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A beautiful, colourful woven sculpture made of old advertising material and flags hanging over World Square
Photograph Gabrielle Filtz, Vandal | Weaving Thru the World, 2021, Gabrielle Filtz

Our picks of the best public art in Sydney

Take to the streets to check out our favourite works of public art around town

By Time Out editors
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It seems that everyone has a hot take on Sydney's public art, as seemingly invited by the very nature of their streetside canvas. 

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 that time residents threatened to dismantle Ken Unsworth’s ‘poo on sticks’ sculpture in Darlinghurst (it still stands). Then there was the time NSW Parliamentarian Helen Sham-Ho said Lin Li’s ‘Golden Water Mouth’ sculpture in Chinatown “looks like a penis. And remember when then-Oz editor Richard Neville ran a cover photo of himself and two others peeing into Tom Bass’s P&O Wall Fountain? Yes? No? Where do you sit in this fraught debate?

That said, who could possibly argue for a city without public art? Here are some of our favourite examples that you can seek out on foot. And maybe try not to relieve yourself on them, ok?

'Weaving Thru the World’, at World Square
'Weaving Thru the World’, at World Square
Photograph Gabrielle Filtz, Vandal | Weaving Thru the World, 202, Gillie and Marc

1. Weaving Thru the World

News 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.

Lindy Lee's eye-like sculpture ‘Secret World of a Starlight Ember’ gleams in the NCA forecourt with the Opera House sails in the background.
Lindy Lee's eye-like sculpture ‘Secret World of a Starlight Ember’ gleams in the NCA forecourt with the Opera House sails in the background.
Photograph: Ken Leanfore

2. Secret World of a Starlight Ember

Art 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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Two interlinked archways beside a tree
Two interlinked archways beside a tree
Photograph: Josh Raymond

3. Interchange Pavillion

News City Life

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.

Massive ticker-tape style pylon with words scrolling down
Massive ticker-tape style pylon with words scrolling down
Photograph: Ken Leanfore

4. I STAY (Ngaya ngalawa) (2014)

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.

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Bronze sculpture of child
Bronze sculpture of child
Katherine Griffiths

5. The Youngsters (2012)

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.

Remember Me by Reko Rennie
Remember Me by Reko Rennie
Photograph: Zam WImberley

6.  Reko Rennie's 25-metre 'Remember me'

News 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. 

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Boulder on top of crushed red Ford Festiva
Boulder on top of crushed red Ford Festiva
Photograph: Ken Leanfore

7. Still Life with Stone & Car (2004/2006)

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’.

The Distance of your Heart - Tracey Emin 2018 - public art - Photo credit: Katherine Griffiths
The Distance of your Heart - Tracey Emin 2018 - public art - Photo credit: Katherine Griffiths
Photograph: Katherine Griffiths

8. The Distance of your Heart (2018)

Art Public art 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.

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Chris Fox's art installation at Wynyard Station
Chris Fox's art installation at Wynyard Station
Photograph: Josh Raymond

9. Interloop (2017)

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.

In Between Two Worlds
In Between Two Worlds
Photograph: Katherine Griffiths

10. In Between Two Worlds (2012)

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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Lamp with text on wall
Lamp with text on wall
Photograph: Richard Glover

11. Lamp for Mary (2011)

Art 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.”

Victorian terrace painted with Aboriginal flag colours
Victorian terrace painted with Aboriginal flag colours
Photograph: Anna Kucera

12. Welcome to Redfern (2013)

Art Sculpture and installations Redfern

Melbourne-based artist and Kamilaroi man Reko Rennie created this mural with eight young local Aboriginal people, as the result of a commission by the City of Sydney and curator Hetti Perkins. Like Rennie’s perhaps better known building mural in Taylor Square, ‘Always Was  and Always Will Be’, this work is envisaged as a powerful statement about Aboriginal presence on – and original ownership of – the land. ‘Welcome to Redfern’ was the first commission in the ‘Eora Journey’ public art project in Redfern. The Victorian terrace he was tasked with transforming is the site for a forthcoming “living museum” of The Block. Rennie asked the teens what they wanted on the building, and they decided they wanted text, and a figure to represent the past. After much workshopping and searching the archives, they settled on an image of an Aboriginal man in a bark canoe in Botany Bay.

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Want more art 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.

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