A COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE ART GALLERY OF NEW SOUTH WALES, SYDNEY
An amazing gallery full of some wonderful pieces.
What I love about this museum, besides it’s wonderful art collection, is its location. Situated inside the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney, it’s almost like a fun journey, meandering through the manicured paths, to find this wonderful building. One you arrive at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, you’ll see the gallery’s huge entrance, flanked by impressive marble columns followed by a modern foyer with coffered cement ceilings. What I loved here was the play on the old and new marrying together so well.
WHY I LOVE THIS MUSEUM
Well, there are several reason’s why I love it. Firstly I can’t recommend it enough for its great collection of Australian and Aboriginal art pieces. Secondly, they have a wonderful European and Asian section, and lastly, a great selection of portraits, some even dating back to the era of Henry VIII. So, there’s lots to discover.
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SETTING THE TONE
The first display you will see is in the foyer, which are some powerful and emotional photos from the recent Black Lives Matter movement alongside some aboriginal paintings. I loved one piece in particular by how it was a roughly painted map of Australia on a white background, which, even though it was quite a modern image, really caught my eye.
ART FROM EUROPE
On the opposite side of the room were pillared-style archways, leading you to the 19th and 20th Century European Art section. As I prefer older art, it was like the museum was saying, ‘Come this way for older stuff.’ Before I knew it, that was the direction I was heading. This area was actually my favourite part of the whole museum. To the right is a magnificent painting from the year 1960 by German Painter Neo Rauch. Painted in muted colours, he looks like he had started out by painting a bunch of his friends on canvas then, at some point, decided he didn’t want to be friends with them anymore and consequently tried to paint over their faces. Who knows what he was trying to do here, but I saw it as the 19th-century version of blocking someone on social media who is no longer your BFF.
There are some exciting paintings of battle scenes and a few fantastic portrait pieces which looked as real as photographs. Look out for the woman in a red kimono called “Study” by Gustave Courtois, from 1980. I loved this piece as it is so realistic.
The John Schaeffer Gallery and 19th Century European Art section were also fascinating, filled with beautiful artworks and sculptures. Unfortunately, there was a large screen in the room showing random “art” which didn’t belong in this section at all. However, the first video clip I watched was actually quite funny. It showed a guy at a football match in America singing, dancing, and hugging his way down the stadium stairs while he was lip-syncing the words to the song that was being played throughout the stadium. It was hilarious to watch and people were stopping to observe this piece. But the next film baffled me. It was about an unknown rapper who was filmed talking about his life and every other word out of his mouth was full of expletives. He was ranting away and it didn’t fit the room vibe at all.
To my knowledge, they didn’t have rapping or football stadiums in the 1800s, right? Why put this screen in this section? It makes no sense! The museum’s bottom floor, which housed the modern art and media section, would have been far more fitting and in the right genre.
The notable paintings in this area for me were “The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon” (I actually thought she was a made-up person!) by Edward John Poynter, “The Gordon Riots 1780” by John Seymour Lucas and my favourite painting, by Briton Riviere, called “Requiescat 1888.” If you are an animal lover like me, you will find this painting to be a real tearjerker.
The body of the dead Black Prince (Edward III of England 1330-1376) lies dead in his armour as if he has just died on the battlefield and his men had carried him into the local chapel. Standing guard over his master’s body is his faithful dog, keeping him company through the night… I think I might have something in my eye! Don’t miss the little self-portrait of Pablo Picasso and my old mate Henry VIII in the next gallery.
THE AUSSIE ART SECTION
Back across the foyer, make your way over to the 20th Century Australian Art section. Hmmm… In this section, some pieces were great, others I wouldn’t even class as art. Painting a few shapes on a canvas is not art! There are some paintings of Sydney, such as “The Curve of the Bridge” and “The Window” by Grace Cossington Smith as well as some decent cubism pieces.
But the rest of the images in this section were… meh! There is a large metal looking statue of a gentleman in a wig, with 18thcentury-style clothes. Sadly, there was no signage here, so I didn’t know who this was supposed to be, although I did love the modern take on a sculpture of an 18th-century man, made from modern materials.
There is an interesting Surrealist Impulse and Social Realism section, but my favourite pieces in the area, hands down, was the Sidney Nolan room! After seeing some of his work on TV after we emigrated back to Australia in 2018, I became a bit of a fan, so it was great to see some of this work in the flesh. The Ned Kelly pieces are my personal favourites.
Next, you are treated to a very well laid out aboriginal art room, which features large digeridoos placed together and decorated with beautifully carved patterns. There is also some artwork on tree bark – of all things! It’s magnificent how they can paint on such coarse materials and produce something so exceptional. Most of the pieces are painted in earthly colours featuring humans and animals in beautiful contrasting lines and dots, which look very striking. They are painted by tribes in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.
MODERN ART – YAWN!
If you enjoy modern art (count me out!), you can head to the basement area. There are a few ‘interesting’ pieces here, such as “Breastfeeding” and “Oven Soot” by Dana Schutz. In a dark room at the back, you will see a cool piece by Mona Garcia from 1978 called Recovery, showing x-rays from her parents’ old community hospital in her native Philippines, where she grew up.
Tracy Emin’s work is also on display here too. She does display a lovely sewing piece called “I Do Not Expect.” I am not really a fan of her work as it usually too out there for me, but I do respect her messages she is trying to get across.
MINIMALISM AND ABSTRACTION SECTION – DOUBLE YAWN!
If I were you, skip the Minimalism and Abstraction section, unless this is your thing. Yawn! Wires on a wall, basic shapes on paintings, stupid and irritating sounds of knocking or just general noise coming from speakers. Sigh! It really is skip-worthy!
Art Gallery Road, Sydney, NSW 2000 | www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au
Thanks for reading my post on the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney. I often think, that unless you’re into art, you might not love this place as much as me, but I would say that this wonderful gallery has something for everyone. It is so conveniently located right inside the gardens, and only around a 10-minute stroll from the Opera House. Also, if you’re on a tight budget, it’s completely free! So there’s no excuse to miss this great gallery when you’re next in Sydney, and I strongly encourage you to spend a few hours here. You’ll be glad you did.
Are you planning Are you planning on visiting Sydney in the future? Have you visited this gallery before? What is your favourite piece? Let me know in the comments section below.
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