A Beginner’s Guide to Exploring Art in Sydney #ArtInSyd

Artistic pursuits are aplenty in Sydney, but it can be daunting to know where to start. There’s a smorgasbord of big institutions, public installations, experimental events, ticketed experiences, private collections and everything in between. Here’s a guide to what’s around, so you can decide what piques your interests (and skip the places that don’t)!

Please note that there is so much more beyond the locations I’ve listed here. This is just a starter guide.

BIG DAY OUT


There are a variety of large scale, public galleries around Sydney. These are often my favourite to check out with friends because you’ll usually find something for everyone. Big galleries (often funded by the government) will have multiple exhibitions on that change throughout the year, along with programs, a gift shop and a trendy cafe. It’s worth putting at least half a day aside and wearing comfy shoes (I’m not kidding; museum fatigue is a very real thing!).


MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART (MCA)

πŸ•’ 2 hours
πŸ’ Rooftop cafe with a harbour view
πŸ‘©β€πŸ’» website
🎫 Free general entry, paid special exhibitions
πŸ’ƒπŸ½ Regular tours, programs and special events

For fresh, new art, this is the place to start. The MCA always has a great variety of art on display across its 4 levels – this is where I first discovered Yayoi Kusama and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer (two of my favourites!). Expect to find installations, mixed media, sculpture, photography, painting and performance. Fun fact: I used to me a gallery host here, so can attest that the staff are very knowledgeable and friendly!

Things to do close by: sight-see the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House; wander the historic area of The Rocks; have a break at the Guylian cafe; drink a cocktail whilst soaking in the view at Hacienda; take a ferry across the Sydney Harbour; enjoy a scoop of Messina gelato.


ART GALLERY OF NSW

πŸ•’ 2-3 hours
πŸ’ Chiswick restaurant & gallery cafe
πŸ‘©β€πŸ’» website
🎫 Free general entry, paid special exhibitions
πŸ’ƒπŸ½ Regular tours, programs and special events

You can’t go wrong at the AGNSW, which casts a wide-net across art subject matters. There’s the Yiribana Gallery dedicated to Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander artists; Photography gallery; two-level Asian gallery; contemporary exhibition spaces; and, of course, the mandatory Belle Epoque paintings and Australian landscapes.

Things to do close by: wander through the Botanic Gardens; go for a swim at the Andrew (Boy) Charlton pool; get a decadent treat at Flour & Stone bakery.


MUSEUM OF SYDNEY

πŸ•’ 1.5 hours
πŸ’ Cafe onsite
πŸ‘©β€πŸ’» website
🎫 $15 for adult ticket
πŸ’ƒπŸ½ Regular tours and programs

The MoS is located in Australia’s first government house and is a great place to get a feel for Sydney’s history. Expect photographs, design, fashion, and curious histories. The MoS is part of a larger network of historical museums and sites called Sydney Living Museums; check out the other sites if you’re interested in something local and unusual (eg. Police & Justice Museum is a great visit).

Things to do close by: splurge on fancy dim sum at Mr Wong; check out the Police & Justice Museum; stroll down to Circular Quay for sight seeing.


POWERHOUSE MUSEUM

πŸ•’ 2-3 hours
πŸ’ Cafe onsite
πŸ‘©β€πŸ’»website
🎫 $15 for adult ticket
πŸ’ƒπŸ½ Regular tours, programs and special events

There is so much to see here; I always make the mistake of not leaving enough time! The Powerhouse shows how arts and sciences have been applied to technological innovations, designs (as big as planes and as small as optic fibres), fashion and textiles, ornamental objects and in space. Oh, and not to mention that they often host blockbuster shows like Harry Potter and Star Wars. My favourite shows have been retrospectives of Australian fashion designers such as Akira Isogawa and Collette Dinnigan.

Things to do close by: try a good ol’ pie across the road at Hannah’s Pie; walk to Chinatown for some yum cha; stroll through the Chinese Friendship Garden.


CASULA POWERHOUSE ARTS CENTRE

πŸ•’ 2 hours
πŸ’ Cafe onsite
πŸ‘©β€πŸ’»website
🎫 Free
πŸ’ƒπŸ½ Regular programs

I visited the Casula Powerhouse for the first time last year and I couldn’t believe that I’d been missing out for so long! Depending on where you are, it might be a bit of a journey to get there, but it’s well worth it. There’s a calm, secluded feel, and it’s right on the Georges River. The exhibitions include community works and fresh, contemporary artists.

Things to do close by: take a moment to sit by the Georges River; graffiti a water tank (it’s a thing! Just let the Casula Powerhouse staff know first).

SPECIALISED GALLERIES


If you want to see the newest and freshest faces in art and culture, then you should visit a specialised gallery. These are spaces that focus on exhibiting certain types of artists or subject matter, and are great ways to delve into specialised art topics.

AUSTRALIAN CENTRE FOR PHOTOGRAPHY

πŸ•’ 45 mins
πŸ‘©β€πŸ’» website
🎫 Free

This gallery, as the name suggests, is dedicated to exhibiting photography, and it has to be one of my favourites. The ACP exhibits artists across the photographic spectrum including documentary artists and abstract photographers. They also offer workshops and darkroom/film scanning sessions.

Things to do close by: eat some yakitori in the hole-in-the-wall restaurant Chaco Bar followed by a bar crawl along Oxford st and Crown st.

WHITE RABBIT GALLERY

πŸ•’ 1 hour
πŸ₯Ÿ Dumpling and tea house
πŸ‘©β€πŸ’» website
🎫 Free
πŸ’ƒπŸ½ Daily tours

Praised be for Judith Neilson, art collector and philanthropist, who shares her eminent Chinese collection (one of the largest in the world) with the public at this dedicated space. The building is a generous 4 levels and has 2 exhibitions per year, often featuring edgy works that reflect the rapidly changing mindset and experiences of Chinese society. Some of the most memorable artworks I’ve seen in recent years have been at White Rabbit. Expect art of all media including video, performance, large-scale installations and interactive works.

Things to do close by: see a film at Palace Central; grab some ice-cream from Anita’s; get some char kway teow at Spice Alley; get a flight of wines at Handpicked Cellar Door.

4A CENTRE FOR CONTEMPORARY ASIAN ART

πŸ•’ 45 mins
πŸ‘©β€πŸ’» website
🎫 Free

4A is situated in the heart of Sydney, near Haymarket and Chinatown. The not-for-profit gallery strives to exhibit and share artworks from the Asia-Pacific, promoting the diverse stories and identities people in the region have. Expect contemporary, young artists with new approaches and conversations. I particularly enjoy 4A gallery and always come away feeling intrigued and inspired. Fun fact: you can read an article I wrote about one of their shows here.

Things to do close by: go for yum cha at Market City; get in line for the popular yoghurt/rice drink at Yomie’s; take some snaps in a photobooth at Capitol Square.

ARTSPACE

πŸ•’ 45 mins
πŸ‘©β€πŸ’» website
🎫 Free

Artspace’s vision/mission statement is ever changing, ever challenging. If you want to see art at the forefront of idea-pushing and progress, check out Artspace. Experimentation is key in many of the works they show, and get ready to wear your thinking-cap and potentially be confronted.

Things to do close by: grab a pie across the road at Harry’s Pies; have next-level vegan high tea at Alibi in Ovolo hotel; treat yourself to a fancy dinner along Woolloomooloo Wharf.

COMMERICAL GALLERIES


Visiting a commercial gallery is a good way to see new, contemporary art. Don’t be intimidated that they often look like high-end boutiques; many are open to the public. Who knows, maybe something will catch your eye?

SCHWARTZ CARRIAGEWORKS

πŸ•’ 30 mins
πŸ‘©β€πŸ’» website
🎫 Free

A secondary location to the original Anna Schwartz Gallery in Melbourne, Schwartz Carriageworks shows contemporary artists from around the world. The large, open space at Carriageworks (which used to be an old railway workshop), makes it the perfect space for big installations and expansive bodies of work. There’s always something impressive to see here.

Things to do close by: visit on a Saturday and check out the Carriageworks Farmer’s markets

ROSLYN OXLEY9

πŸ•’ 30 mins
πŸ‘©β€πŸ’» website
🎫 Free

Roslyn Oxley9 is an industry heavyweight, having represented and fostered many artists who are now part of the Australian art canon. Visiting this private gallery is a great way to get up-close to works by well-know, established artists.

Things to do close by: debrief about the art over a beverage at Four in Hand Hotel; check out Sarah Cottier gallery around the corner.

BLENDER

πŸ•’ 30 mins
πŸ‘©β€πŸ’» website
🎫 Free

Housed in a historic two-story building off Oxford st, Blender specialises in iconic music photography and popular culture. It’s great fun to visit and gives you the chance to see the works by famous photographers and subject matter up close. Think rock and roll legends and iconic album artwork.

Things to do close by: debrief over a fancy pub meal at the Paddington or excellent seafood at Saint Peter.

ARTIST RUN INITIATIVES (ARIs)


ARIs are galleries run by emerging artists, curators and practitioners. They are usually experimental and more grass-roots than the galleries I’ve listed above. You should check out ARIs if you’re interested in seeing the next generation of artists, and the newest ideas of burgeoning creatives. Here’s a beginner’s list:

EVENTS & ANNUAL SPECIALS


And, of course, there’s always special arts events happening throughout the year! Here are some key dates to look forward to:

  • January – Sydney Festival
  • March – Art Month; Sydney Design Festival
  • May – the Archibald Prize (AGNSW); Vivid; Head On Photo Festival
  • October – Sculpture by the Sea; Sydney Craft Week
  • November – Graduate shows for National Art School, UNSW Art & Design, and Sydney College of the Arts.

GET THE ‘GRAM


Sharing art on social media is a great way to support artists, exhibitions and galleries you enjoy. As long as there are no photography restrictions (look out for no-flash signs), and the subject matter is not sensitive, you should go for it. Always remember to be respectful of the artwork – it’s not just there to be your backdrop – and it’s best practice to credit the artist and the name of the work, if you have access to this information.