Summer of art in Sydney
I spent last week in Sydney, primarily enjoying the opening of Sydney Modern. I thought that it would be worthwhile to share some of the art highlights that I encountered in the harbour city.
The headline act is certainly the new extension to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the outcome of the Sydney Modern Project and now known somewhat prosaically as the North Building. Already people are referring to it as ‘the birdcage’ in contrast with the stately neoclassical South Building.
Michael Brand, a year after he was appointed as the director of the Sydney art gallery, launched the unfunded plan for a new building in 2013, the Tokyo firm SANAA won the architectural competition in 2015 and construction commenced in 2019 with a budget of $344 million.
Architecturally, it is an ‘understated’ building conceived as a three-storey luminous birdcage with suspended hanging gardens and an extensive crypt below. The main architectural concept is that of three limestone clad cascading pavilions leading down towards the water with a huge supporting rammed earth wall.
In the birdcage there are about 900 exhibitors in the opening exhibitions with women artists making up 53% of the total number of exhibitors. Hype aside, and in Sydney you get it by the spade load from politicians with an eye to the state elections next March describing the new extensions as the greatest art gallery in the world exhibiting the greatest collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art in the world, this is an excellent functional extension that almost doubles the exhibiting space of the old building.
Indigenous art is a major highlight in the new building (and I love the newly commissioned woven huge metal handbags made from discarded well-weathered metal sheets from the outback by Lorraine Connelly-Northey) with a good mix of contemporary Australian non-Indigenous art, Asian art and other international art. Despite the huge storm of controversy that the building project initially caused, it has to be seen as a resounding success as a space for exhibiting art. It is also accompanied by excellent green credentials in this fully sustainable building with its 6-star Green Star design rating.
While visiting the birdcage, do pop into the old building that has been substantially rehung and see the impressive Daniel Boyd Treasure Island survey exhibition (closes January 29, 2023). It is the first major survey of his art and enhances his standing as a significant Australian artist who explores in his art the interconnected histories of First Nations peoples.
The Museum of Contemporary Art is hosting a substantial survey exhibition of the South Korean artist, Do Ho Suh. I first encountered his work at an APT exhibition, which has been a gateway for many of us to encounter contemporary Asian art. Do Ho Suh is particularly memorable for his large-scale sculptural installations playing with memory and the idea of the body suspended in space.
This exhibition spans three decades from the 1990s through to the present. Do Ho Suh in many of his pieces explores ideas connected with home and identity from an obsessive self-referential perspective. Although there are prints, drawings and miniatures, the most impressive pieces are full-scale replicas interpreted in unexpected materials.
At the Powerhouse at Ultimo – there is a great extensive exhibition dedicated to the Australian designed Carla Zampatti (until June 11, 2023) and an immersive show ‘Unpopular’ (until June 3, 2023) examining the music scene in Australia with some brilliant footage of the Nirvana tour of Australia and documentation of Sonic Youth, Beastie Boys, Mudhoney, Nirvana, Bikini Kill, Fugazi, Pavement, The Lemonheads and many more.
What I found as a spot disappointing is the glitzy Gucci Garden Archetypes show (until January 15, 2023) that comes across as one huge commercial for the company and its products that are available in the accompanying gift shop.
Possibly reflecting my personal poor taste in music, I found Opera Australia’s production of Carmen on Cockatoo Island simply amazing. It is one of the best productions of this evergreen classic that I have seen in recent years and is set within the spell of Cockatoo Island. It is not so much the motor bike stunts, crashed cars or the fireworks that carry the show, but the calibre of the singers and the choreography that provide a new lease of life to Georges Bizet’s popular music.
If the intensity of the art scene starts to tire the gaze, you can always escape on a seaplane and examine the sights of the city from a fresh perspective.
GRISHIN'S ART BLOG
Sasha Grishin AM, FAHA is the author of more than 25 books on art, including Australian Art: A History, and has served as the art critic for The Canberra Times for forty years. He is an Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University, Canberra; Guest Curator at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; and Honorary Principal Fellow, Faculty of Arts, at the University of Melbourne.
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