Art Galleries of Sydney - review by Rusty Compass
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Art Galleries of Sydney

| 30 May 2021
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Art Galleries of Sydney
30 May 2021

This is our collection of Sydney's best art galleries for travellers. They're mostly focused on Australian art from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists. As a bonus, you'll find them in interesting Sydney neighbourhoods, so allow time for some extra urban exploration.

Note: The information provided in this review was correct at time of publishing but may change. For final clarification please check with the relevant service

Sydney may not have galleries to match the grand old cities of Europe. But Sydney’s galleries come from different times and different perspectives - that's their strength. The world’s oldest civilisation and European post-colonial arrivals, have created an art scene that is unique and compelling.  Indigenous art is a major draw. Australia’s landscapes and evolution since the British invasion have also produced an engaging catalogue of work.

If you only have a brief stay in Sydney planned, you must see the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Museum of Contemporary Art. I’d put the State Library high up the list too. Most of these galleries are government-run and they're all free.

Here are our Sydney gallery picks.

 

Art Gallery of New South Wales

Sydney’s premier art institution sits in a spectacular neo-classical building looking across the Domain, a short picturesque walk from central Hyde Park.

This a five floor exhibition space with a huge permanent collection of Australian and international art. Special exhibitions feature local and International art. The gallery houses one of Australia’s foremost collections of Indigenous art and the Asian collection is another highlight.

There's a restaurant and cafe in the gallery complex.

Admission to the permanent exhibition is free. There are usually admission fees on special exhibitions.

Highly recommended.

In 2022, the new Sydney Modern gallery will open next door.

Click here to check our full review of the NSW Art Gallery.

Address: Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery Rd, Sydney - short scenic walk from St James Station and Hyde Park

Art Gallery of New South Wales
Photo: Mark Bowyer Art Gallery of New South Wales
 
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Photo: Mark Bowyer Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Museum of Contemporary Art MCA

This is Sydney's main contemporary art institution in stunning digs right by the harbour in the Rocks. There’s Indigenous art and a broad collection of painting, sculpture and more over 3 floors.

Originally funded by a 1943 bequest to Sydney University by John Power (the man behind the university's Power Gallery - see Chau Chak Wing Museum below), the MCA has been expanding since its opening in 1991 and is now a major government funded institution.

The rooftop cafe sports some of the best views of the harbour you’ll find in the centre of Sydney.

Allow plenty of time for the gallery and them some for the rooftop. Admission is free.

For more on Sydney's MCA, click here.

Address: Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), 140 George St, The Rocks, Sydney - right by Circular Quay and in the heart of the historic Rocks district.

Museum of Contemporary Art - MCA, Sydney
Photo: Mark Bowyer Museum of Contemporary Art - MCA, Sydney
 
Museum of Contemporary Art - MCA, Sydney
Photo: Mark Bowyer Museum of Contemporary Art - MCA, Sydney
 

State Library of New South Wales

Sydney’s State Library (aka. Mitchell Library) just happens to also be home to a fine gallery of art from the colonial period and later. You’ll find wonderful examples of colonial landscapes and records of the development of the British colony. Some of the most well-known portraits of colonial bigwigs such as Captain Arthur Phillip, Governor Lachlan Macquarie, and “rum rebel” and generally unpleasant chap, John MacArthur, are also on display. Macarthur's more impressive wife Elizabeth’s portrait is also in the collection. There are regular temporary exhibitions that are very good as well.

The State Library is free and located in the heart of the city opposite the Botanical Gardens. The small collection of maps is also excellent. Check out the library too.

For our full State Library listing, click here.

Address: State Library of New South Wales, 1 Shakespeare Place, Sydney - near the Botanical Gardens and Martin Place in the centre of the city.

State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Photo: Mark Bowyer State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
 
State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Photo: Mark Bowyer State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
 

National Art School galleries

Australia’s National Art School is housed in the old Darlinghurst Prison. It’s a superb collection of buildings built to the nineteenth century panopticon principles - lots of curves so everyone can be seen. It happens to also be home to two excellent small galleries. The NAS Gallery is the original and focuses on special exhibitions. These may or may not be connected with the work of students. In 2021, the school has also opened the National Centre for Drawing. The NAS is a great place to spend a few hours. Read up on the old gaol too. This was once the most important prison in the city. Many a hanging took place at its Forbes St entrance. It's located along some of Sydney’s most interesting old urban neighbourhoods too. Take a wander.

Address: National Art School (NAS), Cnr Forbes and Burton St, Darlinghurst. Short bus ride from the city or an interesting urban walk from Kings Cross

The old Darlinghurst Gaol is the National Art School.
Photo: Mark Bowyer The old Darlinghurst Gaol is the National Art School.
 
National Art School has two very good small galleries.
Photo: Mark Bowyer National Art School has two very good small galleries.
 

Chau Chak Wing Museum

Sydney’s newest art gallery lives inside its newest museum, in the walls of the city's oldest university. Only the building is new really. Sydney University has combined its old galleries and museums - the collections date back as far the 1800s - under a single spectacular roof with the kind support of wealthy Chinese property developer and philanthropist, Chau Chak Wing. The gallery features the work previously held in the Power Gallery - created from the bequest of artist and philanthropist John Power. 

The Chau Chak Wing Museum dips its toes into many categories and has an especially strong collection of Australian Indigenous and post-colonisation art. It’s perfect if you like variety. Visit the gallery and museum and then take a wander around Sydney’s most impressive university campus. It’s located a 10 minute bus ride from downtown in Camperdown.

For more on Chau Chak Wing Museum, click here.

Address: Chau Chak Wing Museum, University Plc, Camperdown on the University of Sydney main campus. Bus from Central or the City. Close by White Rabbit Gallery.

Chau Chak Wing Museum, Sydney
Photo: Mark Bowyer Chau Chak Wing Museum, Sydney

Chau Chak Wing Museum, Sydney
Photo: Mark Bowyer Chau Chak Wing Museum, Sydney



White Rabbit Gallery

White Rabbit Gallery is a private gallery that houses one of the most important collections of Chinese contemporary art outside China. It was created by philanthropist Judith Neilsen whose former husband was one of Australia’s most successful investment managers. White Rabbit opened in 2009 in a time of greater optimism about artistic expression in China and the political and geopolitical trajectory of the new superpower.

There are more than 2000 works from more than 700 artists in the collection. The gallery normally hosts two exhibitions each year with a curated selection from the Nelisen collection. All the work has been created since 2000. White Rabbit is located in an old warehouse in Chippendale - another old Sydney neighbourhood worth exploring. .


Address: White Rabbit Gallery, 30 Balfour St, Chippendale. 15 minutes walk from Chau Chak Wing Gallery.

White Rabbit Gallery, Sydney
Photo: Mark Bowyer White Rabbit Gallery, Sydney

 

White Rabbit Gallery, Sydney
Photo: Mark Bowyer White Rabbit Gallery, Sydney
 

Brett Whiteley Studio

Brett Whiteley was one of Australia’s best known post-war artists. The Surry Hills gallery was his studio. It’s a small snapshot of his career and a wonderful studio space. It’s all managed by the New South Wales Art Gallery. Whiteley died of a drug overdose in 1992 aged 53, in the south coast town of Thirroul. The Surry Hills studio was his creative space for the final years of his life and has been left as it was at his death. Whiteley’s art is wonderful - even to the uninitiated. The space just adds to the experience. Surry Hills is a fascinating old Sydney urban neighbourhood of terrace houses and warehouses. Mostly gentrified now, the streets are packed with restaurants, bars and pubs - perfect for post-gallery consideration over a glass of something.

Address: Brett Whiteley Studio, 2 Raper St Surry Hills, Sydney

No photography - Brett Whiteley Studio, Surry Hills
Photo: Mark Bowyer No photography - Brett Whiteley Studio, Surry Hills

 

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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