There was once a time when Sydney felt very, very far away from the centre of the art world. We’d have to travel great distances—to New York, Paris, London, Berlin—to experience (and ‘gram) art from the greats and new generations of creatives.
Now though, through our best institutions, galleries and museums (and the legends leading them), we do get to sample art from afar, as well as great marvels from our own shores.
Add the below dates to your diary—here are the best of the big art shows and experiences due to hit Sydney this year.
Masters of modern art from the Hermitage
Open at the Art Gallery of NSW since October, this exhibition is a must-see for anyone keen to experience Monet, Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso in the flesh.
With an exhibition entry fee at a very tiny fraction of the cost of a pricey plane ticket to Europe, you’ll witness 65 paintings from St Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum. These epic pieces are enjoying a slightly warmer December here in Sydney—they’re usually displayed in the renovated General Staff Building across Palace Square from the iconic Winter Palace.
Among the seminal paintings on show are Matisse’s Nymph and Satyr, Picasso’s Table in a Café and Cézanne’s Great pine near Aix. Russian contemporaries Kandinsky and Malevich also feature. There’s also an immersive video installation by Saskia Boddeke and British filmmaker Peter Greenaway, which premiered at Fondation Louis Vuitton in 2017. The video navigates a dialogue between Matisse and Russian collector (and former owner of most of the works in the show), Sergei Shchukin.
What: Masters of modern art from the Hermitage
When: Until 3 March 2019
Where: Art Gallery of NSW
The Essential Duchamp
In 1917, Duchamp anonymously submitted an upside-down urinal called Fountain to the “all-accepting” ‘Society of Independent Artists’ salon in New York, of which he was a board member. The work was dismissed as a joke and Duchamp promptly resigned.
The kerfuffle rattled the New York art world with a few big questions: What is art? Who gets to decide? Must it be made by its maker?
Exactly 102 years after the revolutionary moment and 50 years after the artist’s death, the most comprehensive showing of Duchamp’s life and work is set to hit our hometown and it’s clear the questions he raised remain pretty relevant.
150 works are on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The show will include the infamous Fountain 1950 (a replica of the original but still worth a cool $US3 million), among other iconic works. All reject the idea of pretty art in favour of idea-based works. Take the mate who scrunches their face up at any artwork that isn’t a painting, and dive right in to some healthy discussions slash arguments on what makes good art.
What: The Essential Duchamp
When: 27 April – 11 August, 2019
Where: Art Gallery of NSW
Suppression Dam is a world-exclusive, collaborative performance hosted at Casula Powerhouse as part of the opening weekend of Sydney Festival in January. It’s one hell of an artistic collaboration too: Ensemble Offspring (Sydney), International Contemporary Ensemble (New York/Chicago) and Ensemble Adapter (Berlin) will perform the remarkable work of two progressive Australian female composers. “The Dam” by Kate Moore, which draws on the rhythms of nature, and “ Cleave” by Natasha Anderson, which mimics the behaviour of mirrors.
In a fun twist, the opening performance gets the audience contributing to the soundscape via a bespoke "Sonic Identity Quiz". Through an app, you'll unlock one of 16 sound files that build an immersive sonic world. Post-show, you can also get involved in the in-house Bellbird Dining + Bar which will be serving up a complimentary glass of vino and dishes to reflect the international music melting pot happening on stage.
What: Suppression Dam
When: 13 Jan 2019, 2 - 3pm
Where: Casula Powerhouse
The National 2019: New Australian Art
The National is basically a big, exciting and extensive collab between Sydney’s major art institutions that champions new Australian artists. In 2019, The Art Gallery of NSW, Museum of Contemporary Art and Carriageworks will join forces for the second of three cross-institutional biennial blockbuster shows—and it’s going to be massive.
Featuring the likes of Izabela Pluta, Tom Polo and Koji Ryui among 24 artists, the instalment at Art Gallery of NSW includes 24 artists that work across varied mediums from charred wood to hundreds of kilometres of yarn to unravel “the boundary between chaos and control in work that is by turns political, poetic and personal,” according to curator Isobel Parker Philip.
Senior curator of Carriageworks, Daniel Mudie Cunningham describes each work at Carriageworks iteration of The National as a sort of “emotional tourism”. Made up of both existing and newly commissioned works, 19 artists will examine the blurred line between truth and fiction, and reflect on our place as individuals in an uncertain and ever-shifting world. The show will include some of today’s hottest artists such as Tony Albert, Eugenia Raskopoulos, Mish Meijers and Tricky Walsh.
Co-curated by Clothilde Bullen and Anna Davis, MCA’s part will show “a diverse group of artists whose practices reflect urgent contemporary concerns.” The collaborators reflect on their own diverse backgrounds to explore the hierarchies of power and the ways different groups are represented. All in all, this three-part Australian art explosion is set to be one of the most exciting months in your Art Beat calendar.
Art Month Sydney
2019 marks the 10th year of Art Month Sydney. Another art collab of sorts, the festival sees galleries, artists and art venues across Sydney come together for weeks of free late-night art parties, special exhibitions, art talks, tours and art-based activities.
Expect their famed curated evening walking tours and signature Art at Night parties every Thursday in different neighbourhoods (with a special focus on the North Shore). There’ll be DJ’s, performance art and specially packaged talks that alert you to the galleries that have been on your doorstep this whole time. Though more details of the program are still to be unveiled by artistic director Kate Britton, if the last nine years are anything to go by—you’ll want to keep dates in March wide open. Check here for program updates.
What: Art Month
When: 7-30 March 2019
Where: Various locations
Come November, The Art Gallery of NSW will host a survey exhibition of one of Australia’s strongest voices in contemporary art. Ben Quilty has used his mastery of paint to draw attention to some of today’s most pressing humanitarian issues. Made up of luscious layers of paint and thick slabs of colour, the works are often unsettling in their subject matter but too mesmerising to avert one’s gaze.
Quilty will trace the artist’s many campaigns to alert the world to contemporary issues including his experience of Afghanistan as an Official War Artist, his plight to save Bali Nine pair Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, portraits of refugees in Lebanon, Lesbos, Serbia and Syria captured from journey’s together with famed author Richard Flanagan. Offering respite, these images of harsh realities will be interspersed with portraits of himself, and his family and friends.
“My work is about working out how to live in this world, it’s about compassion and empathy but also anger and resistance. Through it I hope to push compassion to the front of national debate” he says. A pure painter, Quilty takes the medium to the next level.
When: 9 November 2019 - 2 February 2020
Where: Art Gallery of NSW
Also at the Art Gallery of NSW in 2019, Japan supernatural will be a wild, imaginative and vast showcase of over 200 works from Japanese artists past and present.
Expect to see pieces from collections worldwide, from Katsushika Hokusai to superstar Takashi Murakami. The binding theme in each of the works is the supernatural: astonishing beings, shapeshifters, goblins and mysterious and mischievous creatures. There'll be large-scale installations, anime, Japanese cinema, carvings, paintings, vibrant ukiyo-e woodblock prints—and one huge and magnificent installation of painting and sculpture by Murakami. Do not miss this one.
What: Japan Supernatural
When: November 2019 - March 2020
Where: Art Gallery of NSW
On a budget? Here are 10 free things to do in Sydney in January.
Image credit: Takashi Murakami for the Art Gallery of NSW.