Take your mind's eye to Sydney

This summer and autumn, Sydney will host a series of major visual art events, which will showcase a different side to the popular Aussie city.

Sydney sparkles in summer and autumn in all its brash beauty. By day the sun shines on its stunning harbour and surf beaches. At night its endless variety of restaurants and buzzing bars offer a world of options for gourmets and hedonists of every persuasion. And for the sports minded, there is always a match or a race to quicken the pulse.

But sensuous Sydney can also be a destination for the mind. For anyone interested in visual arts, the first months of 2024 will be a great time to visit the city closest on the map to Aotearoa New Zealand.

Sydney Modern

In December last year, Sydney’s flagship public gallery, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, opened its NZ $380 million Sydney Modern expansion.

The new structure, designed by Tokyo architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishzawa, is a striking addition to the original neo-classical building. It features expansive glass galleries, outdoor garden and exhibition spaces and a spiral staircase descending into an immense subterranean space that was built in World War II as a naval fuel reserve.

Work of French-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois

You’ve got until April 2024 to see the work of French-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois at the Gallery of NSW. Photo by Christopher Burke

The work of French-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois

An otherworldly bronze spider is one of Bourgeois’ most popular pieces. Photo by: Filipe Braga

Bourgeois and Kandinsky

For the year since the Sydney Modern extension opened, the gallery has showed a collection of many artists’ works, but for the next 4 months (25 November to 28 April), all the spaces in the new structure, including its cavernous subterranean bowels, will be dedicated to the work of one artist – pioneering French-American modernist Louise Bourgeois (1911 to 2010). The show is a survey of Bourgeois’ career and comprises 150 works from the 70-year career of the artist who died in New York aged 99. Visitors will see the largest-ever collection of Bourgeois’ paintings and prints as well as the huge, unsettling spider-like sculptures for which she is best known.

At the same time (4 November to 10 March), a huge assembly of another master of modernism, Vasily Kandinsky, will fill the original Art Gallery of New South Wales. This collection of works from one of the first half of the 20th century’s most influential painters is entirely taken from the extensive holdings of the Solomon Guggenheim Collection and was first shown at the New York Guggenheim in 2021.

Artwork of Vasily Kadinsky 1

Famed abstract modernist Vasily Kadinsky is one of the big name exhibitions at the Art Gallery of New South Wales this summer. Photos by: Guggenheim Foundation

Artwork of Vasily Kadinsky 2

The 20th Sydney Biennale on Cockatoo Island

If you want something a little more current than Bourgeois and Kandinsky, check out the Sydney Biennale in March and April, when the art world will descend on Sydney for Australasia’s most exciting celebration of what’s happening right now in the visual arts.

The Sydney Biennale is equally remarkable for the art it showcases and its main venue, the other-worldly Cockatoo Island in Sydney’s inner harbour. A former colonial era prison and naval dockyard until the 1960s, the 30-hectare island’s ghostly abandoned structures are a perfect venue for convention-challenging contemporary art during the biennale. Works from new and established artists are placed around the island, some in the open, others inside the massive industrial structures used for 20th century shipbuilding or the network of tunnels and grain storage vaults carved from solid rock by 19th century hard-labour convicts. Transport to the island is by regular public ferry that takes you beneath the iconic harbour bridge.

Photo of Cockatoo Island 1300w

Head offshore to Cockatoo Island for the 20th Sydney Biennale. Photo by: Destination NSW