird trail is Macquarie Place Park, where a single bird sits on the edge of a bird bath emblazoned with the words 'The Distance of your Heart', the title of the work. The bird bath sits opposite the 'Obelisk of Distances', designed by Francis Greenway in 1818, which measures the distance to various locations in New South Wales. Emin's work is typically deeply personal – she's best known for her confessional pieces 'My Bed' and 'Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995' – and at first glance these bronze birds mightn't appear to have the same sense of intimacy. But Emin says the artwork should offer any visitor the chance to have their own moment of intimacy. She wants people to take photos of the birds – creatures of migration – and send them to loved ones, wherever they might be around the world. Photograph: Anna Kucera "I really h
10 things you need to know about the tenth Vivid Sydney
Vivid Sydney has announced its program for the tenth annual festival, which has now grown to become the largest festival in Australia – attracting 250,000 overseas visitors to Sydney, specifically for the winter showcase of lights, music and ideas. Here are the ten things you need to know about this year’s event, which takes places from May 25 to June 16. 1. LOL, Ice Cube is coming to Sydney Opera House Ice-effing-Cube at the House Photograph: Supplied If you wanted to see Solange Knowles in one of her four exclusive performances for Vivid Live, you’re already too late. That ballot has bolted. However, in possibly the most surprising news, West Coast rapper and actor Ice Cube will be performing four shows at Sydney Opera House from May 25-28. If you want to see the NWA founding member, these four shows are your only chance in Australia this year. Also on the Vivid Live line-up: California’s psychedelic pop duo Mazzy Star, Cat Power – celebrating the 20th anniversary of album Moon Pix – and the Aussie debut of Daniel Johns and Luke Steele’s musical project, Dreams. 2. Trippy, Australian nature-inspired projections will light up the Opera House 'Metamathemagical' by Jonathan Zawada Artist impression: Jonathan Zawada Australian artist and designer Jonathan Zawada is the man charged with creating the projections for Vivid’s most iconic site: the Sydney Opera House sails. He’s created a series of geometric sculptures that will mutate and reform in c
Discover the secret life of unicorns in these medieval tapestries showing in Sydney
The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries are almost as difficult to spot in the wild as the horned creature itself. Just installed in Sydney, this is only the third time the detailed, surprisingly playful medieval tapestries have travelled from their home at the Musée de Cluny in Paris. AGNSW curator Jackie Dunn describes the tapestries as feeling like a garden that, like any beautiful landscape, invite viewers to take a long, slow look and reflect on what they see. And she’s not the only one to find such depth and inspiration in the tapestries – Rainer Maria Rilke and Tracey Chevalier have written about them extensively, and art-loving video game designers and movie set dressers have been compelled to slip them into their own worlds for years (you might have caught sight of them in the Gryffindor common rooms). “I think one of the reasons that they’re considered to be so special is that we actually don’t know that much about them,” Dunn says. “We know that they were made at about 1500 on the dot, at the turn of the century. We know they were made by a wealthy lawyer-class family in France. But we don’t know exactly who made them and we don’t know why they were made. “And they’ve got this particular beauty. People seem very moved by the figure of the woman and the figure of the unicorn and the relationship that they appear to have in the tapestries.” The Lady and the Unicorn consists of six tapestries; the widest is four and a half metres long and the tallest stretches three
One of the most profound stories to be told at Sydney Festival will be of Barangaroo, the woman
Facing up to the consequences of our actions is not an easy thing to do, but it’s especially challenging when we only understand half the story. Artist-curator Emily McDaniel is asking us to confront the impact of European settlement on the environment and on history in an ambitious, amphibious new project at Barangaroo this summer. The name 'Four Thousand Fish' comes from a 1790 diary entry written by the founding lieutenant-governor, David Collins, who describes a haul of 4,000 ‘salmon’ from Sydney Harbour – a moment in history that simultaneously disrupted the ecosystem, created unnecessary waste and undermined the role of the Eora women who’d maintained fishing in these waters for thousands of years. “When the British invaded and colonised this place I believe they viewed it through their patriarchal lenses,” says McDaniel, a Wiradjuri woman from Liverpool. “In that moment they failed to recognise the resilience and strength of Aboriginal women in Sydney. They failed to recognise the important role Eora woman had to this place, as the providers for family.” The 29-year-old artist tells us that every day women would go out on Warrane (Sydney Harbour) in their nawi – bark canoes with a clay pit fire in the middle. “They might have two kids; breastfeeding one, fishing with the other, on that insanely choppy harbour we know so well.” To retell the lost stories of Barangaroo and the fisherwomen, McDaniel has worked with a team of artists to create a floating pontoon, a s
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