Whether you're visiting from overseas or a curious local looking to get beyond the basics (Dot paintings? Bark paintings? Just the tip of the iceberg), these are the places to see the best of Australia's diverse Indigenous art practice.
You can also see the work of a handful of Aboriginal artists on the streets of the city: check out our hit-list of the best public art in Sydney. And see which exhibitions are taking over the city this month.
Public institutions and collections
The AGNSW has a broad collection of works on paper, bark and canvas, as well as sculptures, fibre works, photomedia and multimedia – of which only a small proportion are on display at any given time. You can see them for free on lower level three in the Yiribana Gallery. Their current hang includes works by key contemporary artists Esme Timbery and Daniel Boyd.
The MCA is home to the Ramingining Collection (bark paintings, carved-wood sculptures and functional objects from northeastern Arnhem Land), the Maningrida Collection (works primarily in fibre) and the ‘Arnott’s Bark’ collection of paintings on bark. Besides these permanent collections, the MCA contains many works by Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander artists in the Level 2 gallery as part of the exhibition MCA Collection: Today Tomorrow Yesterday – including works by Vernon Ah Kee, Daniel Boyd and Gordon Bennett, among others.
It's worth the trek to Canberra for the NGA's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art collection – the largest in the world, comprised of over 7500 works, and displayed in a purpose-built wing containing 13 galleries. There's a hugely diverse range of works on display and the Indigenous colection is growing each year.
Commercial galleries and artist co-ops
Under the direction of long-time Indigenous art specialist Gabriella Roy, this gallery has been in operation since 1996 and shows traditional and contemporary Aboriginal works from the Tiwi Islands and prominent community art centres in South Australia, Central and Northern Australia.
In March 2018, the APY Art Centre Collective opened this artist owned gallery in Darlinghurst, making it the first of its kind in Australia. The gallery has a focus on ensuring emerging artists are connected with new and broader audiences, and showcases work from the APY lands across a broad range of practices including painting, traditional punu (wood) carving, weaving, textiles, new media and digital photography.
Whether you've got $200 or several hundred thousand dollars to drop on an artwork, you'll find something to your taste at this large commercial gallery – and staff ready to help you navigate your way through the world of Aboriginal art. But even if you're not in the market to buy, the Kate Owen Gallery is a great gallery to visit, with around 100 paintings on its many walls at any one time.
This not-for-profit cooperative was formed in 1987 by a group of local artists, including Michael Riley, Brenda L Croft, Tracey Moffatt and Bronwyn Bancroft. Reacting against the media’s fetish for ‘traditional’ or ‘authentic’ art, Boomalli spearheaded the urban Indigenous art movement in Australia. They continue to showcase work by founding members, emerging artists, and from Greater Sydney and regional NSW.
Christopher Hodge's gallery, established in 1989 when "contemporary Aboriginal art" was a relatively new concept for the art world, shows both Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, but it's named after the Utopia community in the Northern Territory. The UAS stable includes major Utopia artists like Gloria Petyarre and the late Emily Kame Kngwarreye.