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Joel Adler's steel sculpture 'Viewfinder' looking out to sea at Vaucluse
Photograph: Joel Adler | Viewfinder, 2019, Joel Adler

Where to find the best public art in Sydney

Forget your bubble, you can range all over the city getting your cultural fix

Written by
Time Out editors
&
Stephen A Russell
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Sydney is reopen for business, but you don't even need to set foot in a gallery to get your art fix in this glorious city. 

You can also stretch your legs and go for wander round your local neighbourhood (or further afield now that our bubbles are burst) taking in plenty of creative inspiration on the streets with these notable works of public art. 

Here are some of our faves you can seek out on foot. 

Can't get enough art? Find out what's happening indoors too.

Viewfinder
Photograph: Joel Adler | Viewfinder, 2019, Joel Adler

1. Viewfinder

When artist and industrial designer Joel Adler’s steel, concrete and glass work ‘Viewfinder’ showed up at Sculpture by the Sea in Bondi, back in the simpler times of 2019, it was a big hit with the crowds. Stopping to enjoy a chilled out moment observing the roiling majesty of the sea through its fixed gaze was guaranteed to soothe the mind. So much so that Woollahra Council totally zoomed in on the blissed out sculpture. Adler’s site-specific installation now has a permanent new home at Lighthouse Reserve in Vaucluse, and it’s even more awe-inspiring for the cliffside move. And don’t we all need to take a sweet time out right now?

You can find Lighthouse Reserve here

  • Art
  • Art

Have you ever looked up at all the flags fluttering in the breeze or the great big banners that unfurl around the city, advertising the next big show, and wondered where they all go when they’re done? TBH, we’ve always just assumed the answer is landfill. And it probably is. But a gorgeous new artwork that has popped up in World Square offers a glorious alternative. ‘Weaving Thru the World’ is a stunning hanging sculpture that’s been stitched together from upcycled City of Sydney street banners and flags, plus discarded fabrics, ribbons and rope by artist artist Gabrielle Filtz from creative collective Vandal. “Multiple trips to Reverse Garbage in Marrickville ensured I had a colourful palette of recycled, reusable mediums to work with,” Flitz says. There are old Mardi Gras materials in the mix too, with the joyous colours of the work a nice nod to the Pride rainbow.

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  • Public art
  • The Rocks

Chinese-Australian artist Lindy Lee's exhilarating 40-year career was celebrated during the grand reopening of the MCA. A multidisciplinary whizz, her sculptures have always caught the eyes of passers-by, including the seemingly molten bronze beauty of ‘Unnameable’ currently displayed in the MCA. A brand new work ‘Secret World of a Starlight Ember’ has been installed on the MCA forecourt at Circular Quay. Inspired by the milky silver marvels of the spiralling cosmos on high, the shimmering, polished steel work is punctuated by thousands of tiny holes. Casting intriguing shadows by day, a signature of Lee’s sculptural works, when it’s lit up at night, ‘Secret World of a Starlight Ember’ creates its own burning constellation.

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South Eveleigh has been graced with a brand new, expansive public artwork by renowned Australian artist and architect, Chris Fox. He's all about doing things on a grand scale. Interchange Pavilion uses 250 metres of stainless steel ground rails, 15 tonnes of robotically moulded reinforced concrete and 1400 pieces of hardwood to create a huge, 350-square-metre interlocking arcs. It was curated by nearby arts centre Carriageworks.
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  • Art
  • Sculpture and installations
  • Sydney

You might have driven or walked past this and assumed it was a news or financial tickertape – something to do with business. Perhaps this is part of the charm of the piece: staring into the middle distance as you wait on the corner crossing, the words scrolling down the 19-metre steel column take you by surprise; this is poetry, hiding in plain site in the CBD. American artist Jenny Holzer won a competition for a public artwork on the site, funded by the developer. The resulting work is rooted in the history of this land and its original owners: the scrolling text is comprised of around 300 pieces of text (including songs, poems, stories and autobiography) by about 80 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers – including Sally Morgan, Anita Heiss, Oodgeroo Noonuccal and Ruby Langford Ginibi – some in English, others in original language.

  • Art
  • Sculpture and installations
  • Sydney

These bronze scallywags split opinion. Some find them dead-set creepy, others see a playful addition to a CBD stretch that’s all about banks, business suits and boutiques. We’re in the latter camp. That said, the scale of the figures – their features, age and size – don’t quite tally, giving them an otherworldy quality. British born Sydney-based artist Caroline Rothwell originally produced ‘The Youngsters’ for a temporary public art project in the surrounding laneways, but the City of Sydney subsequently acquired them for their current homes. Look inside the hoods and clothes – they’re coated with quartz and coal, a subtle comment on our mineral economy.

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  • Art

For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and their allies, the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cooks first landfall at Kamay Botany Bay is at best fraught history, at worst the beginning of a terrible and bloody war for survival. When Carriageworks commissioned artist and Kamilaroi man Reko Rennie to come up with a large-scale work in response to this difficult day, he knew exactly what he would not do. "On April 29, I choose not to celebrate the arrival of colonial invaders and the dispossession of our land," he says. "Instead, I want to acknowledge the original inhabitants whose lives were changed forever on this day, as well as affirm our survival, and reiterate that sovereignty was never ceded." Spelling 'Remember me' in bold red neon 25 metres wide by five metres tall over the Carriageworks entrance, it's beyond powerful in its searing simplicity. 

  • Art
  • Sculpture and installations
  • Dawes Point

For the 2004 Biennale of Sydney, Arkansas-born Berlin-based artist Jimmie Durham created this installation from a 1999 Ford Festiva hatchback purchased in Homebush, and a two-tonne quartz boulder from a Central Coast quarry. Originally the car was parked on the Opera House forecourt, and onlookers watched as Durham painted a face on the stone, before it was dropped on the car from a crane above, crushing it. At the time, Durham told the Sydney Morning Herald, "This piece is concerned with monuments and monumentality, but also with nature; that implacable hard stuff.” In 2006, the piece was permanently installed in its current location in Walsh Bay – in the middle of a roundabout. On approach from either direction along Hickson Rd, you can notice roadworks signs by Australian artist Richard Tipping that read ‘ARTWORK AHEAD’.

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  • Sydney

Not all public art needs to be physically big to have a big impact. British superstar artist Tracey Emin's 'The Distance of your Heart' is made up of 67 tiny bronze birds, strategically perched 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. When Emin launched the artwork in March 2018, she said it 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.

  • Art
  • Public art
  • Sydney

Wooden escalators had been moving commuters around Wynyard Station from 1932 until they were ultimately removed in 2017. Thankfully, artist Chris Fox had a grand vision for retaining this integral part of Sydney's mechanical heritage. Interloop is a massive sculpture that hangs over the new metal escalators, twisting and melding together 50 metres of the original tracks.

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  • Art
  • Sculpture and installations
  • Haymarket

The practice of Sydney artist Jason Wing is influenced by his Chinese and Indigenous heritage. This artwork, commissioned by City of Sydney council as part of a revitalisation of three laneways in Chinatown, is no different. It incorporates Chinese and Aboriginal motifs, including “auspicious clouds” and spirit figures that represent ancestors. Wing designed the work to be a passage, between heaven and earth – so walk through the lane to get the full effect.

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  • Sculpture and installations
  • Surry Hills

This installation by Sydney artist Mikala Dwyer reclaims space for women and queer people who experience violence. In particular, it marks a site where an attack occurred 14 years earlier. Now a pink lamp lights the laneway (which runs alongside the Beresford Hotel) and a ribbon of text runs along the wall. Developed by poet and anthropology professor Michael Taussig in consultation with members of the local community, it reads: “This is a lane with a name and a lamp in memory of the woman who survived being beaten and raped here. She happened to be lesbian. When the sun sets this lamp keeps vigil along with you who read this in silent meditation.”

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