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The best art exhibitions in Sydney this month

From the biggest blockbusters to the smallest shows – here's everything artistic worth checking out in January

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Radiant Flux - Rebecca Baumann - Carriageworks
Photograph: Daniel Boud

Sydney Festival kicks off in January, which means there's a bunch of fabulous new exhibitions opening. But the entire city is in full artsy swing, with the Art Gallery of NSW and Museum of Contemporary Art's summer blockbusters – Japan Supernatural at AGNSW and Cornelia Parker at the MCA – as well as small-scale shows at stellar independent galleries.

You can also get a glimpse at our artistic past in Making Art Public: 50 Years of Kaldor Public Art Projects or head to Canberra to see the NGA's massive Matisse and Picasso show.

RECOMMENDED: Check out the best art galleries in Sydney and see our city's best street art.

The best art in Sydney in January

1
Japan Supernatural AGNSW 2019
Photograph: Courtesy Art Gallery of NSW
Art

Japan Supernatural

Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney

For the last two years, the Art Gallery of NSW has focussed on Europe in its big summer exhibitions: the Netherlands in Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age (2017-18), and Russia and France in Masters of Modern Art from the Hermitage (2018-19). But this summer is all about Japan with an epic exhibition of more than 200 artworks from artists past and present.

2
Cornelia Parker Museum of Contemporary Art 2019
Photograph: Hugo Glendinning
Art

Cornelia Parker

Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), The Rocks

The Museum of Contemporary Art's summer blockbuster slot has attracted some pretty big names in recent years, with shows from Pipilotti Rist, David Goldblatt, Yoko Ono and Grayson Perry. For 2019-20, it's Cornelia Parker's turn. Parker is considered one of England's biggest and most influential art stars from the last few decades.

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3
Inside exhibition - powerhouse - Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson - S
Things to do, Exhibitions

Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson: Step Into Paradise

Powerhouse Museum, Ultimo

In 1973, the Sydney Opera House opened and our city was making headlines around the world. But a little further south, in the Strand arcade, another cultural revolution was happening: Jenny Kee opened her Flamingo Park Frock Salon. Her creative partnership with Linda Jackson has proven one of the most influential in design, and is being celebrated in this major survey of their work at the Powerhouse Museum.

4
Daniel Boyd: Video Works Sydney Festival 2020 supplied
Daniel Boyd, 'Yamani' (2018)
Art

Daniel Boyd: Video Works

Carriageworks, Eveleigh

Daniel Boyd is known for his signature style, which sits somewhere between traditional Aboriginal dot-painting and Impressionist pointilism. The dot motif has appeared in plenty of his work, from large-scale public art installations to smaller paintings. Now it's been exploded out into an immersive video installation at Carriageworks, as a dreamy cosmic journey through time immemorial.

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5
Radiant Flux - Rebecca Baumann - Carriageworks
Photograph: Daniel Boud
Art

Rebecca Baumann: Radiant Flux

Carriageworks, Eveleigh

Carriageworks has been home to its fair share of large-scale artworks in recent years, including Nick Cave's monumental 'Until' and Daniel Buren's playground of oversized kids' toys. But Rebecca Baumann's 'Radiant Flux' reaches even further, turning the Redfern arts wonderland into a giant kaleidoscope of colour.

6
Then White Rabbit 2019 supplied image
Photograph: Supplied
Art

Then

White Rabbit, Chippendale

For ten years now, Judith Neilson's four-storey temple of contemporary Chinese art has stood proudly in Chippendale, showcasing an enviable collection of bold, playful and frequently provocative work. 

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7
Guan Wei  MCA
Photograph: Anna Kucera
Art

Guan Wei

Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), The Rocks

Beijing-born Guan Wei is one of the most provocative and distinctive artists making work in Australia today, about both China and his adopted homeland, and the connection between the two nations. He first left China for Australia in 1989, following the protests in Tiananmen Square, and has divided his time between Sydney and Beijing since then.

8
Dodecalis Luminarium Sydney Festival supplied 2020
Photograph: John Owens
Art, Sculpture and installations

Dodecalis Luminarium

Tumbalong Park, Sydney

From the outside, the spectacular luminaria created by UK company Architects of Air look a little like retro spaceships landed from an alien planet. But if you venture inside the Dodecalis luminarium, you’ll discover no invading super race. Instead, you’ll find a labyrinth of uniquely curved and beautiful tunnels lit in dazzling colours.

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9
An Appropriate Reaction Cement Fondu 2020 supplied
Tabita Rezaire, 'Sorry4real' (still), 2015
Art

An Appropriate Reaction

Cement Fondu, Darlinghurst

Arts space Cement Fondu have turned to African American writer, feminist and activist Audre Lorde for inspiration for their latest public project. Inspired by Lorde’s 1981 speech to America’s National Women’s Studies Association, in which she argued that anger was “an appropriate reaction” to the racism experienced by African American women, the gallery has curated a series of exhibitions and live events from women artists of colour.

10
Fiona Foley 2020 National Art School
Fiona Foley, 'HHH #1', 2004
Art

Fiona Foley: Who Are These Strangers and Where Are They Going?

National Art School, Darlinghurst

Badtjala artist Dr Fiona Foley is known for her photographic works dismantling historical stereotypes, such 2004’s HHH (Hedonistic Honky Haters), which featured a portrait of African Americans wearing black KKK-style hoods and African-print garments. Now, as part of Sydney Festival, the National Art School hosts a new survey exhibition of her work.

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11
Quilty AGNSW 2019 supplied
Image courtesy the artist and Art Gallery of NSW
Art, Paintings

Quilty

Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney

Australia hasn't produced that many superstar painters in recent decades (or at least not that many that have reached that status just yet) but Ben Quilty's work is known across the country for its vivid, luscious and tormented quality, all realised in oils. This exhibition is Quilty's first major survey in more than a decade and covers 15 years of his work.

12
Linear exhibition
Art, Installation

Linear

Powerhouse Museum, Ultimo

Explore Indigenous connection to cultural legacy and the physical, cultural and spiritual lines that link First Nations practices and narratives across Australia. This exhibition at the Powerhouse has been curated by the award-winning head of design at Bangarra Dance Theatre, Murri man Jacob Nash. 

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13
Kaldor Public Art Projects 2019 AGNSW supplied
Photograph: Eric Sierins
Art

Making Art Public: 50 Years of Kaldor Public Art Projects

Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney

Fifty years ago, John Kaldor changed Australian art history when he invited Christo and Jeanne-Claude to Sydney to wrap two and a half kilometres of coastline with white fabric. Fast forward half a century, and Kaldor has now staged 34 awe-inspiring public art projects from artists including Jeff Koons, Marina Abramovic, Gilbert & George, Jonathan Jones and Sol LeWitt.

14
Primavera MCA 2019 supplied
Zoe M. Robertson, 'Various Protest Banners', 2018
Art, Galleries

Primavera

Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), The Rocks

Each year, the Museum of Contemporary Art invites an artist or curator to take the reins of Primavera, an exhibition for emerging artists under 35. The brief is simple: showcase artists from across Australia who they feel represent current trends or styles emerging in the next generation. 

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15
Jumaadi: My Love is in an Island Far Away Mosman Art Gallery supplied 2019
Photograph: Katrina Cashman
Art

Jumaadi: My Love is in an Island Far Away

Mosman Art Gallery, Mosman

The long and often fraught relationship between Australia and Indonesia is at the heart of this new exhibition by internationally acclaimed Javanese artist Jumaadi. Drawing inspiration from Cintaku Jauh di Pulau (My Love is an Island Far Away), an epic poem by the Indonesian writer Chairil Anwar, Jumaadi juxtaposes it against the brutal treatment of Javanese political prisoners during the 20th century.

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Step outside the gallery

Jenny Munro
Photograph: Ken Leanfore
Art, Public art

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. 

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