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Excerpt of 'Moby Dickens' by Blak Douglas
Photograph: AGNSW/Mim Stirling | Excerpt of 'Moby Dickens' by Blak Douglas,

The best art exhibitions to see in Sydney this month

There's so much to see and do, start planning your city art crawl

Written by
Time Out editors
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Culture-hungry Sydneysiders have so much to see and do, there is a bunch of intriguing art exhibitions to explore. Most excitingly, the Art Gallery of NSW id donned in famous faces once again for the Archibald Prize; and the Biennale of Sydney is still in town, taking over multiple venues with hundreds of artworks and interactive events. Check out our insider's guide to the Biennale to help navigate it all. 

Read on for our must-see list of the coolest art shows to have a gander at.

Note: in light of extreme weather and the evolving Covid situation, many events across Sydney are being postponed, rescheduled or cancelled. Things are changing rapidly. Always check ahead to see if an event or venue you're planning to attend is still open, and what precautions and conditions of entry are in place. 

Recommended: Our guide to what's happening in Sydney this week

The best art around Sydney

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  • Galleries
  • Sydney

Australia’s favourite portrait prize is back for 2022, and as always it's a delight to see which famous faces have made it into the mix of painterly interpretations. This year over 800 paintings were submitted, and you can peruse the top 52 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales until August 28, when they ship off around the country. The Archibald’s sibling exhibitions, the Wynne and Sulman Prizes, often overlooked in comparison to their spotlight-stealing sibling, are also packed with an eclectic mix of awe-inspiring works this year.

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The Biennale of Sydney has unleashed a packed program across several venues for 2022, with over 330 artworks by 89 participants and 400 events, which are showing over three months. The largest contemporary art event of its kind in Australia, as always, the Biennale is free to visit and open to the public. Check out our insider's guide for the scoop on which venues to check out and what's behind this year's aqueous theme.

 

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  • Darling Harbour

While the weather has been unpredictable at best, with winds and rain set to disrupt plans for the foreseeable future, there is one failsafe place you can go to commune with nature in comfort. Sydney is taking temporary custody of the 57th Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. On loan from London’s Natural History Museum, this world-class collection of mesmerising images will be housed at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

 

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  • Art
  • Film and video
  • Chippendale

Nothing showcases the endless possibilities of imagination quite like animation. Japan and Australia are home to many major animation companies but both also have a thriving indie scene full of creativity and flair. Continuum is a free exhibition that scratches the surface of both countries' dynamic independent animation scenes at The Japan Foundation, Sydney. Head in for a free exhibition, event series, screenings and behind-the-scenes gems.

 

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  • Art
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  • The Rocks

Each year, the Museum of Contemporary Art invites an artist or curator to take the reins of Primavera: Young Australian Artists, 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. This simplicity is its greatest asset: it means each artist-curator gets the chance to put their own stamp on the exhibition, and every show is unique. As a bonus, the show has a reputation for identifying Australian art’s next big thing before they go on to international stardom.

The twice rescheduled 30th edition, Primavera 2021 is curated by Melbourne-based Aboriginal curator, Hannah Presley. Her curatorial process is guided by artists, learning about the techniques, history and community that inform their making. The talented curator has many strings to her bow, and Primavera represents the first major exhibition she has taken charge of that is not solely focussed on First Nations artists. 

This year you can see a collection of deconstructed paintings from Dean Cross, a Worimi artist who lives and works on Gadigal Country (Sydney), after eyeing up Primavera for many years, Cross just scrapes in (he turns 36 during the exhibition run). There’s also a collection of multidimensional, organic ceramic forms from Tarndanya (Adelaide) based artist Sam Gold; a video installation from Darug and Gadigal Country (Sydney) based artist Justine Youssef, which was filmed in a Western Sydney bakery that no longer exists; a delicate installation involving a fish net hand embellished with scales from Quandamooka woman and Brisbanse based artist Elisa Jane Carmichael; and a gloriously playful and feminine installation from Narrm (Melbourne) based artist Hannah Gartside, that combines her skills from her former career as a costumier with simple robotics to share the stories of great women artists who have been forgotten by history. 

Presley says: “The artists participating in Primavera 2021 have created works that draw on personal narratives whilst also considering the history and implicit memory that resonates within their selected materials. As this year’s curator, I was interested in exploring the choices each artist makes as their work evolves, what is brought forward and what is left behind.”

Want more? Check out the best exhibitions to see in Sydney this month.

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  • Ultimo

Functional and beautiful clay objects have been at the epicentre of history ever since the first owner of an opposable thumb worked out how to whack water and dirt together. Australia's history with the form has evolved through utilitarian and aesthetic waves too. Clay Dynasty is a huge exhibition that sets to chart ceramic practice in our country while peering into the exciting future of contemporary ceramic artists.

Head to the Powerhouse Museum to see over 400 clay pieces from the museum's collection alongside 70 new works from Australian artists. Clay Dynasty will take a trip through some of the earliest examples of pottery from First Nations makers through to the groovy modernist experiments from proto-feminist Australians and beyond.

The exhibition will show pieces from 160 artists and makers from the last fifty years of ceramic studio practice. See famous works from the likes of Margaret Dodd, Gwyn Hanssen Pigott, Joan Ground and pieces from Darwin's Bagot Pottery brought to light and air after years of storage in the Powerhouse collection. And marvel at the lines of innovation and style that have made an impact on contemporary practitioners like Lynda Draper, Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, Carlene Thompson and more. 

Powerhouse Museum will also be hosting a symposium and has developed a range of exhibition–inspired masterclasses in collaboration with local ceramic studios, including kil.n.it studios and Hermannsburg Potters, with more masterclasses to come. Keep your peepers on the exhibition website for more information. Clay Dynasty runs until 29 January 2023.

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The ubiquitous gum tree gets the artistic celebration it truly deserves with a new exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum. Drawing on over 400 objects from the museum's vast collection, Eucalyptusdom explores our changing relationship to the local hardwood, and artists’ many creative uses of the material. The exhibition is free to visit with general museum entry. 

Running until August 2022, the exhibition takes its title from a 1930s text by Edward F Swain, one of Australia’s earliest conservationists. The show highlights the relationship between eucalypts and First Nations Australians, the trees’ important role in the Federation arts and crafts movement, plus the Powerhouse Museum’s unique and longstanding relationship with the eucalypt. Rarely seen items you’ll be able to have a gander at include over 100 timber specimens dating from the 1800s, botanical illustrations and early glass-plate photographs.

It also showcases 17 new commissions, including from Trawlwoolway multidisciplinary artist Julie Gough. She documents eucalypt trees situated in the vicinity of sites of conflict and violence between Tasmanian Aboriginal people and colonists from the late 1700s to early 1800s. There’s also a work by Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones, working with Wiradjuri Elder Dr Uncle Stan Grant Sr AM, that considers the connection to the guardian ancestor Dharramalin, central to men’s initiation ceremonies. Nicholas Mangan’s new work analyses the complex history of objects in the Powerhouse collection through film and large-scale sculptural installation. Newly established organisation First Nations Fashion and Design presents a collection of nine wearable garments by First Nations Designers.

A program of performances, talks and masterclasses will help unpack the exhibition. Powerhouse chief executive Lisa Havilah says, “Beginning with the burning of the Garden Palace exhibition building in 1882, Eucalyptusdom explores the interwoven histories of the Powerhouse and the eucalypt. This exhibition invites us to consider how our changing relationship to eucalypt reflects our ever-shifting comprehension of Country and place.”

Love art? Check out our guide to what's happening around town

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  • Photography
  • Ultimo

Take a peek into the glittering four decade long career of one of Australia’s foremost social photographers. In his heyday, Robert Rosen attended parties, concerts, fashion events and nightclubs across London, Europe and Australia. He documented the famous and infamous from Sydney's spectacular Rat Parties in the 1980s to the exclusive Australian Fashion Week events.

A participant observer and the antithesis of the pushy paparazzi stereotype, Rosen was known for being polite and discreet, intimately capturing the rich, famous and fabulous for the social pages of a slew of local and international newspapers and magazines.

Glitterati presents over 974 photographs and includes images from Rosen’s early career in London and Paris capturing the fashion shows of iconic designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Claude Montana and Zandra Rhodes. You’ll also spot an eclectic mix of celebrities in his photographs at peak moments of their cultural impact, including Paul McCartney, Bryan Ferry, Elle McPherson, Peter Morrissey, Divine, Paul Capsis, Nina Simone, Boy George, Andy Warhol, Grace Jones, Kylie Minogue, Nicole Kidman, Luciano Pavarotti, Lady Sonia McMahon, Elton John and Michael Hutchence.

Glitterati is open at the Powerhouse Museum until June 19 2022. Admission is free with museum entry.

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