Worldwide icon-chevron-right South Pacific icon-chevron-right Australia icon-chevron-right Sydney icon-chevron-right The best art exhibitions in Sydney this month
Vincent Namatjira’s winning portrait of Adam Goodes ‘Stand strong for who you are’ (cropped)
Photograph: Supplied/AGNSW Vincent Namatjira’s winning portrait of Adam Goodes ‘Stand strong for who you are’ (cropped)

The best art exhibitions in Sydney this month

From the history-making Archibald win, to California dreams by way of Japan, we hand-pick the shows you shouldn't miss

By Stephen A Russell

Thanks in large part to their often spacious venues, art galleries have been at the forefront of the creative dust-down and relight-up as we gradually work our way back towards Sydney being fully open for business. Exploring the many excellent exhibitions avialable to culture vultures is a brilliant way to help the city get back up on its feet.

Even if it sometimes means taking a timed ticket adn waitign our turn, at least that allows for some intimate one-on-one time with the art, darlings. So here's our guide to the coolest exhibitions on the go this month. 


The best art around Sydney this month

Scott Marsh’s portrait of Adam Briggs 'Salute of gentle frustration'
Photograph: Supplied/AGNSW

1. Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes 2020

Art Galleries Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney

Australia’s most prestigious arts prizes are back in a big way after being postponed by you-know-what. The show-stopping Archibald Prize, first awarded in 1921, is always a huge event on Sydney’s cultural scene. The finalists have been announced, and you'll psot the likenesses of Adam Liaw, Adam Briggs and Magda Szubanski in the mix. PLus you can see Meyne Wyatt's Packing Prize-winning self-portrait, the only time a First Nations Australian has been recognised in any category.


A painting of a dark blue boxy car on a sandy beach with big surf in a blue ocean and a huge cloud in a big blue sky
Photograph: Supplied/Hiroshi Nagai

2. Hiroshi Nagai: Paintings for Music

Art Drawings Japan Foundation, Chippendale

Oft-compared to the bright hued worlds British painter David Hockney, Japanese illustrator Hiroshi Nagai is an outstanding artist in his own right. Starting out designing record sleeves, he was California dreaming from the start, depicting the clean-cut lines of beachside Los Angeles and surrounds with a vibrant panache that ensured his work went pop culture crazy in ‘80s Japan. Now you can explore for yourself thanks to this fabulous retrospective hosted by the Japan Foundation in Chippendale. Nagai is as prolific as ever, so you can see neon nights and sunburnt vistas from all stages of his career, right up to now. 

 Machiko Motoi's simple clay vases are traced with detailed linework
Photograph: Supplied

3. Bansktown Biennale

Art Bankstown Arts Centre, Bankstown

The Biennale of Sydney may be mostly shuttered, but there's a very local alternative opening up this month. We're all about loving local, so get along to the Bankstown Arts Centre and show your support for the smaller but perfectly formed inaugural Bankstown Biennale. A celebration of 20 Sydney-based artists, several of them from the immediate vicinity, there's a ridiculous wealth of creativity on offer from the likes of Machiko Motoi, Alia Parker and Nicole Monks.

Two sculptural figures in matte black wear bronze gas masks and embrace
Photograph: Supplied/Gallerysmith

4. Sydney Contemporary Presents 2020

Art Your place, Sydney

The physical evnt may be postponed until next year, but that wasn't going to stop them from bigging up Australian artists. Opting for an immersive digital iteration instead,it  will run for the whole of October. The line-up of visual excellence includes more than 450 new works from 380 artists, all responding to these intertsing times in their unique fashion. Major names include Ben Quilty, Lisa Reihana, Brook Andrew, Isabelle de Kleine and Jelena Telecki.

A pendulum swinging over an under-lit glass bowl
Photograph: Supplied

5. Hybrid: Objects for Future Homes

Art Design Powerhouse Museum, Ultimo

The Powerhouse Museum continues to bring the arty goodness to Sydney’s heart with brand-new exhibition taking a look at what homes might look like ten years from now – because seriously, we’re so over 2020 already – it promises to be a forward-thinking dream for Grand Designs watchers.

A pale blue and orange 3D printing of a human heart
Photograph: Supplied

6. Design for Life

Art Design Powerhouse Museum, Ultimo

We’ve all got one eye on our health at the moment, though it’s very rare that we think of the science behind life-saving equipment and the beauty of art going hand-in-hand. Reality is, creativity hums in every machine we make. That’s the thinking behind new Powerhouse exhibition exploring the central role of design in the health and medical sector, it’s all about celebrating the oft-overlooked intersection between innovation and art.

Camilo Godoy , ‘Amigxs, No. 1'
Photograph: Supplied

7. Friendship as a Way of Life

Art UNSW Galleries, Paddington

With UNSW Galleries reopened, you can check out this fabulous queer art exhibition IRL. Featuring the work of 15 artists (and collaborations), as well as a series of films and material borrowed from the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives, the show has been compiled by curators José Da Silva and Kelly Doley.  

Justene Williams 'The Unboxers' (still) 2020, from Hyper-link
Photograph: Justene Williams

8. Hyper-linked

Art Digital and interactive Your place, Sydney

The Art Gallery of NSW braves the digital realm with this kaleidoscopic trip. Part of their ongoing Together in Art series, Hyper-linked assembles seven exciting contemporary Australian artists pushing the envelope on how we engage with art from wherever we are in the world. From Heath Franco’s trippy, dystopian 'Home Videohome' to JD Reforma’s dreamy drone imagery in ‘I Want to Believe’that explores fraught ground, it's an online playground of the weird and wonderful.

Shaun Gladwell, 'Planet and stars sequence: Barrier Highway' 2009 (video still),
Photograph: Shaun Gladwell

10. Under the Stars

Art Galleries Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney

Bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, Under the Stars highlights our shared understandings of the night sky. Highlighting the commonalities and connections in our shared attempts to understand the sky above our place in relation to it, the exhibition has a particular a focus on Indigenous knowledge. It presents an opportunity to explore, engage and educate at a time when discussions surrounding the 250 years since Captain Cook’s arrival have sparked great debate, further highlighted by the Black Lives Matter marches. The free exhibition includes the work of artists like Lindy Lee, Mick Kubarkku and Shaun Gladwell and centres the idea that the night sky is an expanse that's not owned, and that connects us all. 

Khaled Sabsabi's 'Organised confusion' 2014 (video still)
Photograph: Khaled Sabsabi

11. A Promise: Khaled Sabsabi

Art Galleries Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney

Awesome Western-Sydney artist Khaled Sabsabi gets the solo show treatment at Art Gallery of NSW from July 18, in partnership with the Campbelltown Art Centre. Sabsabi headed to Sydney with his family in the 1970s to escape the Lebanese civil war. Regularly returning to the Middle East, his incredible body of work draws on belief, politics and conflict in the region. A Promise presents major works exploring the complex relationship between self and other and includes large-scale works like ‘Organised confusion’ (2014), putting Western Sydney Wanderers football fans under the lens.

Photograph: Supplied/ANMM

12. Under Southern Skies

Things to do

Under Southern Skies at the newly reopened Australian National Maritime Museum includes new collections from Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, telling the story of Indigenous Pacific navigation around Oceania. Ranging from bark paintings that depict Makassan fishermen trading with Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, to modern indigenous art to historic portraiture, it includes objects recovered from infamous Dutch shipwreck the Batavia and James Cook's HMB Endeavour, model ships and digital touchscreen technology. This fascinating exhibition travels across history. 


'Kulba Yadail(Old Lyrics)' by Billy Missi
Photograph: Supplied

13. Here: Kupe to Cook

Things to do

Here: Kupe to Cook focuses on art from leading Aotearoa/New Zealand, Pacifica and Australian First Nations artists. The work delves into the history of sailing and voyaging around the Pacific – from the legendary Polynesian Kupe over 1,000 years ago to the arrival of Cook. Intended to dismantle misconceptions about European ‘discovery’, you can reflect on the ancient knowledge sources that predate colonial navigational history. 

A raccoon peeks out from a hole in the windscreen of an abandoned car.
Photograph: Jason Bantle

14. Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Art Galleries Australian National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour

Please note, the museum will be limiting visitor numbers. 

[Sponsored] Sydney is taking temporary custody of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition (WPY). On loan from London’s Natural History Museum, this world-class collection of 100 mesmerising images will be housed at the Australian National Maritime Museum from March through to October. 

The best art to see on the streets

Bin Chickens 2018 Scott Marsh, Teggs Lane Chippendale
Photograph: Daniel Boud

Where to find Sydney's best street art

Art Street art

Sydney is home to a vibrant community of street artists, always ready to bring a splash of colour, a touch of provocation, or just the perfect Instagram backdrop to our city’s streets. But as with just about every piece of real estate in Sydney, these unlikely canvases are hotly contested spaces.


    You may also like